One of the most worrying insights from UNFCCC 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) in November 2017 is that despite the efforts to date, the window to avoid large-scale climate change has closed. For many nations, this increases the importance of developing measures to assist communities to adapt to the effects of climate change as they unfold, rather than just trying to lower carbon emissions. Defying Climate Change, a 2018 report by Shailendra Yashwant for Climate Action Network South Asia and UNICEF INDIA introduces some of the most effective and innovative women and child-centric resilience-building projects being implemented across climate hotspots of India.
Starting this week, every week we are profiling the best practices from the report.
Nearly 160 million children live in areas of high or extremely high drought severity. Most of them live in some of the world’s poorest countries with the least capacity to manage these environmental risks. While climate change will ultimately impact every child, these children are already in harm’s way and face some of the most immediate risks.
Three years of successive drought or drought-like conditions between 2014-16 in Maharashtra impacted 28,662 villages in 28 districts of Marathwada, north Maharashtra and Vidarbha leading to a rise in the number of farmer suicides, inability of farmers to repay bank loans, no availability of water in dams, no fodder for cattle, no capital to start allied businesses, suffering poultry, unemployment and migrations out of the region.
Productivity of all the major crops like cotton, soya, pulses, and sugarcane had dropped by more than 60 per cent. Increased dependence on expensive chemical inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc. adds to higher cost of production and insufficient income in the households – forcing the survivors into a cycle of debt and poverty. According to a report by National Crime Reports Bureau 14% (2,568 farmers) of the total farmer suicides in India in 2014 were in Maharashtra.
“In 2016 when the rest of the region was still reeling under the three-year-long drought, my family did not have to suffer, we had sufficient food, some money but most of all my children were healthy and going to school. We were much better off than the other farmers because we grew mixed crops that included vegetables and pulses. We had less input costs because we used organic methods and to supplement our income we reared goats and hens.”
– Babita Misal with her son Viraj Misal, Jehangirwadi, Latur, Maharashtra
Farmer suicides leave behind hundreds of widows and orphans with little or no coping mechanism. Widows are burdened with the new responsibility as the sole breadwinner while the children are forced to leave school and help their mothers.
In 2014, when the region was reeling under a second successive year of severe drought, Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a Pune-based organization working for sustainable community development through empowerment of women, stepped in to test and implement a climate resilient farming model which promotes long-term sustainability for marginal farmers directly through use of diversified businesses, marketing of nutritious locally grown foods and water management systems.
The intervention was designed by identifying the vulnerabilities of women and young girls. Earlier in 2008, when SSP started working in the sector of health and nutrition, it found that anaemia was a prevalent health issue among women and girls in the villages in Marathwada region. During workshops, women shared that the consumption of vegetables by them is very low and they had no decision-making role in farming and men were only inclined to grow cash crops, which were continuously failing, given the water scarcity in the region that resulted in food insecurity.
SSP’s interventions educate, empower and provide assistance to women to take up farming on half or one acre of their family land or leased land. With training and financial assistance, the women practise water efficient organic farming, cultivation of vegetables, millets, cereals and pulses through mixed cropping, diversifying to 6-12 crops and by increasing crop cycles. On the given piece of land, the women lead the complete decision making around what to cultivate, what to sell, what to keep and eat, and where to sell, thus gaining control over income.
SSP recognizes that stand-alone solutions to food security are not sufficient to ensure resilience. All programmes incorporate and inculcate training on water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH), nutrition and education in the engagement journey with the women and their children at home, at school, in the farms and marketplaces.
The women are direct beneficiaries but also agents of change in their communities, who introduce a range of practices that integrate personal hygiene, community health and improved livelihoods as essential steps to achieving resilience.
To ensure sustainability, SSP has created a cadre of 500 women farmers’ leaders who can successfully transfer learnings and strategies to other geographies. It has also developed a model through which one mentor farmer can handhold other women farmers to practice and replicate this model. SSP is also organizing these women in farmer producer groups to introduce a market-based approach and help women get the most competitive prices for their produces and operate beyond projects.
The multiple threats to the survival and well-being of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children are not neatly divided by sector. The enormous challenges that affect them – conflicts, climate change, extreme poverty and more – are all closely interconnected. The multiple deprivations that children suffer are also overlapping and all too often mutually reinforcing. So, solutions must intersect as well.
This model addresses the issues of food security, income security, natural resource management and women’s empowerment all at the same time. The project highlights the importance of integrated approach for women and child-centric adaptation and has been scaled up in Maharashtra to more than 300 villages of five drought-prone districts, reaching out to 20,000 women farmers. Presently, SSP has secured funding of 105 million INR, for the next three years, for reaching out to 35,000 women farmers in Maharashtra through this model
 Unless we act now: The impact of climate change on children. UNICEF 1995.
 When coping crumbles, Drought in India 2015-2016, UNICEF India Country Office, December 2016
Find out more about Swayam Shikshan Prayog’s award-winning, pioneering work on www.sspindia.org.
You can download the full report at: Defying Climate Change: Putting Women and Children First.
Find out more about CANSA-UNICEF project.