Adaptive Responses

How did the people respond to the declining water levels and the drought conditions? In the first instance, those families who had savings tended to use them to cover food expenses and other basic requirements. During the initial years of drought, about 35% of the respondents in Bhiloda and 13.5% in Bhuj, though none in Satlasana, used up their past savings. Many families also resorted to borrowing money: 47% in Bhiloda, 23% in Bhuj and 19% in Satlasana.

In addition to current consumption, farmers also deepened wells, drilled new bore wells and invested on higher horsepower pump sets in an effort to meet with critical irrigation and livestock needs. People sought to raise the required money mostly from traders and moneylenders, often at a very high rate of interest (36-60% per annum depending upon credibility, amount of loan, duration and mortgageability). Interestingly, banks were not willing to finance drilling of bore wells. For example, out of the eight farmers who drilled bore wells in Bhanavas village, five borrowed from moneylenders at a 3%

monthly interest, one sold jewellery to raise money and two others borrowed from better-off farmers in a neighbouring village, Mumanvas. In addition to the 3% monthly interest, the moneylenders also charged one-third of the crop share. A significant number of families also sold trees, livestock or other assets. People rarely sold their agriculture land due to the social status attached to it but often mortgaged it. Interestingly, in the case of land mortgage, the creditor carries out agricultural operations on the mortgaged land and does not share any returns with the landowner.

Some farmers also responded to the challenging water resource conditions by creating new institutions for access. For example, some small and marginal farmers in Satlasana pooled in their resources and went in for joint bore wells in a bid to access groundwater for irrigation. This strategy to share the high cost of investment meant access to water that these farmers could never afford individually (see Box 12.1).

There was a drastic impact on the livelihood occupation scenario between the normal year 1998 and the drought years 1999-2002. As can be seen from

Box 12.1. Groundwater and livelihood change

Chhatrasinh of Bhanavas, high school-educated, married, father of three, has 4 acres of land in two pieces. The 3-acre piece has irrigation facility from a joint well. He followed the general cropping pattern of the area, i.e. groundnut, gowar (cluster beans), bajri (pearl millet), castor and maize in kharif; wheat and castor in rabi; and bajri in summer. He dug these wells in 1980 and installed electric pump sets of 5 hp each in 1987. Plenty of water was available at a depth of 5-8 m below ground level. Responding to the demand, Chhatrasinh used to sell water to seven farmers to irrigate 10 acres of land. The payment terms varied. Some paid at the rate of one-third of the crop, while others paid $0.25/h. The farmers who used to cultivate castor needed only two irrigations for 4 h in a month, whereas crops such as wheat needed 6-7 irrigations in a month. Hence, the castor cultivators used to pay in cash and the wheat cultivators, in kind. Chhatrasinh used to earn about $425 per year by selling water for winter and summer crops.

Chhatrasinh sold water this way for almost 8 years till the water levels started to dip in 1995. During that year, he deepened both the wells by 8 m each. Within 5 years, i.e. by 2000, both the wells dried up again. Chhatrasinh decided to drill a new bore well. Although drilled to a depth of 80 m the new well struck no water. A few months later, he drilled another bore well of 100 m depth. This well struck water at 65 m, which was enough to irrigate 4 acres of land. For 2 years, the second bore well yielded. By 2003, i.e. within 3 years, the bore well could irrigate just 1 acre of fodder crop (bajri). This was a jointly owned well, shared with his cousins. Together they had borrowed $1065 at a monthly interest rate of 3% for drilling this bore well from a private source. So far they could not repay the loan.

After the depletion of groundwater and subsequent collapse of agriculture, for the last 2 years, Chhatrasinh and his son are working as labourers wherever work is available. During 2003, although the monsoon was good after a bad spell of 4 years, he had sown only bajri as he did not want to take any major risks with the uncertain monsoon.

Fig. 12.3, in 1998, 97% of the people were engaged in agriculture, which reduced drastically to 33% in 2002. The displaced farmers abandoned agricultural operations temporarily and migrated to urban centres to work as construction labourers, or as agricultural wage labourers in better water-endowed areas (Moench and Dixit, 2004; Mudrakartha et al., 2004a).

Animal husbandry gradually emerged as an important means of livelihood occupation during drought in Mehsana and Sabarkantha districts as it could feed easily into the existing dairy co-operatives (Fig. 12.3). The drought compelled the people to take a re-look at their animal husbandry practices. They abandoned their unproductive cattle, and took better care of the productive ones indicating a significant change in the mindset. This has allowed them to increase their net returns from animal husbandry in spite of animal deaths (Fig. 12.7).

Dairies such as the Mahesana Dairy in Gujarat that have a mandate to take care of the small milk producers take up collection, storage, processing and redistribution of milk to the whole district and beyond. The dairy also manufactures and sells milk products throughout the year. During the drought, the dairy came forward to supply food concentrate for cattle so as to maintain its own production schedules. Since the returns were quick, and the much-needed cash was available in dairy farming, farmers ploughed back some earnings from the milk income for purchasing fodder at higher cost from elsewhere; they also outsourced subsidized fodder supplied by the government as part of the drought relief programme.

Migration (permanent, temporary and commuting to nearby villages and urban areas for work) emerged as another important adaptation strategy. Around 15.5%, 10.8% and 21.4% of the population migrated from Bhiloda, Bhuj and Satlasana, respectively. About 21% of the working population of Satlasana commuted to the nearby town for work on a daily basis. About 2.3% of children below the age of 14 from Satlasana had migrated for work. Child migration also took place either along with parents or individually, which not only affected their education but also exposed them to greater health and security risks (Mudrakartha et al., 2004b; Moench and Dixit, 2004).

The study found that the overwhelming reason for migration was livelihood-related employment. As much as 100% of the migrants in Satlasana, 96% in Bhiloda and 87% in Bhuj migrated in search of employment. In Bhuj, since livestock is a major source of livelihood, 13% of migrants migrated purely for the purpose of grazing cattle.

The caste system and infrastructure development also played an interesting role in facilitating migration. For example, people used their kinship relationship and social networks for obtaining information about the availability of wage labour (civil, construction, semi-skilled and others) and job opportunities through caste members residing in nearby well-endowed villages, cities and towns. The massive expansion of road network, power projects, bridges and communications in recent decades facilitated the movement of information as well as labour force. Although migration was prompted by immediate need, in a number of cases migrants stayed on, leaving agriculture to other family members or leasing away their land.

Further, some farmers have also resorted to the extreme option of selling or leasing away topsoil to manage livelihood stress. This phenomenon is seen in areas with severe water scarcity and dried up aquifers such as in Satlasana.

What role does the forestry management play? The study shows that consistent, longer-term investment on resource regeneration has a positive impact on the environmental flows, and thereby reduces the impact of, and vulnerability to, drought. The following report compares the three study sites from this angle.

Bhiloda villages have invested time and efforts on forest protection and regeneration in thousands of hectares under the inspiration and guidance of VIKSAT and the Bhiloda federation. Regeneration of catchment areas has helped significant surface water conservation, resulting in availability of groundwater throughout the year. A noteworthy difference is that while the impact of rainfall failure is felt immediately in Satlasana, it is felt with a time lag of 11/2 years in Bhiloda. In other words, Satlasana was less prepared when a prolonged and intense period of drought occurred recently (1999-2002/03) and therefore had to suffer the most. As negligible forest area exists in Satlasana, people have of late focused more on the non-land-based income-generating activities. One of the most popular alternative options for women is the diamond-polishing industries and private businesses.

It may be mentioned that the forestry programme in Bhiloda has been active for the last two decades supported by an non-governmental organization (NGO)10 through promotion of effective, robust institutions at village11 and talukau levels and was expanded to the state13 level. Furthermore, not just a few villages, but most of the Bhiloda taluka is engaged in the ongoing successful joint forest management14 programme, which, in addition to maintaining the environmental flows, also provided them interim forest products. These include non-timber products (amla, timru leaves, gums and resins, safed musli and other herbal products) as well as fuel wood, fodder and grasses; small timber products help them to obtain critical additional cash income. On an average, a family earns $25-110/year from any one product, in addition to fuel wood and fodder collection. Wage labour is also available in forests for plantation and other works regularly provided by the forest department (VIKSAT Annual Reports, 1998-2005).

Further, the tribal job reservation policy has ensured that there is at least one working member from every third family in Bhiloda; the policy of free education for women has encouraged more women to go to schools and colleges in order to improve their chances of obtaining jobs. Finally, prolonged exposure to drought conditions historically has led famil ies in Bhuj to evolve alternative income-generating occupations such as handicrafts and metalwork. They have also developed reasonable links with the international market.

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