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Assessing Climate Adaptation Needs

‘Annadaata sukhi bhava’, was my grandmother’s unvarying statement at the end of every meal. Growing up close to the producers, part of a farming family, she knew the effort that went in to grow crops and keep stomachs fed. With agriculture becoming increasingly difficult with water and labour shortages, the coping capacity of farmers has steadily been eroded. Yet, only a detailed assessment can show up what exactly needs to be done to improve resilience. One such study is “Climate Adaptation and Resilience in South Asia” focusing on the use of the Climate Change Score Card (CSSC) – a tool that connects livelihoods, governance and climate variations and provides results based on the field research. The study was the collaborative effort of three think tanks in South Asia— Public Affairs Centre, India (PAC), Center for Science, Technology and Policy, India (CSTEP); and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition – Nepal (ISET – N).
This study was carried out in the Cauvery Delta by PAC in partnership with DHAN Foundation. Initial surveys highlighted the reduction in the intensity and frequency of the south west monsoon (May to September) and delay in the north east monsoon by 20-30 days, affecting the traditional cropping cycles. The increase in spatial and temporal variations in precipitation has made villages completely dependent on ground water. This, however, has resulted in farmers increasing their cropping intensity (from two to three crops per year). The consequence is salinity intrusion and reduced productivity – both pushed up by increased fertiliser usage. A further consequence is large scale migration of labour to towns and cities in search of better livelihood options.

The study was carried out in a sample of five agriculture-dominated villages in four gram panchayats and two river systems located within the Kumbakonam taluk boundary located well away from the state/national highway. The framework used for the Climate Change Score Card is given in the figure:

DfID’s Sustainable Livelihoods Framework pentagon with the five capitals of Natural, Social, Financial, Physical and Human Assets has been expanded to include Governance (both constitutional and traditional) as governance structures play an important role in supporting people and their livelihoods. The study worked to develop a vulnerability index and rank the various villages in Kumbakonam taluk in terms of their performance on the index which tried to capture a comprehensive scale of vulnerability by including numerous indicators that serve as proxies. Specifically, the study looked at five different sources of vulnerability based on the five capitals of the Sustainable Livelihood Framework. The results of the index on the capitals are compared to capture the true nature of vulnerability of the people living in these villages.
Indicators for assessing the vulnerability of agriculture to climate change were developed based on the findings of the Participatory Exercises, Regulation Analysis and Climate Data Analysis during the input tracking exercise. The indicators were chosen in such a manner so as to have a comparison between the livelihood capitals (natural, physical and financial) within a village and also with other study villages. The scoring provides the basis for developing a vulnerability index (VI), which ranges between 0 to 1 with, 0 being the least vulnerable and 1 being highly vulnerable.
The agriculture department gave a score of 0.67 indicating that agriculture is highly vulnerable. Researchers, Civil Society Organisations and Livelihood Practitioners indicated that natural capital was most influential and social capital ranked the lowest, indicating that local agrarian communities are currently facing a deficit in social trust: this was interpreted as the low role played by governance capital on agriculture – what then is the role of the varying subsidies, schemes and programmes that are supposed to help in building resilience? Scoring by community representatives indicated the importance of groundwater in agriculture. This helped in concluding that unplanned and over extraction of ground water is one of the main reasons for increased vulnerability in the area to changing climate.
Some of the other conclusions were:
• Elaborate and extensive river canal systems that once worked as lifeline of farmers are now found to be either defunct and/or function in a limited manner. This is mainly due to siltation and encroachment of these canal systems.
• Over exploitation of ground water in the delta, because of which agriculture thrives at present indicates a negative trend for greater changes in the future.
• Lack of awareness on climate change and agriculture issues among agricultural communities
Discussions indicated the importance of traditional crop varieties and the benefits of organic farming. The good thing is that their importance is being understood by mainstream researchers and policy makers too. But a major concern is the role of politics that divides communities on common threats like climate change. A united front is needed for future resilience.

Ahana Lakshmi