Being a woman has its advantages, but not always so. Especially when the woman concerned lives on a land where the rains and river change flow and pattern regularly, where food from the soil is fitful and the climate as she understands is abruptly changing.
This was the tale of women farmers in the peri urban areas of Gorakhpur city of Uttar Pradesh. Recurring floods and water logging ruined their produce, while high input costs in agriculture made farming in their small patches of farmland both unaffordable and uneconomical. Extremely vulnerable, distress sale of agricultural land to builders or migration to the city seemed the only logical choice for many of them.
Meanwhile the city, under an onslaught of erratic weather conditions, threatened by haphazard urbanisation and human expansion, morphed into a living, breathing entity that greedily consumed the open spaces around it. Rapid encroachment mushroomed in the river floodplains too and in a short span of 12 years, 33% of land here converted into builtup area. Open, green areas reluctantly gave way to flashy buildings; fields were swallowed to accommodate the pressing modalities of an ever expanding city and water bodies turned into dumping grounds for the city’s sewage and filth.
Neither the city nor her women, who lived on her fringes, seemed robust or resilient. Until a few spirited women joined hands with GEAG, and decided to address this threat head on.
Shubhavati had watched helplessly how uncertain and erratic rainfall weakened her farming system, while the high cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides depleted her already meagre income. Learning from her association with GEAG, she became aware of their adverse impact on her land and her produce, and switched to making her own bio pesticides and compost, with ingredients readily available off her land. Today, the reduced external inputs have shrunk her farming costs, boosted her income and also ensured healthier food for her family. Asha, another woman farmer, after training in the Farmers Field School, diversified into jam and jelly making, from her guava orchard produce which is now her insurance against the onset of abnormal floods. Chanda boldly ventured into vegetables farming & mushroom cultivation and today sells her fresh, chemical free vegetables that not only supplement her income, but ensure better food security and improved health & nutrition for her family.
These women farmers cultivate their fields and orchards that lie in the city’s periphery, which also act as buffers and improve the city’s resilience to flooding. Free from construction, they enhance water storage & infiltration, and reduce run off, resulting in lesser floods and reduced impacts of high rainfall for the urban areas. Harbouring a much needed critical ecosystem service, they also play a crucial role in ensuring urban food security, with these farms as a nutrition basket for the city people.
Gorakhpur women farmers successfully dealt with climate change induced challenges, using their skill and inherent knowledge. Being responsible for the home and hearth, they used their local knowhow to flood proof their homes. Raised platforms or plinth outside their house, increased door and shelves height, attic storage; these women turned resourceful to adapt to the inherent climate change they were witnessing.
It is true that unpredictable climate makes women more vulnerable and they tend to face higher risks, heavier burdens and depleted resources. But empowering and investing in these same women can transform them into significant contributors who reduce disaster risk and find unique solutions to combat climate change, paving the way for a better today and a more resilient tomorrow.
The authors of the article Nivedita Mani and Sabita Kaushal are team members, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).