Blogger Directory

Bundelkhand's bravehearts

For villages that survived recurring droughts, the economic-ecological connection makes more sense

 
By Richard Mahapatra
Last Updated: Monday 25 July 2016 | 13:06:13 PM

Illustration: Sorit

Bundelkhand has developed a fatigue from the endless sermons on protecting the environment. Discussions on environmental degradation seem to have reached the nadir for this region, which comprises 13 contagious districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh that have suffered 13 droughts in the last 15 years. Local communities, who have endured an unprecedented human crisis, perceive a disconnect between their own problems and the solutions being thrown at them.

I was travelling through the region recently, not as a reporter looking for crisis stories, but as part of a team that was assessing villages that were not affected by drought. There are many such villages in Bundelkhand. The villagers did not have to apply rocket science. Just common economic and ecological sense. They harvested water through traditional tanks, enforced community regulation over water usage and abandoned water-guzzling crops.

When I spoke to the local residents and community leaders on the formula for such a feat, the answer was unequivocal: don’t teach us environmental protection; for us it is all about our economy. They pointed out that too much focus on approaching drought from an environmental perspective had weaned away people from drought management. “Why do you need to preach water conservation to people who are forced to migrate due to water scarcity?” Rather, one village leader said, one should approach the problem from a purely economic point of view.

The villages that have fought drought successfully have approached the problem from this perspective. So, a check dam idea was not sold as a water conservation tool, but as an instrument of economic insurance. Many told me that the moment water conservation ideas are resold as lucrative investment options, they are instantly bought by the people. For example, many farmers have dug farm ponds on their own land, not bothering about the loss of farm size that otherwise would have been used to grow crops. More villagers were convinced about the economic logic, rather than the ecological argument of conserving water. Assured water in a small pond could irrigate about 1-2 hectares of farm, thus increasing the income from the same farm.

I met a goshala owner taking care of 200 abandoned cows. At the drop of a hat, he spewed venom against those sending cows to abattoirs. He admitted to raids on vehicles taking away cows for slaughter. But when I asked him how he was managing such a large number of cows when fodder was expensive, his answer was simple: don’t get sentimental about cows; treat them as an economic asset. Notwithstanding his strong religious reservations over cow slaughter, he had devised a business model: he offers cow dung to farmers in exchange for any food suitable for his stock. “Farmers are excited about this. I sold them this idea not as a Hindu propagating cow conservation, but as an economic exchange,” he said. Cows can’t be saved just because they are sacred. They too need to live, and for that, they need fodder.

We need to redefine our approach to environmental crises like the current drought. The simple message of saving water, it seems, has lost traction with local communities. Rather, linking their economic desperation to water conservation and the subsequent promise of economic turnaround helps strike a chord.

This could be the reason the government’s target-driven model of creating thousands of water harvesting structures has not been wholeheartedly accepted by local communities. It is time the critical link between the economy and the ecology finds resonance in drought-proofing policies.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Related Story:

Kenya fights drought with sand dams, other water conservation ideas

Children worst sufferers in drought-hit areas, says Satyarthi

What Africa’s drought responses teach us about climate change hotspots

Bundelkhand’s goats dying due to mysterious disease

Bundelkhand's cycle of droughts: is it man-made?

Bundelkhand's dalit women join hands to drought-proof their villages

IEP Resources:

Drought Crisis Management Plan (National) 2016

Drought conditions and management strategies in India

Scaling success- Lessons from adaptation pilots in the rainfed regions of India

Drought risk reduction in agriculture: a review of adaptive strategies in East Africa and the Indo-Gangetic Plain of South Asia

We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.