Climate change pushes Assam farmers to switch occupation
Climate Change Pushes Assam Farmers to Switch Occupation. Climate change is affecting the traditional livelihood options of thousands of families living in the rural areas in the highly eco-sensitive North eastern state of Assam, and they are migrating to other works which includes daily wage labour for the men and weaving for the women.
Climate change is affecting the traditional livelihood options of thousands of families living in the rural areas in the highly eco-sensitive North eastern state of Assam, and they are migrating to other works which includes daily wage labour for the men and weaving for the women.
According to researchers working on the issue, a majority of the families in the rural areas in the state are traditionally dependent on agriculture and this has been their source of livelihood for generations, but now climate change is making them shift from this age old source of livelihood.
“In the rural areas in the state, a majority of the families have been traditionally dependent on farming, but now with climate change, there has been a change in the rainfall pattern and also the flood intensity, which is making agriculture difficult in many areas in the state,” said Girin Chetia, who is associated with the non-profit North East Affected Areas Development Society (NEADS).
According to Chetia, who has worked extensively on flood and erosion in the state, leaving the urban areas—the cities and town in the state, in the rural areas farming was always the sole occupation, however things have changed now.
Chetia also pointed out that earlier the women were always home maker, and though a few women did take up weaving, it was never seen as a source of supplementary income.
Things have now however changed.
Pulok Payeng is a 52 year old farmer from the Kamalabari village in the Majuli sub-division in the Jorhat district of Assam, and all along his life he was engaged in cultivation in his 1.5 hectar land and with this he was able to take care of his family.
Things have however completely changed now, and 2 years back Payeng had given up cultivation and has shifted to the nearby Jorhat town where he works at a private firm now. This move has jeopardized his family completely, and his wife who was earlier the home maker is having a tough time in managing the household.
“Earlier the produce from the field used to take care of our food, and the excess produce we used to sell in the market, and with that we could do some savings which used to be around Rupees forty thousand in a year. However things have drastically changed now,” said Payeng’s 45 year old wife Rita Payeng.
She pointed out that her husband’s salary is a meager Rupees eight thousand a month and also he is posted at Jorhat town, and it is like maintaining two families with this small salary.
“Earlier his income was almost double of what he is earning now, but now with this small salary he has to support himself at his work place and send some money here as well for the survival of the family,” she said.
She added that now pressure is mounting on her to earn money to supplement the family’s income, which is also very difficult as no women in her family had ever worked to earn money in the past.
Rita finally took up weaving on a commercial basis at her home from last year, but according to her the results have been disappointing.
“I don’t get more than two orders for weaving in a month, and this way my earning never crosses Rupees one thousand a month, though sometime during the festival season it goes up to around Rupees two to three thousand when we get some more orders for weaving,” said Rita.
Rita added that this is affecting her household chorus, and is also creating a lot of difficulty for the family.
49 year old Dhulon Pegu’s family who also lives in the Kamalabari village has a similar tale to offer. He had to give up farming 2 years back after fierce flood destroyed his .5 acre field for consecutive 2 years in a row.
“Frustrated I decided to give up farming and took up a job as a security assistant at a office in Guwahati where I am paid a monthly salary of Rupees ten thousand. However now I have realized that this is too small a amount, and with this it is not possible for a long time,” said Pegu.
Pegu’s wife, Dulumoni Pegu took up work as a domestic help in her village but left it very soon as it was extremely time consuming and she was given very little money.
“I was able to earn only around Rupees one thousand a month, so I left it,” she said.
Both she and her husband are now staring at a bleak future. According to Jamini Payeng, who is associated with a women related organization called Rural Economy Development Society (REDS), this has become a common trend in the area among farmer families.
“Over the years the rainfall has become unpredictable and the flood has become completely unpredictable and fierce, and earlier we used to experience only 1 or 2 wave of flood in a year, but now a days it goes up to three as well. This is completely destroying the families who are dependent solely on agriculture, particularly the small scale farmers,” she said.
The Assam government when approached acknowledged the problem and said that the government is planning to rope in experts and scientists to do a detailed study and suggest measures.
“We are in touch with several renowned academicians from Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati, Gauhati University and the Dibrugarh University, and we will be forming a committee to look into the issue and to suggest immediate, medium term and long term remedies,” said Assam agriculture minister Nilomoni Sen Deka.
(The author has received a travel support under the HICAP media grant)