Intensive fieldwork for place-based study on Food Security and Gender in Assam

   TwitCount

Suman Bisht and Sarah Nischalke conducted three weeks of fieldwork in the flood-affected village of Laopani in Tinsukia District, Assam, India in June 2013 under the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP). The intensive fieldwork, carried out just before the arrival of the monsoon, comprised of key stakeholder interviews with the Block Development Officer (BDO) and officials from the Agricultural Department and local health centre as well as 51 interviews with farm households of different ethnic origins – Nepali, Adivasi, Bihari, and Assamese. Six interesting case studies were chosen for further investigation of the farm household systems, their farming practices, and their capacity to adapt to climate change. The duo also conducted five focus group discussions to gain further insight into rain and agricultural patterns, the status of women farmers, and food and feeding practices. They also conducted a separate educational event on nutrition with children in the 3rd and 5th grades in the local school. 

Focus Group Discussion on feeding practices

Focus Group Discussion on feeding practices

The research revealed interesting adaptation measures adopted in a farming system under stress and attempts to cope with an extreme event. Inundation is a common occurrence in the area and not always considered the harbinger of bad news as farmers have learned to live and adapt to minor floods. Farmers in the area were self-sufficient in their major food crops – rice, mustard, and vegetables – had a decent amount of livestock, and could sell some surplus in the market. However, one destructive off-season flood in September 2012 brought about a major setback in the farming system in Laopani. It destroyed paddy and vegetable crops in the fields and food and seed stocks in the houses and killed hundreds of cows, goats, chicken, and other livestock that served as a social safety net and food source. This community had not experienced such destructive floods in over 15 years. 

Cultivable land versus sand-casted uncultivable land after the floods

Cultivable land versus sand-casted uncultivable land after the floods

In the interviews and focus group discussions, farmers reported that the earlier generation was much better prepared for big flood events as they had boats, built houses and stables on stilts, and owned little technical gear that could be lost (boring machines, hand tractors, etc.). After the devastating flood in 2012, farmers reported a state of uncertainty. Large amounts of land are sand and silt-casted and cannot be used for cultivation anymore, and many farmers have left some of their land fallow in fear of more impending floods. Long-term adaptation measures to raised land areas (sediments brought by the floods) can be seen in expanded vegetable cultivation and reduced production in well-paying hali paddy, which needs lower laying land plots. Other adaptation measures to floods have not taken place yet. 

replanting bihari rice seedlings without rain

Replanting bihari rice seedlings without rain

Farmers still awaited the rains to plant paddy, to avoid using or renting costly boring equipment. Even though the replanting of paddy has started, the fear remains. While some men have left the village in search of livelihoods in Chennai and other industrial areas and some others have been able to find work in the nearby bridge construction company, women farmers have no option but to wait for the rains. A follow-up field visit in November will be relevant to see the status of floods and the actual coping and agricultural investments that were undertaken this year. This intensive field work is part of a comparative farming system analysis study with a focus on food security and gender aspects being carried out jointly with researchers from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO). Colleagues from Aaranyak, HICAP’s partner in India, assisted in the identification of the study site and facilitated the engagement of a local resource person for the study.

Educational event on nutrition with children at a local school