Vulnerability to climate change in Gujarat remains a worrying policy issue for the state. A new study has found that there has been a sharp rise in the highly vulnerable areas in Gujarat over the last two decades. A counterview.org analysis:
A recent research work, which has still not caught public eye, “Analysis of Vulnerability Indices in Various Agro-Climatic Zones of Gujarat”, published in Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics (January-March 2013), should send alarming signals to the state policy makers, seeking to address disaster management issues in Gujarat. Prepared by a Junagarh Agricultural University scholar Deepa B Hiremath in association with a senior faculty, RL Shiyani, the study has found that, over the last two decades, not only has the number of districts under “highly vulnerable” category has gone from three (Panchmahals, Surat and Ahmedabad) to six (Surendrangar, Rajkot, Bharuch, Banaskantha Mehsana and Sabarkantha). Worse, Ahmedabad is now one of the two districts categorized as “very highly vulnerable” districts – the other district being Amreli. In early 1990s also two districts were under the “very highly vulnerable” category – they were Jamnagar and Mehsana.
What should be particularly worrisome for the policy makers is, the area under the “highly and very highly vulnerable” category has gone up from 24.73 per cent in early 1990s to 33.79 per cent over the last two decades later. Similarly, population under the “highly and very highly vulnerable” category has gone up from 37.91 per cent to 38.86 per cent. The study takes into account four different variables for its analysis – demographic vulnerability (factored from density of population and literacy rate), climate vulnerability (factored variance in rainfall and variance in south-western monsoon), agricultural vulnerability (factored from productivity of major crops, cropping intensity, area under cultivation and livestock population), and occupational vulnerability (factored from total workers, agricultural workers, industrial workers, cultivators and non-workers). Strangely, the study has refused to discuss vulnerability caused by industrialization and resultant environmental damage.
The study says, “The data pertaining to various socio-economic indicators were collected and compiled from different sources, viz., Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Gandhinagar and Department of Agriculture and Co-operation, Gandhinagar; meteorological data were collected from the Meteorology Departments of Anand Agricultural University, Anand and Junagadh Agricultural University, Junagadh.” Pointing towards its limitation, the study says that as “vulnerability to climate change is a comprehensive multidimensional process affected by a large number of related indicators”, it has not be possible for it “to include all the sub-indicators and so only indicators relevant to Gujarat state were selected in the construction of vulnerability indices… Here, the important and maximum possible available indicators were selected for the 1990s and 2000s decades.”
Even as excluding the impact of industrial growth on climate vulnerability, the study says, “Gujarat State is one of the fastest growing economies in our country. It is rapidly expanding its production and consumption activities.” This, it points out, is the major reason for the state to “contribute to climate change” and be “vulnerable to its impacts”. It underlines, “There is a pressing need to balance this development by simultaneously acting upon climate change and other issues which are putting tremendous pressure on the environment’s carrying capacity. The results of vulnerability indices analysis for the selected districts revealed that the variables pertaining to agricultural vulnerability were the major contributors in the overall vulnerability to climate change.”
Based on an analysis of 14 major districts of Gujarat, the study recommends, “Since the agricultural sector was found to have the greatest bearing, there is a need to shift focus towards investments in adaptation research capacity: particularly, in the development of climate proof crops (drought resistant and heat tolerant varieties) that can cope with wide range of climatic conditions. An improvement in the agronomic practices of different crops such as revising planting dates, plant densities and crop sequences can help cope with the delayed rainy seasons, longer dry spells and earlier plant maturity. Also, technologies for minimizing soil disturbance such as reduced tillage, conservation agriculture and crop rotation must be adopted.” It adds, in order to enhance the resilience of the agriculture sector, “new strategies must be built around ‘green’ agricultural technologies, such as adaptive plant breeding, forecasting of pests, rainwater harvesting and fertilizer microdosing. So far as the livestock sector is concerned, measures relating to utilization of fodder banks, control of livestock population and improvement in the livestock productivity, organizing of cattle camps and conservation of fodder must be undertaken.”
The study says, “Next to the agricultural indicators, the occupational indicators were found to be the second largest contributors. Since the occupational indicators were the second largest contributors towards overall vulnerability, to reduce the climate change impact, the policy makers must focus on generating better employment opportunities including income diversification options for the people in the regions where the incidences of out-migration are high. The dependence on agriculture should to be reduced, by encouraging other non-farm sources of income. Since the worst sufferers of climate change impacts are the rural communities (who depend mainly on agriculture for their livelihoods), it is important to focus on the impacts of climate change on livelihoods, and re-establish the links among poverty, livelihood and environment.”
“However”, it believes, “focusing on the communities only is not enough, and so long as the community initiatives do not become part of the government policies, it is difficult to sustain the efforts. A unique way of vulnerability reduction is through enhancing the capacities of local people and communities. Livelihood security should be the first and the foremost priority, where the improvement of lifestyle is desired through income generation in different options: agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, animal husbandry.” In addition, the study says, “Apart from this, predicted impacts should be introduced into development planning in the future, including land use planning and necessary remedial measures should be included to reduce vulnerability in disaster reduction strategies. Thus, the state of Gujarat requires a development strategy that integrates climate change policies with sustainable development strategies to effectively combat climate change issues.”
The study says, “The agricultural and occupational indicators were the greatest contributors towards vulnerability, which accounted for 52.61 per cent and 32.07 per cent, respectively. Since the agricultural sector was found to have the greatest bearing towards the overall vulnerability to climate change, there is a need to shift focus towards investments in adaptation research capacity, particularly in the development of climate proof crops (drought resistant and heat tolerant varieties) as well as redeploying the existing improved crop varieties that can cope with a wide range of climatic conditions. An improvement in the agronomic practices of different crops such as revising planting dates, plant densities and crop sequences can help cope with the delayed rainy seasons, longer dry spells and earlier plant maturity.”
It adds, “Also, technologies for minimizing soil disturbance such as reduced tillage, conservation agriculture and crop rotation must be adopted. So far as the livestock sector is concerned, measures relating to utilization of fodder banks, control of livestock population and improvement in the livestock productivity, organizing of cattle camps and conservation of fodder must be undertaken. The district of Panchmahals exhibited least vulnerability, followed by Junagadh and Vadodara districts due to agricultural and occupational indicators.” Referring to Junagadh district, it says, “The reasons for such a positive scenario for Junagadh district can be ascribed to the higher productivity of major crops like groundnut and cotton, high cropping as well as irrigation intensity, vast areas of grazing and permanent pastures along with greater livestock population and greater forest cover in the district.”
Results reveal, the study claims, that the agricultural sector “was the principal contributor to the overall vulnerability to climate change which is in line with the studies which show that as a part of the problem, agriculture contributes nearly 14 per cent of the annual green house gas (GHG) emissions, compared with about 13 per cent by transportation (considered the principal culprit along with deforestation (19 per cent). The principal agricultural sources of GHG’s include methane emissions from irrigated rice fields and livestock, nitrous oxide emissions from fertilised fields, energy use for pumping irrigation supplies and soil and land management practices. However, it can be a part of the solution by mitigating GHG emissions through better crop management, carbon sequestration, soil and land use management and biomass production.”
— Rajiv Shah