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Change in climate results to prolonged droughts in Anantpur

Smt. C. Bhanuja, 40, President, Rural Environment Development Society
Kadri, Anantpur District, Andhra Pradesh

“Drought is the burning issue in Anantpur and the changing climate is worsening the situation”, says C. Bhanuja, member of Anantpur Pariayavaran Parirakshan Samiti (APPS). It is a network of 14 civil society organizations in the district and one of Oxfam India partners in the climate change work that we do in India.

Earlier Anantpur used to get drought once in two years and the poor farmers grew ground nuts as their major crop from the rain fed farms. But the district experienced radical changes over the last 15 years owing to climate change. Drought has continued for 15 long years depleting ground water levels and leaving the farming lands completely deserted. The consequences to this have been havoc. “In last 12 years, almost 50 farmers committed suicide every year, one tenth of them being women farmers”, laments Bhanuja. She adds, “Increasing number of farmers started migrating to cities in search of food. And the situation became shocking when trafficking in women and children proliferated in the district.”

This was the time when Oxfam joined hands with APPS. Today Oxfam is working in 258 villages in the Anantpur district reaching out to more than 50, 000 farmers and their families to combat climate change.
According to Bhanuja, “Earlier the farmers in Anantpur were dependent on chemical farming. On one hand chemical farming was very expensive and on the other it slowly degraded the fertility of the soil. And most importantly heavy use of chemical pesticides led to serious health hazards for the farmers like skin diseases and abortions for pregnant women.”

Oxfam and APPS have taken active steps to promote sustainable agriculture in the district. Using natural and organic fertilizers like neem seeds, cow dung, local variety seeds not only helped to restore the health of the soil but also increased the yield. Vegetables and fruits that are grown with the help of natural farming have better nutritional properties. It even helped to grow grasses in the fields those are the food for the cattle. “Another advantage to natural farming is that lesser use of chemicals pesticides reduces spewing of chemicals in the atmosphere thereby adapting to climate change by reducing carbon emission,” adds Bhanuja.

The Oxfam-APPS duo has also initiated a new way to work with the Government by signing the MOU with the Rural Development Department in order to utilize NREGA in a people driven manner. We got the Rural Development Ministry to come up with a circular so that NREGA can be used to replenish natural resources like land, water and forest – together known as the ‘common property’. This helped to re-green the village forests and harvesting of more water by building trenches. This initiative bettered the incomes of poor farmers, helped in building up their natural assets (land, water and forest), scaled down migration and school drop-out rates and augmented the nutritional value of the yields. Also it is worth mentioning that this intervention largely impacted the lives of the people living in the forests in Anantpur. Most of the forest dwellers are tribals and dalits and constitute almost 10% of the district’s total population. With people’s participation and pressure the Revenue Department handed over the forest rights to these people living in these forests.

APPS is also the first district level NGO to sign an MOU with the District Commissioner to work on Climate Change. Today this has been recognized as the Role Model that is extended by the Government and being replicated all across the state of Andhra Pradesh.

“In the end I just want to say that yes, climate change is affecting us as we are suffering. And there are ways to deal this crisis. But this is only possible when we get the support from the Government. The Government has to understand that it is their responsibility and we as civil society organizations can facilitate the process by bringing in the people’s voices to them,” concludes Bhanuja.

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