India needs to adopt a climate-smart agriculture policy that includes a ‘gender lens’. Since most Indian agriculture is rain-fed, the intensifying effects of climate change — changing rainfall patterns, drought, flooding and the geographical redistribution of pests and diseases — are impacting agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods in India. At the same time, the migration of men from rural areas and an increase in the number of small and marginal holdings operated by female farmers means that the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture will disproportionately impact women.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps guide actions to transform agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security. There are three foundational pillars of CSA: ensuring sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes, building resilience to climate change and reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
Several locally adaptive CSA practices are not taken up because women do not engage with them. This can be overcome by improving access for women to CSA practices and agro-advisory services. The success of CSA practices is dependent on gender-responsive planning and implementation.
The Indian government has initiated a number of programs to reduce the impact of climate change and make the country’s agriculture more resilient, such as funding the Climate Vulnerability Atlas under the National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture. This has seen the Indian Council of Agricultural Research help develop 151 ‘climate-resilient villages’ since January 2019.
But there is an absence of state-level action plans that integrate gender as a key dimension for climate adaptation in agriculture and allied sectors. Adaptation projects that are gender inclusive at the state level are miniscule and have failed to scale. Out of 55 schemes under seven broad missions for the agriculture sector, only about 14 schemes have earmarked allocations for women.
There is an urgent need to mainstream women in CSA policies for four main reasons.
First, climate change greatly impacts women — especially rural women. The responsibility for collecting water and fuel, as well as the impacts of natural disasters and the intra-household allocation of food, affect men and women differently. Due to climate change, women cover longer distances in fetching water and collecting vegetables, fruits, fodder and raw materials for the family. More time is spent by women than men when it comes to these activities.
Second, when resources or food are scarce, incidences of malnutrition tend to be most severe among women.
Third, climate vulnerabilities vary across agro-economic regions in India. But women’s access to agriculture extension and climate advisory services remains low due to socioeconomic barriers. Improving women’s access to mobile services for climate advice, while also generating awareness about Zero Budget Natural Farming and other sustainable agri-practices, can make the process more inclusive.
Fourth, several initiatives for in situ rainwater harvesting and conservation are not currently integrated with women’s participation in local government. Adaptive measures covering policy, technology, finance, institutional strengthening and research interventions can be aligned with specific women-oriented schemes in agriculture to transform the rural economy and address this issue.
In order to address these issues, a number of strategies should be considered by state and local governments. To integrate women in these schemes state governments should adopt a gender budget — a powerful tool to integrate women into adaptation planning and decision making. Institutional roles for women can be made mandatory by engaging women in sustainable climate initiatives like ‘climate resilient councils’ which can be set up at the grassroots level to plan and prepare roadmaps that help make villages resilient to climate fluctuations.
Globally, there are adaptation and mitigation funds for women. India should also consider replicating one of these funds and should strengthen the activities of communities at the grassroots. In addition to supporting women, these actions will more broadly help reduce carbon emissions, encourage the adoption of renewables and improve livelihood security. Legislative reforms to strengthen women’s rights over common property resources are also required to enable communities to protect forests more effectively.
Female farmers have already brought some changes in legislation to make CSA a reality in several countries. The Chipko movement in India exemplifies women’s active involvement in regenerating forest diversity and protecting trees. But movements for ‘women-led CSA initiatives’ need to be scaled up to climate-proof agriculture into the future.
Setting up local and multilingual digital platforms specifically for CSA is necessary to strengthen the voices of women. Rural women’s voices can be leveraged to spread awareness about the impacts of climate change and about the best practices to make agriculture more resilient to a changing climate. Higher education and research institutions need to take on leading roles in generating evidence on the gendered impacts of climate change.
Gender responsive and women-led CSA policies will strengthen communities and will help enhance the resilience and adaptive capacity of Indian agriculture. India must make such policy a reality if it is serious about protecting agriculture from the inevitable vulnerabilities that come with a changing climate.
Nikhila Menon is a Director at the Ministry of Finance, India. This commentary first appeared in East Asia Forum.