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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Odisha: Climate change badly affects agriculture, threatens food security  

"Climate change has made the agrarian communities living in coastal, tropical and sub-tropical regions of Odisha its worst victims. The change in the time and amount of rain during the cropping seasons has badly hit the agriculture making it an unviable livelihood option. As a result, the communities’ vulnerability to livelihood loss and food insecurity has increased and Youth of the communities are now forced to migrate as labourers."


Basudev Mahapatra


From coastal to its tropical regions, people of Odisha living on agriculture, fishing and on the forest produces are now encountering severe livelihood issues as impacts of climate change.

At least six villages Villages around Keluni river mouth, such as Tandahar, Chhenu, Udayakani, Kalamakani, Katakana and Kaanarapur, are threatened in coastal district of Puri because of rapid erosion of the coast combined with a disturbed rain cycle, frequent low pressures and high tidal Waves of Bay of Bengal. 15 km in the north of Chandrabhaga coast near Konark, villages like ‘Chhenu’ and ‘Udaykani’ have already been shifted at least twice in last three decades leaving their first villages about two and half Kilometres in the Bay of Bengal.


Over last 30 years, the sea has engrossed over two miles into the land area that was once hosting villages, community amenities like schools, farmland and grazing land. Now the villages in their recent locations are again facing the danger of submergence.

All six villages are placed between the Bay of Bengal and river Kadua – both meeting at the Keluni mouth. Since the super cyclone of 1999, over 250 families living in the villages live a life of panic fearing tidal waves from the Bay of Bengal and flood water from Kadua River. The villagers also get equally panicked with every sign of a low pressure. It’s not the rainy season only, but the summer is also equally unsympathetic to these villagers. When people start to boil in the temperature and humid, the usual south wind of the summer carries sand particles from the shore and gathers it on the agricultural lands and houses.

‘With coastal climate changing faster since 1980s, we have been living a life of vulnerability. As low pressures become more frequent and intense and the rain pattern gone abnormal and unpredictable, we have lost our basic livelihood source – Agriculture’, said Gandharba Kandoi of Udaykani village in Astaranga Block of Puri district adding, ‘we are experiencing extreme weather conditions through the years.

Extreme weather condition through the year across the coastal Odisha has placed agriculture at the highest vulnerability resulting in loss of livelihood and food insecurity for two major coastal communities like the agrarian and fishing segments of coastal population. While tidal waves flood the farmlands and destroy the crop by increasing salinity of soil and water, extreme heat condition in the harvest time causes severe damage to the one-time paddy cultivation of the farmers who are completely dependent on the crop for their daily basic food requirement of ‘Rice’. On the other side, the fishermen are more often alerted not to venture into the sea for fishing because of low pressure that have become more frequent and intense during last few decades. However, majority of the fishing community is banned to do fishing in the sea from October to April every year as it is the season of mating and nesting of Olive Ridley Sea turtles.

‘The saline water has been our biggest enemy. It damages our crop regularly. As there is no alternate livelihood option available at this place, we are forced to starve only’, said Dhabaleswar Pradhan, a farmer from Chhenu village.

Realising that agriculture has no more remained viable and it’s a trauma gripped life most of the year, many families have shifted to distant places leaving the village, their home land and agricultural land. In their struggle for a standard livelihood, most of them have also landed up in different other states as migrant labourers.

‘Now, almost 50% of youth from each of the villages have migrated out of State as labourers. Even though the old parents need the young members of the family to remain with them, they have no other option but to sacrifice their choice’, says Harihar Jena, a local social worker.

Not only the coastal Odisha, but climate change has also made the agrarian tribal communities living in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Odisha its worst victims. The change in the time and amount of rain during the cropping seasons has badly hit the agriculture practiced by the tribal people like ‘Sumani Jhodia’ who lost her crops last year because of scanty rain during the crop time.

‘There was dry spell in upland paddy fields. Low lands with some irrigation facilities could harvest a little only. So, upland farmers faced a total loss of crop because of scanty rain and dry spell thereof’, said Sumani Jhodia, a Tribal leader and Farmer from Kashipur of Rayagada district.

Deforestation and industrialisation in the name of development has largely impacted the tropical climate across the state. Apart from agriculture, forests have also not remained reliable to the tribal communities and other forest dwellers who mostly live on collecting roots, stems, fruits and other forest produces.

Observing that the climate changed rapidly since the Vedanta Aluminium plant was established on the foot of Niyamgiri hill range, tribal community leader Kumti Majhi said, ‘Earlier there was so much of rain that we couldn’t even come out during down pouring. Now, we believe, because of this industrialisation, the forest does not produce fruits and stems as earlier and the amount of rain has become less as well.’

Social and developmental activists working with the tribal communities of Kalahandi district also believe that industrialisation, leading to deforestation, pollution and unusual carbon emission, has largely impacted the tropical climate resulting in less rain and epidemics since last few years.

‘Ultimately, this destroys the livelihood of the tribal and other deprived communities. For last 5-6 years, we are seeing that the rainfall pattern is being affected due to huge industrialisation in this area. Every alternate year, we are having cholera as epidemic. The r