Adapting to a Changing Environment

ENDEV-Society for Environment & Development

Entry Overview

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
329, Jodhpur Park
Kolkata, 700001
Population Impacted: 
91 million: Target population: 4.2 million in the Indian Sundarbans

88750 Target area: Indian Sundarbans in WB 4110

Major Occupations: 
In target area: Agriculture and Fishery
Local resources the community depends on, and for what purpose: 
Land, (unirrigated) for rain-fed agriculture; coastal water for capture fishery
Local threats to resources: 
Cyclone and storm surges, breaching of embankments and inundation by salt water, erosion and submergence of islands
Climate Hazards: 
Sea-level rise above global average; frequent storm surges and devastating cyclones
Level of exposure to these hazards: 
Since all inhabited Islands are located below sea level and protected only by earthen embankments, breach of embankments make the entire agricultural land exposed to salinization, leading to serious crisis of paddy cultivation (main staple food), besides loss of houses and properties, loss of livestocks and above all loss of livelihood forcing migration to uncertain future.
Level of sensitivity: 
Frequent cyclone and storm surges in 2007, 2008 and 2009 led to more than 200000 deaths in Myanmar, Bangladesh and India, more than 50,000 people homeless and large scale migration of able bodied male to distant parts. Salinization of agricultural land resulted in crop failure and heavy borrowing from open market at high rates, forced sale of livestocks to pay back the loan and large scale malnutrition and trafficking of young women and girls. The crop failure due to salt intrusion led to serious impact on the food security on the island populations and demanded a solution.
Level of adaptive capacity: 
Initial shock of the community and negative impact on health, nutrition and normal social life, could only be put back to adaptive mode by offering a long term solution on food security. While government agencies and NGOs provided relief during disaster, the predominant agricultural community was helpless and become debt ridden because of crop failure and was frantically looking for a way to food security.
Ecological Costs: 
The project has no ecological cost per se but was aimed at reducing ecological impact of climate change due to sea level rise, cyclones and storm surges on the coastal agricultural land.
Ecological Benefit: 
The ecological benefit of the project can be measured in terms of ensuring the soil fertility over a period of time through organic farming with Salt Tolerant Rice Varieties that increases the viability of the soil. Simultaneously, it has also prevented t
Community/Social Cost: 
No community/social cost can be identified due to the implementation of the project, as there is no conflicting interests between the targeted stakeholders.
Community/Social Benefit: 
1. Revival of the agricultural land and ensuring food and livelihood security. 2. Ability to reduce the rate of migration of the able bodied male 3. Reduce the rate of girl trafficking by providing livelihood security to the family.
Community/Social Indicators used to measure benefit: 
1. Attendance of community meetings during pre-planning and monitoring of the project- In all 07 Community Blocks, the farmers, the primary constituent of the community, totaling more than 5000 have attended the community meetings during pre-planning and monitoring of the project and actively participated in calculating the gain through adoption of the Salt Tolerant Varieties. 2. Spreading awareness of project benefits to other areas- project villagers campaigned voluntarily to make farmers in other non-project areas of the Sundarbans aware about the benefits of using the Salt Tolerant Rice Varieties. 3. Reduction in out-migration.
Describe the community-based process used to develop the solution including tools and processes used: 

The socio-economic, ecological threats and risk assessment  have been carried out by me along with my colleagues, Prof. Sugata Hazra (Director, School of Oceanography, Jadavpur University) and Prof. Jayanta Bandhopadhyay (Director, Centre for Development & Environment Policy, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta) under the aegis of WWF-I supported by the World Bank. (Please see with assistance from Dr. Anurag Danda and Ms. Gayatri Srikanthan. In the said Delta Vision document, it has been noted that the adaptive capacity can only be increased by using alternative agriculture like use of Indigenous Salt Tolerant Rice Varieties and making the same available through a chain of Farmers' Seed Bank without any cost to achieve a common good. Simultaneously, ENDEV with support from National Council of Rural Institutes initiated a project on Microplanning and Sustainable Agriculture during 2010-11. CBOs from 07 most vulnerable and affected islands were brought into a network after a year long search and success of collecting small quantity of seeds of 05 Salt Tolerant Rice Varieties, which were used 80-100 years before the present time and largely disappeared due to massive thrust in using High Yielding Varieties during the process of Green Revolution in India. In the stakeholders meeting it was agreed to test the seeds based on soil testing to determine the level of salinity, in small plots of farmers' land to observe the yield and to scale up the operation through a process of careful planning and distribution. The initial stock of 250 gms of seeds used by a total of five farmers has now been scaled up to 1600 kg of seeds by end of second year through active participation of 35 farmers covering more than five times the area of the first year and during the monsoon of 2013-14, it is expected to cover more than 10 times the area than the first year; one more variety (Dudeshwar) which was introduced by ENDEV in 2007 and was taken only by 05 farmers, is now being used by more than 5000 farmers. The entire process of acceptance by the farmers was made participatory and voluntary, by offering the seeds through community meetings, organized by the local Community Based Organizations viz., WWF-I in Namkhana Block, TSRD in Gosaba Block, Lutheran World Services India Trust in Mathurapur block I&II, Joygopal Youth Development in Sandeshkhali Block I&II and Paschim Sridhor Kathi Janakalyan Samiti in Hingalganj Block. The programme had been started during the year of 2010-11, continued through year of 2011-12 and is being continued in the year 2012-13, with the objective of scaling up the operation in terms of area and multiplying the seeds of these endangered and now rare varieties to make them accessible to the farmers' community across the Indian Sundarbans.  

Climate hazard of concern: 
Coastal flooding or storm surge
How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the ecosystem affected?: 

Our solution offers the farmers the basic staple food grains which can withstand the vagaries of climate change and sea level rise. The Sundarbans region is marked as one of the most critically vulnerable areas both by IPCC in their 4th Report, 2007 and National Action Plan on Climate Change of India in 2008. No other effort has been evidenced to empower the farmers' community to cope up with the uncertain weather, proven sea level rise and frequent storm surges and cyclones, to meet the demand of their food. Recognising the efforts of ENDEV, the Chairman, Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority of Government of India, urged us to register the Salt Tolerant Rice Varieties in 2011; National media have widely publicised the success of the programme (Hindustan Times, Bengal Post, Times of India etc) and American Public Television and Centre for Investigating Reporting, have taken the pain of travelling all the way to our project site to document the farmers' experience, as a part of their international project called "Food for Nine Billion" (Please see The Sundarban farmers have voluntarily composed songs for campaigning in favor of the varieties made accessible to the local community. 

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the ecosystem affected?: 

The solution does not reduce the sensitivity but makes the changed agricultural ecosystem allow to grow the staple food- Rice, even when the land becoming inundated with salt water and the people had no other alternatives to secure the food except forced to migrate in search of uncertain future or become increasingly burdened with debt.  

How has your solution increased the capacity of the ecosystem to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

The use of selected farmers' varieties developed 80-100 years back from the present time, provide the agro-ecosystem the necessary resilience to cope up with changing soil quality due to salt intrusion after breaching of embankments and coastal flooding. The gradual adaptation of the soil in the targeted ecosystem helped the continuity of agriculture, the mainstay of the people in an area of extreme deprivation. 

How does your solution reduce the exposure of and buffer/protect the communities affected?: 

After the devastating cyclone and storm surge called "Aila" in May 2009, vast areas of agricultural field in 19 Community Blocks of the Indian Sundarbans faced a major problem of crop failure because of saline water intrusion due to breaches in the 3500 km long embankment. The only way to empower the farmers to face the challenge was to investigate, select and test the Traditional Farmers' Varieties which had become rarest of rare, after Green Revolution in India, but were known to be salt tolerant. The challenge was to collect the seeds from remote corners of the rural Sundarbans as also from academic institutions and other research organizations. After a search for 09 months, only very small quantities of seeds of five of the six identified varieties could be collected which totaled 300 gms; the sixth variety called Hamilton has not been found till date. Through a collective endeavour of 05 Community Based Organizations in 07 of the worst affected blocks, these seeds were distributed after a day long workshop, to take the same to the field and prepare seed beds (after soil testing to determine the level of salinity). The farmers during the rainy season carefully monitored the growth and after harvesting the crop use the entire product for keeping the Seed Bank and for expanding the programme during the next year of monsoon. (2011-12)   The farmers who had left their agricultural field giving up all hope to grow the rice once again, have come back to the field and affirmed that the seeds originally provided by ENDEV convinced the community to continue paddy field agriculture once again. It is only due to the farmers, in the widely dispersed but affected area, the seeds were multiplied through a scaled up operation in the second year. Today, the farmers have access to a total of 2004 kg of seeds 05 Salt Tolerant Varieties.  The success of the effort brought the media and the television channel to the field and report back to the community at large, national and international.

How does your solution reduce the sensitivity of the communities affected?: 

Paddy field agriculture is the primary source of both income and food security for the people of this area of extreme deprivation. Climate change through cyclones and storm surges leading to salt water intrusion, threatens the continuation of this invaluable agricultural practice. The introduction of traditional Salt Tolerant Varieties has gone a long way in mitigating the threats posed to both food security and livelihood by climate change. Increasing adoption of paddy field agriculture using Salt Tolerant Varieties is enabling the local community to secure a steady income flow as well as necessary food requirement in the face of increasing uncertainties of climate change. 

How has your solution increased the capacity of local communities to adapt to potential climate changes?: 

The programme undertaken by ENDEV has enabled the farmers after 80-100 years, to gain access to the rice seeds varieties which could cope up with the changing soil profile due to salt intrusion. The farmers of the Sundarbans were used to depend on the seeds of High Yielding Varieties  of paddy and on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides; this process of agriculture becomes redundant resulting in large scale migration of the farming community abandoning farmland due to crop failure after Aila. Re-introduction of the traditional Salt Tolerant Varieties after requisite soil testing, not only empowered the farmers to use their land once again for paddy field agriculture but also made them understand the system of ecological agriculture without any chemical pesticides or fertilizers. 

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