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Harnessing local solutions and stakeholder participation to strengthen rural poor in combating climate change

Authors: Dhruvi Shah is the CEO of Axis Bank Foundation, and Pramathesh Ambasta, Former CEO, Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation

Climate change is well upon us, unleashing adversities on the already vulnerable – poor and developing nations that depend primarily on agriculture and allied activities; threatening to undo decades of development efforts.

World Bank report estimated that by 2030, climate change could push the population of 32 million to 132 million worldwide into extreme poverty (Attacking Poverty, Oxford University Press; Oxford UK: 2020). We can well imagine the crisis confronting India as two-thirds of our population depend on agriculture and allied activities for a living. More than 80 percent of India’s current population lives in highly climate-vulnerable districts, with 700 million rural population directly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors and natural resources, mainly water, for their livelihood. Poverty also means limited resources to fall back on or recover quickly from disasters caused by climate change.

As it stands, India loses over 5,334 million tons of soil annually due to soil erosion. If this issue remains unaddressed, productive soil will be lost, making lands unproductive. And this will have a domino effect leading to a loss of livelihoods in rural India. If we take the central Indian tribal belt, the land belonging to most farmers is unproductive, needing urgent interventions to improve soil conservation and water harvesting to improve soil fertility. The need of the hour is small-scale, localized interventions, instead of depending on new water storage bodies like large and medium dams as their overall adverse impact on the entire ecosystem is immense.

Initiatives such as watershed management and rainwater harvesting ought to be given precedence, as more and more areas move into critical and over-exploited zones (gray or dark zones). Recharging groundwater and harvesting rainwater in the upper reaches, soil erosion control measures, and augmentation of natural and induced recharge can restore groundwater levels and prove beneficial to farmers and those depending on farming.

What must be kept in mind is that the poorest and the most vulnerable in India are in rainfed areas. It is here that the maximum impact of both crises is felt. The central Indian tribal belt is almost entirely rainfed and is also home to three-fourths of India’s Adivasi population. Consider the following, only 22% of tribal landholdings are irrigated, and the share of tribal landholdings in the Gross Irrigated Area of the country is just 6.2%. Across all social groups, the human development index is the worst for the tribals.

Addressing the current scenario requires concerted and coordinated efforts by different stakeholders. Well-meaning NGOs and civil society organizations could be motivated to take up strengthening agrarian operations. The government can rope in NGOs, and Corporates, and tap their knowledge, know-how, and skills to fill the gaps and scale up CSR activities.

Climate change has a severe impact on the most vulnerable among us, highlighting the need for immediate action. With the urgency of climate change growing clearer each day, it is imperative that we unite and confront the crisis together. Only through shared responsibility, innovative solutions and collective action can we build climate resilient rural communities.

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