Climate Change pushes farmers to the brink in Assam
Climate Change pushes farmers to the brink in Assam, North East Farmers and Climate Change. Farmers in the state of Assam in the North East are being...
With climate change making the rainfall pattern unpredictable and erratic, thousands of farmers in the state of Assam in the North East are being severely affected, as it is aggravating erosion and also affecting cultivation in the state. According to experts working on climate change in the region, with climate change hazards like floods and erosion have become more erratic, and this has hit farmers hard in the state.
"There has been a trend in the region towards an increase in spells of dryness as well as wetness, towards extremes. This shows climate change is taking place," said Dulal Goswami of the environmental department at Gauhati University in Assam. According to civil society groups, apart from making it difficult for farmers to cultivate their land, thousands of farmers are also suffering as their land gets eroded.
“Besides losing land as a result of erosion, another reason why the erratic rainfall affects farmers is due to the poor irrigation facilities in the state. Majority of the farmers are still dependent on the rain for their land as very little of the total cultivable land in the state is covered by irrigation,” said Akhil Gogoi, an activist associated with the Krishak Mukti Sangam Samiti (KMSS), a farmer’s movement in the state.
According to Assam government statistics, almost 50 per cent of the total irrigation projects are at the moment non-functional in the state. “Presently only around 690 of the 1300 schemes implemented by the irrigation department are working, and this is basically due to lack of adequate funds,” said PC Borpujari, a retd chief engineer of the Assam irrigation department. Mulan Pegu (46), a farmer based at the Kamalabari village in the Majuli sub-division of the Jorhat district of Assam is among lakhs of farmers in the state affected as a result of climate change.
Pegu’s family comprising his wife and three daughters earlier solely dependent on the income from his field, but now things are totally different.
“Earlier (till about 4-5 years back) we were living a comfortable and happy life with income from my 2.5 hectares of cultivable land. But now over the years there has been a sharp change in the rainfall pattern which has made things much difficult. Although we were always aware that our land is slowly getting eroded, now we have observed that the rate of erosion is very fast, and if this goes on I will be left without any cultivable land in the next 3-5 years,” said Pegu.
Pegu said that till 5-6 years back he could comfortably earn around Rs. 1.8 lakh a year, and was also able to make some savings, and added that now he is not even able to earn enough to survive the whole year and almost all his savings has been spent already.
Staring at a bleak future Pegu pointed out that till now none of his daughters are married and two are yet to complete education, and if his income further declines he will have to give up agriculture and look for new income source.
Pegu is not the only one who has been affected by climate change. Hafiz Ali (50) from the Chenimari vllage in the Barpeta district in the state is facing similar problems. Ali who was always a famer and used to support his family of wife and five children, 4 sons and one daughter, with his income from the field, is on the verge of giving up cultivation and has already started looking for other jobs.
“I had a small plot of land, but I have lost a major portion to erosion and as a result of sand deposition due to flood the remaining had also become unusable. I have asked all my children to drop out of schools as I can now no longer afford their books etc,” said Ali.
With a sad look, Ali also added that he has asked his eldest son, Mahibul Ali (24), and second eldest son Sahur Ali (20) to join him as daily wage labourers.
Ali also explained that over the years the flood and rainfall has become unpredictable, and also added that the rate of erosion has also been aggravated.
The problem of erosion is a major one in the state, and according to Assam government data, an estimated 1.5 lakh people have been displaced after they lost their land and properties in floods and erosion in the last decade.
Besides this, about 8,000 hectares of land is lost annually due to the same reason, and till date the state has lost an area of about 4.27 lakh hectares since 1950 in erosion, amounting to 7.40 per cent of the state's total land mass.
Though Assam's 40 per cent land is flood-prone, experts have opined that climate change has further aggravated the problem.
Experts have also pointed out that there is a need to study the traditional practices to tackle such calamities.
“There are many traditional practices which are sustainable. We need to study and document those practices to deal with climate change," said Partha Jyoti Das of Aaranyak, an Assam based organisation which works on issues of environment.
(The author has received a travel support under the HICAP media grant)