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Home > Blog > Ways to cope with changing climate in cyclone-prone south Bengal

Ways to cope with changing climate in cyclone-prone south Bengal


Manjusha Mukherjee

It was definitely a trip that changed my perspective.  I had never thought that our farmers, especially women farmers, would have this kind of understanding and awareness about climate change impacts and adaptation measures. 

Kanaknagar and Kulermath are two villages in the Hingalganj block of North 24 Paraganas, West Bengal. This part of the Sunderbans area is cyclone-prone and one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change impacts. Extreme weather events, increasing frequencies of cyclones, high seasonal variability, increasing salinity (especially, post cyclone Aila) and more frequent and worse floods are putting people at risk - damaging crops, destructing infrastructure, demolishing dwellings and threatening life.  Increasing risk of food security due to less agricultural yield, water stress, migration of male members in search of alternative livelihood etc have an immediate and worse impact on women. 

In order to adapt to the changing climatic situation, DRCSC, a West Bengal-based grassroots organization, has successfully initiated organic farming and other innovative agricultural practices. These include promoting kitchen gardening, machan (scaffold) farming or multilayered cropping for space management, mixed cropping to retain soil fertility, maintenance of seed banks to make women farmers self-sufficient and save seeds during floods. Integrated farming, another adaptive interventions, combines fisheries with agriculture and livestock rearing and seen as an adaptive ‘best practice.’ Farmers have started using bio-waste/organic materials like farmyard manure, cow dung, neem seed/oil, vermin-compost etc instead of using chemical pesticides and fertilizers. “We produce more with lower input cost in organic farming,” says Sudhin Mondal, a farmer who previously used chemical pesticides.

 “Earlier we used chemical pesticides which left our land less fertile day by day. Now, with diversification of agriculture, we can grow more than one crop and vegetable in the same piece of land throughout the year.” While the food and nourishment of the family has been secured, nevertheless the workload on his wife has definitely increased with agricultural diversification and organic farming. The question arises here. Do these practices actually benefit women? Are they sustainable enough to stand in the wake of climate change? The answers lie in women’s collective voice: “Yes, we do not face food scarcity anymore as we have more options these days with many different kinds of crops that we grow simultaneously.” However, Suchitra Mondal also points to the flip side: “Tending to the kitchen gardening, rearing poultry, preparing and maintaining vermi-compost and farmyard manure are all my responsibility alone, in addition to my household tasks. I am not seen as a ‘farmer’ by my family but all this farm work has increased my work- load, not so much the work-load of my husband.” 

Pushpa Gayen, another woman farmer says, “Vermi-compsot is the best fertilizer I have ever used. Yet, its preparation needs a lot of hard work. I cannot explain to you how disheartening it was when all my vermin-compost got damaged last year due to lack of a good quality storage chamber. We do not have money for buying a proper box to store the compost. Only the government can help us all by providing such boxes but we don’t know if we can get them, or if the government at all supplies them!” Yes, there are success stories, but we still have a long way to go.