Holistic approach makes agrarian systems more climate-resilient: Study


Initial watershed development interventions in the studied areas intensified agriculture, but led to declining groundwater tables and deteriorating soil health over time

The study emphasised the need to prioritise adaptive capacities alongside agricultural productivity. Representative photo: iStock.
The study emphasised the need to prioritise adaptive capacities alongside agricultural productivity. Representative photo: iStock.

Interventions focusing on improving crop productivity alone, such as watershed development and enhancing access to irrigation, had a limited impact on the overall resilience of the farming system. However, climate resilience indicators improved when these productivity-enhancing interventions were combined with those related to water management, soil health and livelihood diversification, a new research drawn from data across 15 years in the drought-prone Jalna district of Maharashtra has found. 

The research, published on May 27 in the International Journal of Water Resources Development, was done in Babai and Deulgaon Tad villages — both semi-arid regions in the Jalna district. The researchers from Watershed Organisation Trust and Wageningen University in the Netherlands assessed the contributions of agricultural development interventions towards the climate resilience of farming systems in semi-arid India.


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The villages were selected as two farming systems: One where interventions were aimed at improving agricultural productivity and irrigation infrastructure (Babai) and another where interventions targeted the building of adaptive capacities besides improving agricultural productivity (Deulgaon Tad).

The findings indicated that initial watershed development interventions in the studied areas resulted in intensified agriculture and altered cropping patterns. However, this approach led to declining groundwater tables and deteriorating soil health over time, underscoring the limited success of conventional agricultural development pathways in semi-arid regions.

An intervention was defined as an activity or set of activities with a specific objective, for example, improving soil health or providing access to irrigation.

Based on discussions with the local communities in both villages, the researchers selected a 15-year time span for the assessment, from the period before any watershed development activities (2007) to the current status (2021). The basis for selecting this period was that interventions before 2007 were deemed less relevant to the system’s current resilience. 

The study found that the climate resilience of farming systems improved when agricultural productivity-enhancing interventions were combined with those related to water management, soil health, livelihood diversification and food and nutrition security, along with a focus on monitoring, evaluation, learning and adaptive decision-making. 


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With its better water resources, Babai had more resilience than Deulgaon Tad in 2007. This was seen in terms of both the performance of its system functions as well as its general resilience attributes. However, there has been no substantial change in the overall resilience of Babai over the years, according to the research.

On the other hand, Deulgaon Tad scored much lower than Babai in 2007 — both in terms of its system functions and resilience attributes. However, improvements were seen across all its general resilience attributes driven by the interventions that built adaptive capacities and agricultural productivity through better management of its natural resources.

Access to adequate water throughout the year and better soil in Babai are key to its resilience. At the same time, Deulgaon Tad demonstrated other forms of resilience, such as better social organisation within the community and efficient management of limited resources (particularly water). There was also a greater degree of ownership and post-project sustainability of project interventions in Deulgaon Tad.

The study emphasised the need to prioritise adaptive capacities alongside agricultural productivity. “Neglecting the development of adaptive capacities and focusing solely on irrigation infrastructure without demand-side management exacerbates vulnerability to climate change in the long run,” it said.

The researchers called for an urgent focus on non-farm livelihoods in national and state rural development plans. The findings can help in drafting policy recommendations for improving the climate resilience of farming systems. 

In the context of climate change, resilience is the capacity of a system to dynamically respond to, recover from and even thrive in changing climate conditions while maintaining essential functions, identities and structures. 








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