In hill states, women are integral to farm economy but are not usually included in decision-making processes related to climate change adaptation. (Srishti Choudhary/Mint)
In hill states, women are integral to farm economy but are not usually included in decision-making processes related to climate change adaptation. (Srishti Choudhary/Mint)

In hill states like Himachal, women hold the key to fighting climate change

  • Experts say drawing on women’s traditional knowledge while supporting their empowerment would make climate change adaptation more effective
  • ICIMOD report highlights the need to include more women workforce in the climate mitigation process to reduce disaster risks

MANDI : “It is July, but look at the skies," says Ranjana Devi, 40, as she walks through her terraced farm behind her house in Bhakrot village, 20 km from Karsog valley in Mandi. At an altitude of 1,900 metres, some scattered clouds are sliding across the sky, but rain has been scarce.

Devi has sown cabbage and peas in her terraced farm and some maize. “We have these meetings in the next village, where they tell us about which seeds are better, sowing practices, rain," she says, referring to meetings where officials from the agriculture department visit villages to create awareness among residents.

In Himachal Pradesh, one of the states where women are often seen shouldering farm work equally with men, be it in agriculture or horticulture, the challenges posed by changing climatic conditions resonate with their concerns, especially those among the apple-growers.

In a nearby village, Klas, Sarala is preparing for harvesting of apples in the family orchard across the slope of the hill. While showing the smaller size of apples, she says, “Rains were not so erratic earlier. The first spells of rain in June are crucial, but this time, it did not rain as much. We eventually had to use sprays, because these apples (Tideman) are usually harvested before any other variety in the state."

Sarala’s perception coincides with the actual trends of climate variation in the state, where apple production has suffered due to warming. While the quality of apples has gone down, the apple line has also shifted upwards. In places like Kullu, the area under apple has also shifted to vegetables, in accordance with the State Action Plan on Climate Change, which anticipates an all-round decrease in horticulture production in the state. The incidence of pest attack has also risen.

“Women are a core group if we have to create awareness among people," says Pankaj Sood, who heads Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Mandi, “It is difficult to make a society adapt to any effects of climate change until women’s participation is ensured. In HimachalPradesh, we see them involved in agricultural activities at par with them."

The need is felt more as men increasingly migrate to market-driven economies in cities, along with the educated youth who show less interest in agricultural activities, leaving women to look after farming in addition to their traditional roles.

The latest report from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal, also highlights the need to include more women in the climate mitigation process to reduce disaster risks.

“This inclusion will increase the acceptance by local people and will help reduce poverty to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030," stated the report, which discusses how women in developing countries, including India, are more vulnerable to climate change compared to men.

Ranbir Singh Rana, an agronomist from Palampur who handles one of the IMD’s projects for agro-advisories, says the impact of dissemination of information among women is better than in men, as they are more keen to adapt climate resilient practices like mixed cropping.

“We noticed this in the village meetings and found that when women are the target groups for sharing information, they tend to discuss more with other women. So, the spillover impact is more. This helps in spreading awareness about crops, new pest attacks or weather changes," said Rana, scientist at Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University, Palampur. He sends agro-advisories through SMS to 2.80 lakh people in four districts.

Experts highlight that drawing on women’s traditional knowledge while supporting their empowerment would also make climate change adaptation more effective. “They do whatever they can and know how to adapt to changing conditions," said Pawan Pathania, coordinator of the m-krishi portal in the state, “From sowing to harvesting, women are actively involved in different aspects of agricultural practices in the state."

As per the Climate Vulnerability Assessment for the Himalayan states carried out under the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP), Himachal Pradesh is not doing particularly well in terms of creation of adaptive capacity through access to information and infrastructure.

Manshi Asher, an environmentalist working with Himdhara, an environment research and action collective based in Himachal Pradesh, says instead of focusing on women as a separate group, all developing exercises should include women from the start.

“In hill states, women are integral to the farm economy but they are not usually included in discussions and decision-making processes related to climate change. The government’s interventions do not reach women and they do not get the latest know-how about new farming techniques," says Asher, “If we can improve their limited access to information and resources, we can bolster the fight against climate change."

(This story was published as part of IHCAP-CMS Media Fellowship programme 2019)


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