Climate change pushing Sundarban farmers into ‘awkward jobs’

Subhra Priyadarshini

Climate change is triggering a silent yet drastic livelihood change in the agricultural fields and water bodies of Sundarbans, the world heritage mangrove tiger-land that spans 10,000 square kilometres across the Indo-Bangladesh border. As agriculture and fishing become increasingly unviable in the island conglomerate battered by extreme weather events and salt water ingression, a sizeable number of farmers are turning into migrant labours or are forced to work in the hundreds of brick kilns that have mushroomed on both sides of the border.

Brick kilns have come up where water bodies once stood
© Swadesh Bhattacharya

These farmers, earlier tending to crops and fishes, are now finding refuge in construction and mining jobs in faraway Mauritius or in the Indian states of Kerala, Gujarat, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Many others, unable to make ends meet, are opting to work in the polluting brick kilns, which have replaced water bodies that earlier dotted the estuarine topography.

A World Bank supported household survey conducted in 2011 in the Indian Sundarbans, one of the most underdeveloped areas of the country housing more than 4.4 million people, found that at least 30% of households had one member migrating in search of work. It also reported that 93% of the 2188 households surveyed did not want to remain dependent on forest resources if other livelihood opportunities were available.

Many women, not employed as domestic workers, end up in sex trade. According to a study by Kolkata-based NGO Jayaprakash Institute of Social change, 20% of households reported child migrant labourers.

“Though no formal studies have been conducted lately, roughly 60% of the male workforce in the Indian Sundarbans is estimated to be migrating out. They are forced to take up awkward jobs unheard of in the delta earlier,” says Subhas Acharya, a former administrator of the Sundarban affairs department of West Bengal state in India. The working population in the region, according to the 2011 government census, was 1.2 million men and 0.3 million women.

“Now, we can neither be sure of our crop yields nor fish yields. What else can we do but get jobs elsewhere to make ends meet?” asks Nitai Mondol of Gosaba island, who works at a nearby brick kiln and earns just about enough to support his family of four. His younger brother and cousins, who earlier looked after a couple of small family owned water bodies, have all taken up jobs as masons and construction workers in Bengaluru, Karnataka.


As men leave for other places, women are managing the socio-economics in many villages.
© S. Priyadarshini

As the men folk get driven out of their homes, climate change is slowly carving another major social change – the socio-economics of the region is largely being handled by women, Acharya, who hails from one of the Sundarban island of Patharpratima and has family living there, says.

Across South Asia, close to 50 million people are estimated to have been displaced due to climate related disasters such as floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts since 2008. These people who are compelled to leave their homes are particularly vulnerable and need effective rehabilitation, says Walter Kaelin of the Swiss-Norwegian Nansen Initiative which protects people displaced across borders due to disasters and the effects of climate change.

Agriculture, fisheries make for uncertain livelihoods

Traditionally, the Sundarbans region is characterised by small-scale farmers and paddy and prawn cultivators. The region has been one of the largest paddy and fish yielding zones of the country. According to the World Bank report, almost 80% of households in Sundarbans pursue livelihood options that involve inefficient production methods in agriculture, fishing and aquaculture.

Between 2001 and 2008, the area under agriculture in the Indian Sundarbans had gone down from 2149 sq km to 1691 sq km. Also, as a result of overexploitation of aquatic species in the last 15 years, coastal fishing has seen a decline in catch-per-unit effort – from 150-200 kg per haul to 58-65 kg per haul. The loss in terms of juvenile species is substantial, and the catch and earnings of fisheries have declined over time.

Adding to the woes is the conversion of many inland water bodies into brick fields in the last few years. According to estimates, out of the 70,000-odd hectares under fish cultivation, over 2,000 hectare have been converted into brick fields, mostly in Minakha, Haroa, Sandeshkhali and Hingalganj areas on the Indian side.

“During extreme events, the centuries-old river embankments give way. Tidal fluctuations are increasing day by. Villages in Sagar, Namkhana and Patharpratima islands are in serious trouble from saline ingression that poses a big question on the livelihoods of people living in the fringes,” Acharya notes.


Goodbye Grains! Welcome Mr. Apple!

Athar Parvaiz

Srinagar:  Kaisar Ahmad Bhat, who grows apple-tree saplings in vast patches of land in Koimoo in south Kashmir, is happy that customers are now getting attracted to his nurseries in droves.

“Our business is picking up despite the fact that the government’s wildlife department, which used to place orders for fruit-tree saplings in millions for planting them near wildlife-rich zones, has stopped placing the orders,” says Bhat.

“Earlier, we were mostly selling our nursery-yields to the wildlife department because they were planting these trees for making fruits available to the wild animals to avoid their conflicts with the fruit-growers in plains [during which they were getting killed].”

Bhat is surprised that he didn’t have to worry for the customers following the abrupt change-of-decision by wildlife department thanks to the large-scale conversion of paddy-land into orchards which has automatically bridged that huge gap in demand for his products.

Bhat’s neighbor, Shams-u-Din Zargar, seemingly much elder to him recalls the days when farmers in his own area, Koimoo, were only interested in paddy and not apples. “We had more than 80 percent of the farmers growing paddy in their fields,” says Zargar.

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Securing Saffron Against Dry Spells

Athar Parvaiz

Srinagar, January, 21:  Kashmiri saffron, famous for offering the best quality in the world, is facing multiple constraints including the gravest challenge posed by the frequently occurring extreme events related to climate change.  Due to the slump in quality because of fake saffron in the market prices have almost halved since 2009 from  2.7 lac (US$6,000) per kilogram to only 1.3 lac (US$3,600) per kg in present times.

“It is a unique plant whose active period and effective growth occurs in fall and winter. Corm sprouting, flower initiation and time of flowering are the critical stages that are influenced by environmental fluctuations in terms of temperature and availability of water,” says Firdous Ahmad Nahvi, who has carried out extensive research on saffron.

Till 1999–2000, he says, Kashmir was receiving well distributed precipitation in terms of rain and snow to the extent of 1000–1200 mm which at present has decreased to 600–800 mm. “Usually critical months of September and October are dry and thus flowering is delayed due to delayed sprouting which does not correlate with critical limits of day and night temperature thereby, effecting crop productivity.”

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Seabuckthorn Can Boost Ladakh’s Economy

Athar Parvaiz

Leh, January, 23:  Researchers and Ladakhi farmers say that they should not only rely on tourism, but should also have a sustainable agricultural livelihood option for them. They argue that Ladakh has got agricultural potential which needs to be tapped with the help of experts.

For example, the experts say that sea-buckthorn, which grows wildly in Ladakh, has the potential to change the economy of  this Himalayan desert, if it is cultivated in a scientific manner.

Given the fact that the present international market for seabuckthorn products — including foodstuff, beverages, medicines, cosmetics and industrial material – is valued at over US$60 billion a year, it is time for the government to harness production, says Amjid Ali, associate professor at Kargil College of Kashmir University.

“During my research, I found that people in Ladakh harvest it unsustainably as they crush the entire plant for fruit collection. They say that since it is a wild plant, it can be destroyed without bothering about its re-growth,” said Ali, who, in June last year also presented his research paper on seabuckthorn at a conference on sustainable development of resources in Himalayas in Leh.


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Kashmiri Farmers Await Crop Insurance Scheme

Athar Parvaiz


Srinagar, January, 17: While the agriculture department and the horticulture department officials say that the much-anticipated saffron crop and apple crop insurance scheme for farmers was disrupted by the September, 7 floods last year, farmers are aghast that nothing is being done even in the aftermath of the event which devastated the Kashmir region in an unprecedented manner.

Apple and fruit growers in Kashmir have suffered losses many times in the past few years because of erratic rains and snow-storms right at the time when their orchards start blossoming thereby causing a decline in fruit production many times over the past few years.

Fruit industry in Kashmir brings an annual turn-over of 8,000 million dollars to Kashmir and provides direct and indirect employment to more than 700,000 people.

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Invasive Species; a New Challenge for Kashmir

Athar Parvaiz

Srinagar, January 20:  Botanists in Kashmir have warned that the invasive species can spread with ease in Kashmir in future as they are likely to get favourable climatic conditions here with the rising temperatures.

Kashmir falls under the temperate climatic zone, but experts say that they have traced examples of certain species in some parts of Kashmir which are found in sub-tropical regions like Jammu and Punjab.

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Smartphone app helps Nepali farmers

[KATHMANDU] An Android smartphone application offers a convenient way for Nepali farmers to link up to the market and to experts atagriculture extension agencies on a single platform.

Called IFA Krishi Nepal, the app provides information in the Nepali language to farmers about planting crops, livestock disease, weather forecast and market prices, says Sibjan Chaulagain, who co-founded SMILES, the technology developer.

“Farmers can now use this app to go beyond the existing network of middlemen and get the best price,” says Chaulagain.

The app developers initially received a grant of US$8,000 in 2013 to build an SMS-based system to provide agricultural information to farmers. This system later evolved to the IFA Krishi app, first on Google play as a web-only application and now over smartphone.

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Private insurers may help Indian farmers weather the storm

By: Sandip Das | New Delhi | January 16, 2015 12:12 am

In a bid to protect farmers from erratic weather pattern, the government has invited private insurance companies, along with state-owned Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AIC), for providing various products relating to crop, weather and income insurance.

Sources told FE that for the last two decades or so only AIC, which is owned by four state-owned general insurance companies and Nabard, has been offering yield-based and weather-based crop insurance programmes. “Ten private general insurance companies are empanelled for implementation of crop insurance schemes for increasing coverage and create competition in crop insurance sector,” an official with agriculture ministry said.

The key private sector insurance companies, which have started to offer crop or weather insurance products, include ICICI Lombard, HDFC Ergo, Iffco Tokio and Bajaj Allianz. “The private sector would also bring in many innovative insurance products for catering to the need of the farmers in the context of climate change,” the official said.

The official said around 30 million farmers out of 120 million have been covered under the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), which mainly covers yield losses. Sixty five crops and around 25% of the crop areas are covered under crop insurance. About 70% of these are accounted for by farmers who own less than four hectares and a majority of farmers had been provided insurance by AIC.

“Crop insurance is going to become even more important in future, considering increasing climatic variability. Unfortunately, despite insurance reaching almost 30 million farmers today, there is widespread dissatisfaction. We need to develop simple products that are scientifically valid, economically viable, transparent, and acceptable to most stakeholders,” Pramod Aggarwal, regional programme leader, Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) platform, said.

Based on evaluation studies, the government had introduced National Crop Insurance Programme (NCIP) after merging Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (MNAIS), Pilot Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS) & Coconut Palm Insurance Scheme (CPIS) from Rabi 2013-14 season.

The premium paid under NCIP is higher than the NAIS as the premium being charged is on actual basis and claim liability as present is on the insurance company. However, the official said premium under NCIP had been provided with upfront subsidy up to 75% in case of MANIS and up to 50% under WBCIS.

Besides the revamped programme would offer insurance cover to the farmers where historical data on the crops are not necessarily available, thus helping farmers in dealing with the associated risk. However, NAIS would continue for a couple of years before being entirely merged with NCIP which also offering income insurance to the farmers.

NAIS is also available to farmers who have not taken bank loan and covers all food crops — cereals, millets & pulses, oilseeds and some horticultural crops which past yield data is available for adequate number of years. The premium varies between 1.5% to 3.5% of sum insured for food & oilseed crops and a 10% premium subsidy is provided to small & marginal farmers.

The Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme (CCIS), introduced in 1985 by the Centre in collaboration with state governments, was linked to short-term crop credit, where all loans for notified crops in a specific area were compulsorily covered.