Climate change has hit the riparian state of Uttar Pradesh rather hard.
Shiraz A. Wajih, president of the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, has been observing that global warming is accelerating several changes in agriculture in the State. There are dry spells for 10 to 20 days during the monsoon, smaller rivers are causing floods, and there are hot winds during winter.
Agriculture is the largest employment provider in the State and has 66 per cent of the total workers. It provides direct employment to 35.5 million people, Dr. Wajih said.
The small and marginal farmers and the landless form 90 per cent of the farming community. About 70 per cent of the land faces some problem or the other. The diversion of farm land for non-agricultural purposes is on the increase.
In a presentation at the recent Congress of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists in New Delhi, Dr. Wajih said that over a period of 20 years, there has been an increasing frequency of flash floods in smaller rivers, dry spells during the monsoon, hot winds during winters, and increasing duration of water logging.
This has had an adverse impact on crop production and livelihood and is leading to food insecurity, decreasing bio-diversity, increasing migration and reducing fodder, and is putting pressure on livestock as the pasture land is shrinking.
In this context, it is important to synergise local knowledge and increase the capacity of farmers to cope with climate change, Dr. Wajih said. He also advocates machan cultivation (growing crops at a height) in flood-prone areas.
Further, farmers have to look for ways to deal with increased water logging due to floods.
In parts of U.P., the National Rural Employment Scheme is coming to the rescue of local farmers. However, what is causing concern is the lack of flood-resistant varieties of crops.
Dr. Wajih said the government institutions must as a priority, research such varieties, which farmers can grow. The good news is that a large number of farmers have evolved their own varieties by trial and error over the years. There is farmer-to-farmer extension as well, though not on the scale it should be.
Climate change is forcing farmers to rely on their traditional ingenuity for adaptation, as well as to seek help from the scientific community. They are considering advancing the cultivation of paddy, maize, lady finger and pointed gourd, traditionally sown between June and August. Winter crops are also sown later than usual.
Crops are ideally three-layered — with the machan on top for creepers, the bunds (boundaries between fields which are on a higher level) in the middle for vegetables and other crops, and the flat ground for paddy or maize, different vegetables and pulses.
There is an urgent need, Dr. Wajih said, for research and development in appropriate crop varieties for flood-prone areas. Synergy of technical know-how and local wisdom was important if farmers had to deal with climate change variations.
Apart from giving space for local innovations, the government must provide capacity support and opportunities for developing farmer trainers and farmer-to-farmer sharing and extension. Dr. Wajih also called for the involvement of women farmers in all the aspects of adaptive agriculture, since they work the hardest on the field.