The coastal states of India are most affected due to Global Climate change and consequent sea level rise as these states are subjected to various environmental as well as socio-economic pressures due to this factor. Coastal rural community are the major victims of climate change since the natural resources of these states are getting affected and deteriorated due to climate change and the livelihood and daily lives of the coastal community are greatly dependent on these resources. Moreover, these coastal rural communities are regularly facing the threat of climate change at low lying areas adjacent to coast due to their proximity to sea. They usually lack the modern infrastructure, knowledge and resources to fight the climate related challenges. The objective situation clearly points to the fact that the coastal community have a very limited adaptive capacity to these sudden changes. Thus, a substantial adaptation effort is required on consistent basis to lessen the problems of these coastal communities in Sundarban arising from climate change. A sustainable development plan is also required in order to get them involved in the community based adaptation processes.
Now-a-days, the issue of climate change adaptation and sustainable development are inseparable in nature. Development in coastal areas especially in Sundarban comes at a huge cost. Development of any strategy in Sundarban areas depends on the careful consideration of the present and possible future climate change impacts in this region. A long term planning based on a detailed study on vulnerabilities of the local people due to climate change is also required considering livelihood and infrastructure facilities.
The deadly effects of global climate change have been affecting Sundarban Islands in a noticeable manner through the erratic fluctuation of temperature, unseasonal rains, droughts, floods, heat waves, extreme weather patterns, and high amplitude waves etc., which were unprecedented in Sundarban region a few years back. This results into accelerated coastal erosion and consequent loss of land and property due to flooding, saltwater intrusion, change in distribution pattern and abundance of valuable marine species, loss of habitat and biodiversity.
Flood affected agricultural lands in Sundarban
Most importantly, the farmers are suffering from low crop yields and in some cases their livelihood is at stake. Apart from supporting them in various adaptation plans in respect of appropriate agriculture, SEED (Society for Socio Economic and Ecological Development), uses to train them to face the worst scenario as a capacity building exercise and how to fight during such natural disaster condition as a result of climate change.
In the year 2009, the coastal areas of Sundarban were among the worst hit areas due to a huge cyclonic disturbance called Aila, causing loss of considerable life and livestock. Property, land and livelihood of thousands of local people were lost due to such cyclone. Intrusion of salt water into agricultural lands over a vast stretch of areas made them uncultivable. At this time, SEED along with agriculture specialists started working towards finding solutions of this problem of the farmers.
In 2011, training cum workshop was organised by SEED on sustainable agriculture at Bharatgar G.P (one of the worst hit blocks due to Aila in Sundarban) of Basanti Block in Sundarban with support from the Food & Agriculture Engineering Department, IIT Kharagpur. The training was provided to the farmers especially whose lands were inundated by salt water. Since then, SEED was planning to introduce salt tolerant paddy seed varieties to these farmers in a commercial scale.
Training on Sustainable agriculture at Bharatgar GP
In the Year 2012, SEED organised one training cum workshop at Kultali Block of Sundarbans (also a worst hit blocks of Sundarban) with the technical support of Agriculture Department of Calcutta University. Community farming, use of bio-fertilisers and use of bio-pesticides as adaptive measures for climate change were discussed in detail in that workshop. Eminent agriculture scientist, Prof. Ashim Choudhuri was present in this workshop as a resource person. The enthusiasm amongst the local farmers was noticeable.
In the year 2012, SEED organised a training camp on Precision Farming at Shankarpur Gram Panchayat of Baruipur Block of South 24-Parganas. Baruipur block is famous for orchards and the major source of earning of the local farmers is the fruits grown in such orchards and gardens. But, in recent time due to the effects of climate change, the local farmers are greatly affected due to dwindling production. A group of agricultural scientists from Food & Agriculture Engineering Department, IIT Kharagpur including the eminent scientist Dr. A. K. Karan were present there as resource person. The theme discussion was cantered around various methods of combating the problem of reduced production of fruits due to the effect of climate change as an adaptive measure.
Agriculture is the major livelihood of the Indian Sundarban communities and the rest are dependent on fishing and aquaculture. Again, paddy is the major crop grown here. The main livelihood option of the coastal Sundarban is under high threat due to the effects of climate change.
Further, the rising sea level makes the situation even worse especially after monsoon. The recent dreaded flood in Sundarbans particularly affecting Mousuni and Sagar Island is an eye opener. Sudden breach of river embankments along vast stretch caused flooding of agricultural lands over extensive areas wherein salt water entered the agricultural fields making them uncultivable for the current year as well as next few years to come. Definitely, such threat will keep increasing as the experts have warned about rise of sea level at a higher level and more severe storms in the coming years. This will be certainly a great challenge for the coastal communities as they will lose their livelihood and livestock in such a situation. As a consequence, it seems that they will be forced to live in a lesser condition of life by way of opting for either fishing or migrating to unskilled labour in nearby cities.
Keeping in view of such a massive threat emanating from climate change effects, the organization planned to offer some basic adaptation techniques to combat this challenge. SEED, which was trying to come up with a solution of growing crops in salt affected land, finally became able to distribute some salt tolerant varieties of paddy seeds in four islands of Sundarban with the support of Rice Research Station, Government of West Bengal.
Agriculture Scientists and President of SEED with local farmers
Each farmer was given 4 kilograms of the paddy seeds for an initial adaptive trial. This will enable the farmers to grow paddy even in lands affected by salt water. Just a week after this, high tidal surge caused the breach of river embankments in Mousuni and Sagar Island, as described above, flooding extensive areas, destroying houses and inundating vast stretches of agricultural lands with saline water in several villages. As the water is receding now, in these coastal villages of the two islands, the farmers can at least grow paddy with this salt tolerant varieties in their fields which was inundated with salt water and hopefully their livelihood will be maintained with such an endeavour.
Agriculture Scientists (Dr. Kamal Sen and Mr. Soumen Basu) from SEED visited 4 blocks (Tridibnagar village in Jharkhali Island of Basanti Block), (Mousuni Island in Namkhana Block), (G-Plot in Pathar Pratima Block), (Muriganga 1 GP in Sagar Island) of Sundarbans and provided on farm support to the farmers. The seeds were distributed to about 100 farmers of the four islands, who had experienced salt water inundation in their agricultural fields earlier during cyclonic season. The salt tolerant paddy seed varieties like Jarva, Bina 8, Bina 10, GS5, GS9, RP Bio4919-50-13, Luna Barial, Luna Subarna, Amalman etc. were distributed to the farmers. Apart from these, some scented varieties of paddy seeds like Dadshal, Govinda Bhog, Shitabhog, Radhuni Pagol, Badsha Bhog and China Kamini were distributed amongst few farmers so that they can do good business by selling these costly varieties of rice.
Salt Tolerant Paddy seeds being packed
36 villagers of Mousuni Island were handed over these salt tolerant varieties of seeds. Among them, Farida Baig was the only female farmer whose agricultural land was badly affected by saline water. She is the head of the family and has to work in the field to earn two meal for her family.
Mohammad Illias, the Gram Pradhan of Mousuni Island thanked SEED for taking this initiative to support the farmers of his village. He said that some of the farmers were left with no other option but to migrate to nearby areas so as to work as daily labourer as their lands have turned saline. But with the availability of such salt tolerant variety, they can now again go back to the farming work.
Sukumar Pattnaik is one of the beneficiaries of Pathar Pratima Block, who lost his all hopes of farming again after Cyclone Aila. Now, he is happy to get this salt tolerant variety of paddy seeds and hopes to get a good yield of crop this year.
Paddy seeds being measured before distribution
Sujan Mondal of Jharkhali Island said that he will
distribute the seeds to his fellow farmers in next farming season if he gets good result this year.
In Sagar Island, some of the farmers are in possession of considerable amount of agricultural lands but more than half of it has now turned saline after cyclone Aila and due to annual breach of river embankments. 56 year old farmer Biman Mondal is one such farmer whose 3 bighas of land has turned uncultivable as it got inundated by salt water. He is now cultivating only in the rest 2 bighas of land he owns. Now, he hopes to cultivate in the other 3 bighas too after getting the salt tolerant paddy seeds. He said that his financial condition has deteriorated due to sudden shrinkage of farming land, but he is looking forward to bring his good days back once again.
Unlike others, 55 year old farmer Sukhdeb Patra sounded very low as his son had to leave his studies midway because of this climate change effects since considerable amount of his agricultural land got flooded with salt water thus leaving him penniless for two years.
Farmers after receiving the paddy seeds and one female farmer in her paddy field in Mousuni IslandWe cannot assure to bring back their good days all on a sudden in a single go. But we sincerely believe that this small effort will provide them a little support to their livelihood.
Agriculture Scientists monitoring the paddy farmsThe change in climatic condition is not fully in our control but we can at least try our level best to adapt with such changes and look forward to a better life for these coastal communities. However, it will not be limited to paddies only. We will definitely try to provide them salt tolerant seeds of other crops too in near future.