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India: Women Farmers Stand Against Climate Change

Categories: South Asia, India, Citizen Media, Development, Environment, Women & Gender, Conversations for a Better World

A group of women in India have demonstrated that despite the existing gender inequity and their low economic status, they can become a powerful resource to tackle climate change and reduce the emissions that cause it.

In India, the most vulnerable populations to climate change — impoverished communities and women — are being affected first, and the most. For example, Oxfam India’s blog [1]comments about the devastating impact of drought on farmers [2], and the direct effect on women and children.

In the last 12 years, almost 50 farmers committed suicide every year, one tenth of them being women farmers. (…) Increasing number of farmers started migrating to cities in search of food. And the situation became shocking when trafficking in women and children proliferated in the district.

Gender as a Factor of Vulnerability to Climate Change

It is estimated that women produce over 50% of all food grown worldwide [3]. In India, more than 84% of women are involved in agricultural activities, [4] and as a result they become the greatest victims of climate change’s impact. In addition, gender inequality makes them disproportionately vulnerable to environmental alterations. Blogger Pricilla Stuckey, PhD points out on the blog This Lively Earth that women are unequally affected by climate change [5]:

Discrimination against women also plays an enormous role in how women experience the effects of climate change. In India, for example, where women have seen their crop yields cut in half and the quality of grain diminish because of climate changes, women’s health is impaired from the double whammy of inferior crops and inequality.

Farmer Sita Debi is an example of this. “When there is no rain, we women have to work really hard in the fields to try and grow crops. Our nutrition also suffers because we are the last to eat at the family table. A lot of us are anemic as a result,” she says in the video [6] filmed and posted on the blog Find Your Feet. Other women farmers appear in the video explaining how badly climate change is affecting their lives.

When Women Fight Back

Indian women don’t just sit around waiting to be hit by climate change. They, also, fight back. As shown in the second half of the video, women are developing innovative ways to adapt and help prevent global warming.

As reported in this Inter Press Service article [7]:

Agriculture accounts for at least 20 percent of Indian greenhouse gas emissions [8], mainly methane emission from paddy fields and cattle and nitrous oxides from fertilisers. According to the 2007 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India’s rainfall pattern will be changing disproportionately, with intense rain occurring over fewer days, leading directly to confusion in the agricultural scenario.

Another example of women taking proactive steps to combat climate change is taking place in the village of Bidakanne [7], where women are growing crops such as linseed, green and chick peas, wheat and other legumes in between the rows of sunflowers, all without water and chemical inputs, such as pesticides.

This type of agricultural activity is especially beneficial to the dalit or broken women, who make up the lowest rung of India's caste system. Through this system, women in the approximately 75 villages in the Medak district can now form associations to sell their crops, as well as gather surplus produce for poorer members. In addition, to using practices to reduce emissions and harmful pollutants, this type of activity also helps reduce poverty.

The leadership and effort of these Indian women has not gone unnoticed within the online community. Shiba Prosad Bhattacharyya comments on the site India Together [9]

Thank you for your column that these women have been profiled here make a case for them being a role model to the world. (…)Food is a human right & not a corporate commodity for speculation.Mother nature does not operate on a boardroom profit.Corporate profit will mearly lead to more food crisis. Through you I am conveying my highest regards to these women leaders who have demonstrated no negative effects on the environment, public health & farming families that food production can be profitable, sustainable and feed all of us.