Bringing climate models to Indian communities
07 June 2012
A first in the field
Seva Mandir, a non-governmental voluntary organisation working in Rajasthan, India joined hands with ICCO and scientists from the Dutch institute Alterra to find out what climate change impacts lie in store for the region.
Seva Mandir is an experienced voluntary organisation that for 42 years has supported the development of the poor in a tribal and drought-prone area of the state of Rajasthan in western India. Nowadays it reaches out and works closely with 70,000 households in over 600 villages in the Udaipur and Rajsamand districts of South Rajasthan. The organisation’s main priorities are livelihood (natural resource management and income generation), capabilities (empowerment of women, early childcare, and health and education) and institutions (village committees and people’s management).
The vast majority of this region’s households consist of self-employed farmers who run small and fragmented farms. Most of them are producers–consumers with poor access to markets. Women are relatively autonomous in this tribal society, and yet they play a minimal role in the decision-making process. The area is poor in natural resources and the climate is harsh – semi-arid with highly erratic rainfall and a drought cycle of three to four years. People here therefore have a history of mapping variations in weather, withstanding impacts and identifying coping and adaptation strategies.
The inhabitants of this region have responded to the harsh climate conditions by introducing afforestation on common and private lands, integrated watershed treatment and rainwater harvesting. They have also increased water-use efficiency and reduced the risk to their livelihoods by diversifying agriculture and creating community seed banks. When there is abundant rain in a given year, however, farmers prefer to grow high-yielding varieties even though they have knowledge about drought-resistant and low input local varieties.
Farmers have experienced new changes in recent decades, such as warmer and shorter winters, earlier and longer summers, more erratic rainfall patterns and prolonged cloudy periods. These changes have had a direct impact on agriculture, such as delayed sowing times, less moisture during seed germination, unseasonal flowering of trees, reduction in yield of both rain and winter crops, and regional pest infestation. Moreover, they could potentially increase vulnerability, deepen food and nutrition insecurity, exacerbate an already fragile natural resource basis and cause further marginalisation for these households in the long term.
Seva Mandir is trying to assist these communities to address the challenges and withstand climate change through a process of community-based adaptation. The framework adopted by the organisation is based on a concept that aims to localise climate change, prepare for climate risks, encourage adaptive decision making and address the drivers of vulnerability.
Do these farmers have sufficient experience and knowledge to react effectively to the increasingly pronounced impact of climate change? Can they withstand further climate change? And what adaptive strategy needs to be developed and hence what initiatives need to be taken to make local development climate proof?
Generating climate projections
One of the main priorities was to assess the expected impact of climate change on local weather. Scientific global climate models (GCMs) that provide information for large areas are available for this purpose. ICCO and Seva Mandir decided to use a method that downscaled these GCMs to smaller areas (in this case Seva Mandir’s working area) to get more specific and adequate information. This method uses historical data and satellite observation, for example. Reliable meteorological data over a longer period is needed for it to be effective, particularly on precipitation and temperature patterns.
Seva Mandir obtained meteorological data spanning over 25 years from the Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology in Udaipur. Rainfall data from 20 stations in the area were collected from the state of Rajasthan’s irrigation department. All data was provided to the Alterra scientists, who used it as input in the downscaled scientific regional climate models.
The scientists used different emission and development scenarios in their calculations. The outcome was an accurate assessment of weather trends in recent decades and a set of clear graphics indicating the expected changes in annual temperature, annual rainfall and extreme events
The scientists reached the following overall conclusions regarding climate projections in Seva Mandir’s working area:
- A likely rise in temperature of one to two degrees Celsius between 2040 and 2080 (though the magnitude of this increase depends on the emission scenario).
- Continued heavy local showers at prolonged intervals.
- An increase of extreme variations of precipitation until 2040.
- A decrease of extreme events in the long run (after 2040), but a slight increase in annual precipitation levels.
- More rainfall as a result of longer monsoons.
Sharing results, right mindset for the future
The results of the climate projections were shared with the inhabitants during two rounds of meetings in five representative villages. The number of families living in each village ranges from 180–400. All five villages – Gadunia, Dhala, Som, Nichala Talab and Chhali – are rural. The families of the first three depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, while the families of Nichala Talab and Chhali rely more on labour supplied outside their villages.
Each village was visited at least twice for this study. During the first round of visits, a comparison was made between what farmers had experienced so far in terms of changing rainfall and temperature patterns and the scientific data obtained from the local university. What proved to be very helpful about the process was that the scientific assessment of past trends confirmed farmers’ experiences of the changes in climate.
Overall, the projections for the area did not come as a big surprise for the farmers, even though the projected long-term increase in yearly precipitation contradicted the droughts these farmers had recently experienced. Their experiences did not coincide with the prediction of increased cloud development during the end of monsoon either. The dialogue on the results of the climate models helped to build awareness and create the right mindset among the farmers for the formulation of appropriate community-based adaptation strategies.
In between the two visits, discussions were held with scientists, government officials and policy makers. The meetings aimed to obtain views on the results of the models, share farmers’ experiences and learn about adaptation initiatives in the region. During the second round of meetings potential adaptation measures were shared and discussed (see box for different adaptation approaches in the five villages). The following suggestions were put forward by the different villagers:
- Homeyards: Introduce biodiversity, select less weather-sensitive varieties of fruit trees and vegetables, keep goats, improve house isolation, harvest water from roofs, and manure collection.
- Agriculture: Develop a defensive strategy by means of experiments and innovations such as crop rotation; mixed cropping and resilient crops; shorter duration crops; more reliable winter crops; more organic fertilizer and better pest management; weather predictions and seasonal forecasts; and agro-advisories.
- Forest and watershed: Combine conservation and effective use of products; fruit collection and herd management, and efficient use of labour; better protection of wells; more water storage; combine water storage with fishing; forest with drought-resistance trees; vegetation on slope to check erosion.
All the adaptation measures built on the initiatives that farmers had taken previously to cope with the erratic climate and the changes they experienced. In other words, the adaptation strategies involved fine-tuning and adjusting existing community-based adaptation practices rather than developing a set of very new activities.
How important is climate change actually to the communities?
The importance of climate change compared to other drivers of change directly linked to agricultural production was also discussed during the village meetings on climate projections. The villagers clearly indicated that they are more concerned about issues such as land rights, population growth (and the resulting pressure on land), access to markets and changing power relations between the poor and the rich than they are about climate change.
The line of reasoning is that the more vulnerable a community is with respect to food, fodder and water security, education, health and overall dignity, the more difficult it will be to get it to prepare for long-term adaptation to climate change. ‘Climate change,’ as one of the farmers said, ‘is fifth on our list of priorities.’
Incorporating community-based adaptation within development programmes that pay ample attention to other development factors seems to be a better way to make development climate proof than to set up separate adaptation programmes.
The assessment of weather trends in recent decades and the use of climate models have helped to
better understand and raise awareness about the local effects of climate change and about the need
for adaptation in the future. The projections from the downscaled models were of limited use for
planning, however, mainly because of their time scale of 30 years. Accurate scientific tools that
can predict seasonal and yearly weather forecasts and make 10-year projections would clearly have
more added value.
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