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Thursday, November 12th, 2009 - 7 comments

India: Women farmers stand against climate change

A group of women in India have demonstrated that despite the existing gender inequity and their low economic status, they can become a powerful resource to tackle climate change and reduce the emissions that cause it.

In India, the most vulnerable populations to climate change — impoverished communities and women — are being affected first, and the most. Oxfam India’s blog comments about the direct effect of drought – a climate change’s consequence– on women and children, and its devastating impact on farmers.

In the last 12 years, almost 50 farmers committed suicide every year, one tenth of them being women farmers. (…) Increasing number of farmers started migrating to cities in search of food. And the situation became shocking when trafficking in women and children proliferated in the district.

Gender as a factor of vulnerability to climate change

It is estimated that women produce over 50% of all food grown worldwide. In India, more than 84% of women are involved in agricultural activities, and as a result they become the greatest victims of climate change’s impact. In addition, gender inequality makes them disproportionately vulnerable to environmental alterations. Blogger Priscilla Stuckey PhD, points out on the blog This Lively Earth that women are unequally affected by climate change:

Discrimination against women also plays an enormous role in how women experience the effects of climate change. In India, for example, where women have seen their crop yields cut in half and the quality of grain diminish because of climate changes, women’s health is impaired from the double whammy of inferior crops and inequality.

Farmer Sita Debi is an example of this. “When there is no rain, we women have to work really hard in the fields to try and grow crops. Our nutrition also suffers because we are the last to eat at the family table. A lot of us are anemic as a result,” she says in the video filmed and posted on the blog Find Your Feet. Other women farmers appear in the video explaining how badly climate change is affecting their lives.

When women fight back

But Indian women don’t just sit around waiting to be hit by climate change. They, also, fight back. As shown in the second half of the video, women are developing innovative ways to adapt and help prevent global warming.

Agriculture accounts for at least 20 percent of Indian greenhouse gas emissions, mainly methane emission from paddy fields and cattle and nitrous oxides from fertilisers. According to the 2007 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India’s rainfall pattern will be changing disproportionately leading  to uncertainty in the agricultural scenery.

Knowing what lies ahead, women are already taking proactive steps to combat climate change. This is the case of the women at Bidakanne village, who are growing crops such as linseed, green and chick peas, wheat and other legumes in between the rows of sunflowers, all without water and chemical inputs, such as pesticides. Kenya Achara reports that fifty year old farmer Samamma explains that in her type of cropping, one absorbs and one gives to the soil, while she gets her food requirements from vegetables greens and oils.

This type of agricultural activity is especially beneficial to the dalit or broken women, who make up the lowest rung of India’s caste system. Through this system, women in the approximately 75 villages in the Medak district – such as Samamma- can now form associations to sell their crops, as well as gather surplus produce for poorer members. In addition, to using practices to reduce emissions and harmful pollutants, this type of activity also helps reduce poverty.

The leadership and effort of these Indian women has not gone unnoticed within the online community. Shiba Prosad Bhattacharyya comments on the site India Together:

Thank you for your column. That these women have been profiled here make a case for them being a role model to the world. (…)Food is a human right & not a corporate commodity for speculation.Mother nature does not operate on a boardroom profit.Corporate profit will mearly lead to more food crisis. Through you I am conveying my highest regards to these women leaders who have demonstrated no negative effects on the environment, public health & farming families that food production can be profitable, sustainable and feed all of us.

The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (7)

J Beckwith
Friday 13th November, 2009, 1:52am

As Global Temperatures have been static for the past 12 years and have been trending down since 1998, you need to look for another scapegoat. Co2 is not the culprit as it has increased while temperatures have declined. Unfortunately in these times, the “Climate Change hysteria” has trumped the facts to such an extent that they have become irrelevant. The truly sad result of decimating miss-information perpetuates a feeling of helplessness in some of these women. Kudos to the women taking proactive steps, albeit for the ulterior motives of those who don‘t have their best interests at heart.

Friday 13th November, 2009, 11:52am

La actitud de esas mujeres me parece un ejemplo digno de imitar, no simplemente se estan lamentando por su situacion de pobreza y desamparo, sino que miran para adelante y son proactivas. Si en Paraguay las imitaramos aunque sea un poco, sin duda algo ayudariamos a mejorar.

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Saturday 14th November, 2009, 12:57am

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candice novak
Saturday 14th November, 2009, 5:17pm

Great article. it's always important to give voice to those with little or none. And the increasing problems surrounding global warming and agricultural change will only exacerbate that need to hear from normal people -- not just political meetings, G20, etc... Women are often left out of the "mainstream" coverage of issues including agriculture. Thanks for covering this.

Risto Harma
Monday 16th November, 2009, 8:56am

There is a clear link between types of belief systems, women's deprivation and the effects of cliamte change. The impression I have so far for India, without having done in depth reading on the climate issue for India, is that climate change will be interacting with the reported overuse of water resources in some of the literature on India. So even if temperatures have been flat as observed in a comment above, there may be a negative feedback and interaction due to this additional factor of agricultural mismangment that result in cumulative impacts from climate change. Drawing an inference from Sub-Saharan Africa from my own research on widows' livelihood options globally, the small holder farmers are typically unable to improve their land, meaning they do not have money for chemical fertilisers, and they can not get enough organic matter to maintain let alone improve the crop yields and water retention capacity of their land. This is because they do not have enough working finance, irrigation systems do not exist and in many countries the government agriculture services that once existed, and that helped make small holder farming viable, have been stopped as a result of the wrong sort of liberalisation under structural adjustment programmes. Under such circumstance, the land is progressively degraded and the crop yields fall continuously. One of many references that talks about this is the book Poverty, AIDS and Hunger: Breaking the Poverty Trap in Malawi, by Anne Conror, Malcolm Blackie, Alan Whiteside, Justin Malewezi and Jeffrey Sachs (2006). This research, as well as other such research, highlights that it is often women who are left to farm while husbands have migrated in search of cash income. Among the worst affected women farmers are widows and other single women who are discriminated against purely on the basis of gender, such discrimination being justified locally has sanctioned by tradition and/or religion. Widow farmers have bneen an increasing phenomenon in Sub-Saharan Africa as a result of HIV/AIDS. In northern India in particular, there is a strong bias against women of almost any income or social category working outside the home in a non-family household role. Women who do say are routinely subjected to accusations or suspicion of sexual promiscuity. This can then put them at risk of actual sexual attack. On top of this is the widely socially held concept of family honour, so that such accusations or the perception of immoral behaviours is enough to damage family honour, resulting in severe sanctions against accused women. This belief system acts as a strong disincentive for women to act and to be able to deal with cimate change and poverty effectively. The absence of a husband results in these women not receiving a range of required agricultural inputs inputs, and it often results in their land being seized by relatives or other individuals, referred to in Sub-Saharan Africa as "grabbing". The exception has been in parts of Rajasthan, where the climatic and land conditions are so severe, that communities realise that thee is no other option but to allow women to take up paid employment. It is clear that discrimination and unsubstantiated beliefs are now a block to dealing with climate change, as has already been noted by observers with respect to improving women's well-being and living standards. It is clear there is more to the impact of climate change than just Co2 emissions.

A footnote: In north India, girls from the age of puberty are often removed from school due to the same beliefs on the perception of females moving freely in public places and its association with sexual immorality, see for example Elemetary Education for the Poorest and Other Deprived Groups, by Jyotsna Jha and Dhir Jhingran (2005), among other reports. Naila Kabeer often covers these sorts of issues.

Ida Jeng
Wednesday 18th November, 2009, 11:47pm

Thank you for sharing, Belen

Friday 4th December, 2009, 9:49am

Indian women are great! They do not just sit back, they fight with the changed climate. It is a good example that we can take action when we are in front of difficulties.

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Guest Editor

Belen Bogado

Journalist, Global Voices


Paraguayan journalist and blogger, lived in Boston, MA, for a year, where I completed a Master's degree in Journalism. Right now I work as a radio host and producer in Paraguay, I write articles as a freelancer and I am a regular contributor to Global Voices.

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