Nityananda Doley has a childhood dream of constructing the largest house in his village under Dangdhora Gaon Panchayat in Dhakuwakhona sub-division of Assam’s Lakhimpur district.
His ancestral village in Matmora, on the banks of river Brahmaputra, was lost to floods long ago. The completion of the construction of the embankment in Matmora with geo-tubes in 2012 has so far protected the communities from the wrath of the river during the monsoons. However, their livelihood pattern has changed.
Nityananda’s parents were some of the early migrants from Matmora who shifted to the plains and avoided the havoc wreaked annually by floods.
The Mishing community, which once lived on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Matmora, is now adapting to small farming and sericulture, shifting from traditional fishing and boat making activities.
In Ujani Phukangaon in Ghilamora Rural Development Block of Lakhimpur district, communities are working hard in adopting horticulture farming in their traditional paddy fields to sustain their livelihood affected by the flood, delayed monsoon and a drought in 2016.
They are much worried about an exotic breed of rice that is grown in that area used for consumption as a snack.
In nearby Mynahpora village of the same rural development block, a local youth Akhil Dutta is developing a wasteland created by the abnormal course of a river into a thriving livestock and poultry farm with zero carbon emission.
Climate change adaptation
Humans have been adapting to the changing environment throughout history by developing practices, cultures and livelihoods suited to local conditions.
However, climate change raises the possibility that existing societies will experience climatic shifts (in temperature, storm frequency, flooding and other factors), which unwritten and untold and measures to face them have not been prepared or written as no one experienced previously.
The lowering of the risks posed by the consequences of climatic changes is simply explained as climate change adaptation writes Susannah Fisher of the Grantham Research Institute at London School of Economics. Adaptation is needed to deal with the global changes that have already been set in motion.
There are several adaptation measures with actions that help reducing vulnerability to the consequences of climate change.
More secure facility locations and infrastructures, landscape restoration (natural landscape) and reforestation, flexible and diverse cultivation to be prepared for natural catastrophes, research and development on possible catastrophes, temperature behaviour, etc. are some of the adaptation actions put forwarded by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of UN.
The measures also include preventive and precautionary measures (evacuation plans, health issues, etc.).
However, in the far-away places of India’s northeast region, which is also a part of the greater Himalayan eco-system, the communities have been adapting to changed livelihood options without any intervention from the concerned agencies dealing with climate change.
Adapting sericulture, horticulture and livestock
Nityananda Doley (38) has to move away from his native village on the banks of the Brahmaputra in Matmora after his marriage in search of alternative livelihood options as their traditional fishing and boat making activities become fast redundant. He has been settled in Dangdhora village on the bank of a small rivulet where he started growing mulberry plants.
Mulberry is a hardy plant capable of thriving under a variety of agro-climatic conditions wide range of soils and in Assam is grown under both rain-fed and irrigated conditions.
It generally thrives well in the soil having 40-45 per cent water holding capacity. The worms that feed on mulberry trees make fines silk yarn called Noony Paat (Noony Silk) from which fabrics popular in traditional and ethnic dresses of Assam are made. Nityananda started planting mulberry saplings from 2016 and in two years’ time, he reaped a good harvest.
In 2018, Doley and his wife produced 50 kg of Noony silk yarns and earned Rs. 3000 per kilos. Though Nityananda’s wife is a skilled weaver with traditional looms, they preferred only in producing the yarn and sold it to larger loom owners as raw materials. From late 2018 he also started growing castor plants that produce the exotic Edi silk. In this adaptation too, Nityananda only sells the leaves of the castor plant which are used in feeding the worms to make the Edi yarns.
By the time of this year’s Rongalee Bihu, the most adored festival of Assam in which traditional attires have great demand, Nityananda earned Rs. 35,000 by only selling the castor leaves. He hopes to earn again this year by September as the second cropping will come to an end. This way he hopes to build a big house in the locality to fulfil his long-cherished childhood dream.
People have always adapted to climatic changes and some community coping strategies already exist (Edgar et al).
The Deoliya Silpa Samabay Samiti Limited, a cooperative society run by women of Ujani Phukangaon have been growing sugarcane and pineapples in a collective way for last three years to adapt the changing crop patterns affected by flood and delayed monsoon and a pest attack with drought in 2016.
The traditional rice belt in the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, Ujani Phukangaon has been badly hit by the overflowing water of river Champora as it breaches the embankment in an area called Bang-Klang. The area was famous for a breed of rice named Torabali (meaning starry) used extensively as flakes (Chira) to be consumed as a snack. But recent abnormality in weather has forced the communities in the village to go for a change in cropping.
In this regard the traditional knowledge and coping strategies must be maintained and strengthened, otherwise adaptive capacity may be weakened as local knowledge of the environment is lost. Strengthening these local techniques and building upon them also makes it more likely that adaptation strategies will be adopted, as it creates more community ownership and involvement in the process (Mirza et al).
In this case, the cooperative of women farmers of Ujani Phukangaon has played an exemplary role in sustaining adaptability in a changing weather condition. They are also doing what the Stockholm Environment Institute has suggested that certain forms of gender inequity should be addressed while dealing with climate adaptation issues.
After three years of sugarcane and pineapple farming, these women are now earning some profits. But at the same time, they are worried about the threat to the extinction of the Torabali rice. Therefore women should have participation in decision-making, or should not be constrained by lower levels of education.
Current development efforts are increasingly focusing on community-based climate change adaptation, seeking to enhance local knowledge, participation and ownership of adaptation strategies (McNamara et al).
After series of loss of standing paddy crops in flood and damage of the farmland by Kesukhonda river silt Akhil Dutta (33) of Mynahpora in Ghilamora in Lakhimpur district on the Subansiri basin, started raise goats in a shared system in 2016. Soon the four goats he started increased to dozens and people began to buy them as livestock as the demand for mutton of local bread is high.
Now in three years’, Akhil has changed his cropland to a resilient livestock farm with natural grass and water bodies having more than a thousand goats. He also has started poultry of indigenous breed in a big way producing eggs and chicken at the same time. The dungs of goats are treated to make bio-fertilizers which Akhil is selling to other farmers besides using them to grow Paan (betel leaf). He is also growing potatoes in the winter season.
State intervention for adaptation:
Nityananda Doley, the women cooperative collective in Ujani Phukangaon and Akhil Dutta are coping with climate change by adapting to different livelihood options, the state and concerned agencies have been dormant in reaching out to these pioneering efforts. As the Government of India has taken up the issue of climate change by signing the Paris Agreement, this is the right time that the state should intervene in adaptation exercises carried out by communities in these vulnerable climatic conditions. Nityananda, Akhil and the women collective want some financial assistance and technical support from the state agencies which can enable them to bring changes in their effort to be climate-resilient.
The story is being published as part of IHCAP-CMS Media Fellowship Program