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Women farmers' voices on climate change adaptation in India



Although there is increasing scholarly work to explore gendered impacts of climate change adaptation policies, few studies are grounded in the lived experiences of poor women farmers. This chapter adds to scholarly research to understand local gendered impacts of climate change adaptation policies by foregrounding the voices of Dalit women farmers from low-income households in a semi-arid region in south India. A collaborative culture-centered approach of dialogue shows that the dominant narratives of technology fixes to adapt to climate change impacts negatively affect the adaptation strategies these women farmers already practice. This chapter suggests that local gendered practices and processes of adaptation to climate change provide a vital alternative narrative to the technology-driven adaptation literature that paradoxically reifies the hegemony of technological determinism at the heart of climate change processes.
Women farmers’ voices on climate change
adaptation in India
Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human
systems to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change and to foster
beneficial opportunities, if any ( IPCC, n.d. ). Poor women in developing
and underdeveloped countries are considered to be more vulnerable to
climate change impacts due to the differential global patterns of climate
change patterns, cultural norms about gender roles, and increasing gender-
based inequalities in access to and control over resources (e.g., Goh, 2012 ;
Kakota, Nyariki, Mkwambisi, & Kogi-Makau, 2011 ). Moreover, poor and
marginalized communities are unfairly burdened with a problem they did
not cause, with important gender and ethical implications in conceptual-
izing who and what constitutes the climate change problem and solutions
( Buck, Gammon, & Preston, 2014 ; Cuomo, 2011 ; Terry, 2009 ).
Gender-differentiated impacts of climate change, however, are not always
rigid, straightforward, or predictable ( Goh, 2012 , p. 18; Arora-Jonsson,
2011 ). For example, portrayals of women as primarily vulnerable in relation
to environmental issues deflect attention away from the inequalities that
cause such problems in the first place, and subsequent inequalities in devel-
oping solutions ( Arora-Jonsson, 2011 ). This lack of opportunities for equal
participation in decision-making processes can perpetuate gender inequali-
ties and increase the vulnerability of women ( Bee, Biermann, & Tschakert,
2013 ). Research on climate change adaptation provides an opportunity “to
address some of the mistakes and shortcomings of conventional social and
economic development pathways that have contributed to social inequity,
poverty, and environmental problems” ( Eriksen et al., 2011 , p. 8).
To do that, adaptation to climate change needs to be situated within the
prevailing relations of power and decision-making processes: how is the
problem of climate change adaptation constituted, who makes the deci-
sions, and what are the effects of such decisions on different social strata
Women farmers’ voices on
climate change adaptation in
Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
102 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
( Carr, 2008 )? For example, Eriksen, Brown, and Kelly (2005 ), who exam-
ined drought-affected smallholder communities in Tanzania and Kenya,
suggested that adaptation strategies can perpetuate women’s disadvantages,
as the policies tend to favor men who have better access to information and
institutional support. In other words, adaptation policies that do not address
existing gender norms and roles are most likely to perpetuate the prevailing
gender inequities ( Tschakert & Machado, 2012 ).
This chapter answers the call to link the extensive climate change vulner-
ability and adaptation literature with feminist scholarship on how gender is a
critical factor in understanding environmental change, conflict, and manage-
ment (e.g., Arora-Jonsson, 2011; Bee et al., 2013 ). It presents the results of
a project using a participatory research approach by co-constructing mean-
ings of climate change and adaptation options along with a collective of
Dalit women farmers. Dalit refers to the most discriminated caste in Indian
and few Asian communities, marked by low socioeconomic status. The study
focused on Dalit women farmers’ experiences about climate change, their
current adaptation practices, and the barriers they say hinder their adaptation
strategies. By focusing on the lived experiences, this chapter argues that top-
down formulations of vulnerability and adaptation solutions, such as promo-
tion of genetically modified (GM) crops, further marginalize the concerns
and indigenous knowledge systems of the vulnerable segments in society.
Culture, structure, and climate change adaptation
Feminist philosophers have argued that climate change is overtly framed
in Western scientific-technology terms, as objective, value-neutral, and
free of social and cultural contexts (see Israel & Sachs, 2013 ; Moosa &
Tuana, 2014 ). For example, context-free scientific frames of the climate
change problem, such as an informal target to limit global temperature rise
to two degrees (see Seager, 2009 ), obfuscates differential responsibility and
impacts of climate change, not only between the global industrialized North
and the global South, but also within regions and nations. These scientific-
technical discourses critically ignore alternative cultural and contextual
epistemologies that shape how people make sense of and respond to climate
change. Responding to the call to “start off research from women’s lives in
households” to build alternative epistemologies of sciences ( Harding, 2008 ,
p. 225), this chapter builds on how climate change impacts are understood
by poor women farmers in a semi-arid region in India.
Women’s vulnerability and agency
Feminist scholars have argued that constructing poor women in the global
South as victims or virtuous in relation to environmental problems conceals
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 103
unequal power structures that are the primary drivers of vulnerability, and
displaces critical questions about power, access, impacts, and rights ( Arora-
Jonsson, 2011 ; Bee et al., 2013 ). On the one hand, women in the global South
are projected as “one dimensional objects” ( MacGregor, 2010 , p. 227) and
are portrayed as helpless, voiceless subjects who are unable to cope without
the help of large development organizations. On the other hand, women are
projected as virtuous and are increasingly held responsible for facilitating
better adaptation in communities, embodying the feminization of responsi-
bility ( Arora-Jonsson, 2011 ). Such disempowering discourses “can be and
have been used to legitimize the imposition of external, top-down inter-
ventions to ‘effectively’ tackle climate change, further marginalizing and
silencing women’s . . . voices and their experiences in dealing with climatic
extremes” ( Bee et al., 2013 , p. 98).
To better understand the political economy of adaptation policies, it is
important to situate the climate change adaptation discourses within the
contexts of feminist, postcolonial, and subaltern critiques to guide how sci-
entific issues such as climate change get addressed in social, economic, and
political terms within subaltern communities of women. Situated in this
backdrop, scholars can foster spaces for social change by working in soli-
darity with subaltern communities to co-create entry points to develop local
as well as international-level climate change solutions.
Structural determinants of vulnerability in agriculture
The dominant discourse in the adaptation literature suggests there are sev-
eral technology adaptation options readily available to solve climate change.
In this frame, the traditional role of scholars is to identify the social and
cultural barriers to implementing these adaptation actions ( Rogers, 2003 ;
Tschakert & Machado, 2012 ). For example, governments and corporations
have promoted GM crops such as Bt cotton as a solution to the agriculture
crisis ( Glover, 2010a , 2010b ; Qaim, 2010 ; Qaim & Kouser, 2013 ). Bt cot-
ton refers to an insect-resistant transgenic crop that expresses a microbial
protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Recently, GM crops have
been promoted as a successful adaptation strategy for farmers ( Qaim &
Kouser, 2013 ; Zilberman, 2014 ). Various studies, however, indicate the
differential benefits to Bt cotton farmers, with poor farmers at high risk
due to high investments and varying returns due to changing market prices
( Crost, Shankar, Bennett, & Morse, 2007 ; Glover, 2010a , 2010b ; Morse,
Mannion, & Evans, 2012 ; Stone, 2010 ).
There is increasing scholarly work pointing to structural factors, such
as access to resources and institutions, which play critical roles in adapta-
tion. Importantly, these factors are not gender-neutral ( Terry, 2009 ; Tschak-
ert, van Oort, St. Clair, & LaMadrid, 2013 ). Similarly, national and global
104 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
policies also constrain community members’ access to local resources and
institutions, which may also have differential gender impacts ( Adhikari &
Taylor, 2012 ). Therefore, there is a need to understand the gender-specific
implications of the technological solutions to climate change, for example,
geoengineering ( Buck et al., 2014 ; Cummings & Rosenthal, 2018 ), GM
crops ( Qaim, 2010 ; Qaim & Kouser, 2013 ), among others. Just as important
to study are gender-differentiated impacts of technocratic policy solutions
that prescribe new technologies as easy solutions to the climate crisis. Such
“managerial discourse renders invisible local experiences with climatic
variability, agency, and autonomous adaptive strategies of the most vulner-
able” ( Tschakert & Machado, 2012 , p. 277).
For example, adaptation in the agriculture sector in India needs to be
understood within the larger structural changes that have taken place in
recent decades, such as the liberalizing of the economy, declining subsidies
for agriculture, reduced state funding in agriculture research, and increased
role of transnational corporations (TNCs) in the agriculture sector. For
example, India is witnessing agrarian crises including increased suicide
rates by farmers, often from low-income households ( Anderson & Genicot,
2015 ; Gruère & Sengupta, 2011 ; Mohanty, 2005 ; Sainath, 2013 ); low pro-
ductivity; increased large-scale migration of agriculture laborers ( Reddy &
Mishra, 2009 ); and increased costs of pesticides and seeds (see Patnaik,
Moyo, & Shivji, 2011 ; Reddy & Mishra, 2009 ). Official records showed
that a farmer commits suicide every half hour in India, with suicide rates
among Indian farmers in 2011 being 47% higher than the rest of the popula-
tion ( Sainath, 2013 ). Women farmer suicides, however, are not categorized
as farmer suicides. This is because a farmer is considered as someone who
owns land, and in India, the male head of household is often the only legally
registered owner of the land (Sainath, 2009).
Compounding this trend, the specific needs and challenges of marginal
and poor farmers are not addressed in government policies on climate change
and agriculture development (see Byravan & Rajan, 2012 ), such as the
100-day work guarantee program. The government runs a 100-day work
guarantee scheme in rural areas where citizens are entitled to demand gov-
ernment for work for 100 days in a year. A variety of projects to improve
soil fertility, build check dams, repair roads, harvest water, and other devel-
opment work are funded thereby providing local employment, particularly
during the summer months when there is a lack of agriculture work. While
these programs are aimed to help increase adaptive capacity, they also rein-
force existing gender inequities in access and benefits of the program ( Das,
2013 ; Gupta, 2009 ; Narayanan, 2008 ). For example, women face several
social barriers for equal participation, particularly with low level of partici-
pation from the most disadvantaged sections of society; for example, only
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 105
17% of workers in the scheme were from lower castes, otherwise framed to
be primary beneficiaries ( Khera & Nayak, 2009 ).
In this backdrop, some of the key questions this chapter seeks to answer
are: (1) how do poor women farmers talk about adaptation in the agricul-
ture sector and (2) what are the alternative strategies of development and
climate change adaptation as practiced and voiced by women farmers? This
chapter presents the findings of a research project, which focused on one
marginalized group, namely women farmers from low-income households
belonging to lower caste communities.
This project was carried out in and around Zaheerabad Mandal, Andhra
Pradesh, located about 100 kilometers from the state capital city of Hyder-
abad. It recruited women farmers belonging to Deccan Development Soci-
ety (DDS) sanghams, which are voluntary village-level associations of
women farmers from low-income households.
Study site
The DDS is a three-decade-old grassroots organization working in about
75 villages with women’s sanghams consisting of over 5,000 women
members in the Medak district of Andhra Pradesh. Most of the women
farmers work primarily as agriculture laborers and are able to lease and
later own small tracts of land with the help of loans from their sanghams.
Many continue this work to supplement their incomes. The basic prin-
ciple of DDS is to support autonomous communities, where community
members have access to and control over food production, seed, natural
resources, market, and media. Several initiatives have been launched by
the women farmers, including, for example, establishing a seed bank and
providing agricultural loans to groups of women farmers. In addition to
storing seeds, the seed bank also loans seeds to its members, and mem-
bers can repay the loan in seeds. In 1996, sangham members designed
and managed an alternative public distribution system (PDS) that empha-
sized local production and supply of grains. The PDS is a government-
run scheme that provides subsidized food to low-income households. The
government-run PDS relies primarily on wheat and rice distribution, often
procured from regions throughout India with high levels of irrigation and
distributed across India ( DDS, 2004 ). The sangham members also orga-
nize an annual biodiversity festival, where women farmers travel to differ-
ent villages alongside the seed carts, emphasizing the importance of seed
and food sovereignty.
106 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
Moreover, identifying a need to communicate and articulate their con-
cerns, women farmers have also participated in creating a community media
space. The first community radio in India was started by a DDS sangham
in 1998, with support from UNESCO (see Pavarala & Malik, 2007 ). Simi-
larly, the women farmers have also become documentary filmmakers with
several titles to their credit. Two documentaries that have received wide
viewership are Bt Cotton in Warangal: A three year fraud and Why are
Warangal Farmers Angry with Bt Cotton . These documentaries critically
reflect on the impact of shifting to Bt cotton cultivation on poor farmers.
The latter was translated into several languages, including French, Spanish,
Thai, and German.
Data collection and analysis
This project conducted three focus groups and 25 in-depth interviews. The
focus groups each had four to six women famers affiliated with DDS sang-
hams and lasted about 40–60 minutes. The discussions were conducted in
the local language, Telugu, and took place in the DDS office in Pastapura
and the nearby villages, Metalkunta and Yedakkulapalli. Most of the in-
depth interviews were conducted in the DDS office in Pastapur. All the par-
ticipants belonged to the low caste in India, the Dalit. They ranged in age
from about 40 years to about 60 years and were members of DDS sanghams.
The key difference between the current participatory research method
and standard qualitative research methods is opening the discursive spaces
of what constitutes “climate change” and the key barriers and opportunities
to solve the climate change problem. The researchers reflexively engaged
with their academic training and position that tends to promote a unidimen-
sional “scientific expertise.” Finally, the researchers checked with the par-
ticipants if they completely and accurately captured the expressed concerns.
Open-ended questions asked about perceptions about changing weather
patterns, perceived causes of changes, perceived effects of changing weather
patterns on agriculture practices, extant adaptation strategies, and promising
adaptation solutions. The interviews were translated into English and tran-
scribed. Translating interviews from Telugu to English was difficult, and
the researchers reviewed all interview content to ensure accuracy.
The next stage involved coding the transcripts sentence by sentence, fol-
lowing the open coding process as described by Strauss and Corbin (1997 ).
The open codes were descriptive in nature, or coded from the words used
by the interviewees. Next, the open codes were further categorized under
different themes. For example, open codes such as “rainfall has decreased,”
“uncertainty about monsoon onset,” “rainfall at inappropriate times,” and
“not enough rains now” were coded under the theme, perceptions about
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 107
changing weather patterns . Open codes such as “rainfall and crop choices,”
“confidence to grow some food crops even in less rainfall,” and “some crops
tolerate more rain, and some can grow in less rain” were categorized under
the theme, current adaptation response . In addition to those two themes, the
researchers identified a third theme, adaptation policies that they seek to
implement at the local, state, and national government levels . Discussion of
those themes foregrounds listening as an entry point to underscoring gender
in climate change discussions and policymaking processes.
Perceptions about changing rainfall patterns and its impacts
Women farmers reported several changes in their local weather patterns
over the past ten years, including decreasing rainfall patterns, increasing
uncertainty in predictability of monsoons, and the associated impacts on
agriculture yields. Their perceptions of weather patterns were articulated
through comparison with previous experiences, particularly giving exam-
ples from agricultural fields. For example, in a focus group interview in
Metalkunta village, Radhamman (all names changed to ensure participants’
anonymity) stated,
Because, ten years ago, the rainy season used to be for a longer dura-
tion, and not like now-a-days. Ten years ago, if it rained for two to
three months, the soil used to get muddy. Although our soil is hard and
dry, and we won’t be able to walk. . . . When it rains now, it is merely
a sprinkle. . . . We are just able to see two or three heavy rains in the
period of four months of the rainy season. There are no heavy rains
Other members in the focus group agreed that that the summer season has
increased in duration, while the rainfall season duration has decreased.
Moreover, they added that it had become increasingly difcult to predict
when it would rain. This increased unpredictability of rainfall had increased
uncertainty about the sowing season. According to Varsamma,
. . . it is not raining at the scheduled times. It rains only once in a
while. Because of this, many people are not sure about when to sow
seeds. People here plant during monsoon season. It’s a tradition. But if
it does not rain, when will we plan to sow? So some people, whatever
may happen, believing in God’s goodwill, will sow, hoping it will rain
sometime. So other people think that it has been 15 days and still no
108 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
rains, and they are not sure about the yields. Some other people only
sow after it rains. But people feel that the crop may not result in good
yields if it is planted after the season. So we observe some changes in
the cropping patterns.
This increasing uncertainty in rainfall also results in other changes; for
example, according to Varsamma, changing rainfall patterns have also affected
pest cycles, as pests seem to infest the crops at irregular times. In these
ways, women farmers recount their experiences with changing rainfall pat-
terns. It appears that the women farmers perceive increasing uncertainty
and a complex relationship between rainfall patterns, sowing time, pest
cycles, and crop yields.
Adaptation to unpredictable rainfall patterns
Women farmers reported several adaptation steps they undertake to deal
with changing rainfall patterns. Participants mentioned that one of the ways
they have adapted to shifting rainfall patterns is to grow several varieties of
food crops suitable to the region, some of which can grow with less water,
while other crops can withstand heavy rainfall. According to Sukamma,
If we plant rice, we need more rain, and more water. If we plant pearl
millet that requires very less water, even if there is less rainfall, we can
still harvest some crops. We are confident that the kind of crops we
grow can tolerate low rainfall. We have hard soil here, so sorghum and
pearl millet suits this region. Even if it rains more, some crops such as
sorghum does not give good yields. Redgram crop needs more water.
So some crops can tolerate more rain, and others, less rain. So when
we plant these varieties of crops, we can expect at least get two bags
when it rains less than usual, instead of four bags for normal rainfall.
If we plant only crops that require more water, we may not have any
Growing these varieties of crops, on their small tracts of land they own or
lease, appears to be an important adaptation strategy to manage increas-
ing uncertainty in rainfall patterns. Women farmers also mentioned that
the increased diversity in food crops has an additional benet of increasing
biodiversity in their farms and in the region, as well as providing different
varieties of nutrition for their families. According to Anjamma, “The benet
is that now we will have four varieties of crops, four varieties of food, four
varieties of seeds, four varieties of animal feed.” In other words, not only
do women farmers report a variety of changes in the weather patterns, but
report several adaptation steps they undertake. These responses – such as
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 109
planting a variety of crops – not only help them adapt to varying rainfall
patterns but also ensure a diversity of food for families and ecological bio-
diversity in the farms and villages.
Women, agriculture practices, and adaptation
The adaptation actions that women farmers report earlier also reveal that
several of these actions are also adaptations to socioeconomic conditions
in their households and communities. For example, the choice of crops and
the yields are also entwined in power relations between husband and wife.
Several women farmers mentioned that access and control over farms and
crops is important to preserve their access to food and good health. When
asked why the relationship between land and women is important, Algol-
amma mentioned,
Why because men often go for only one kind of crop. That crop they
sell it in the market. But women think in many different angles. She
will think about cultivating spices for home, and they keep going to the
field often. When they go to the field, they often take some goat or buf-
falo along with them. That way, as they go often, they get a lot of work
done. So if they have relationship with land, they can do good farming.
When asked if there is any connection between women farmers and grow-
ing a variety of crops, Padayamma said that it is important because not only
will women have control over the elds and their produce but also over
what food they cook at home to ensure the family’s nutritional requirements
are met. Similarly, Sadaamma mentioned,
Women have to wait for men to bring home food, and as such, men
control the food and nourishment for the family. But if women have
access to land and farming, she can farm and cook out of her choice.
She can decide what to cook today and tomorrow. Otherwise she must
wait for her husband to go to the market and buy food. And till that
time, she has to go hungry. Otherwise she can do everything on her
own, without depending on anyone.
However, if the family invests in cash crops, such as cotton or sugarcane,
instead of food crops, Kistamma explained then the money will go into the
hands of the husband, and she has to be dependent on him. Narrating some
of the domestic conicts over farm prots, Chinamma said,
Sometimes, even the husband and sons question us about the money we
earned. If anybody has a bad husband or son, they will beat the woman
110 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
and ask us money for consuming alcohol instead of contributing for the
family. They will make the woman work and even ask money for drink-
ing. They will warn us if we don’t give the money, they won’t allow us
to be in the home and we have to find another place to stay.
This relationship between women and control over land and crops appears
to be particularly important because women are considered responsible for
food and the well-being of the family. In addition, it appears that access to
land and crops has a direct impact on their ability to assert their economic
sovereignty. The participants reported a gender gap in how women com-
pared to men make choices about crops and their impact on the family’s
health and income, apart from relations of gender equality. These adaptation
actions not only help them cope with changing rainfall patterns but are also
instrumental in changing the gender power relations.
Seed and food sovereignty for successful adaptation to
climate impacts
Women farmers interviewed in the study invoke their ability to exercise
power over seeds and fields as a means to successful climate change adapta-
tion. For example, one of the first programs that sangham members imple-
mented was to provide loans to landless women farmers to rent small tracts
of land to grow food crops using natural manure. Describing the shift from
being agriculture laborers, who owned small tracts of uncultivable land, to
becoming farmers, Rukamma mentioned:
Because at that time we did not till on our own lands. We did not have
seeds. So we always used to work in rich landlords’ farms as agriculture
labour. So we would work all day long, and whatever we earn, come
back and cook with that. But after working in DDS sangham, we feel
that if I own my own field, I can grow my own crops. Why should I go
and work in other people’s fields? So once we started working in land we
got on rent, we also felt why not grow food in our own lands. So we used
to give a group of five to 15 people money to rent some land and grow
crops. So what happened is that if ten people work and pay for four years,
they can own the land. So all the yields that they get go to their home.
So then they thought that if they work in their own fields, then there will
never be shortage of food. That’s the idea that came to their minds.
Similarly, opening seed banks appears to have also served an important
purpose of guaranteeing access to seeds for the community. When asked
about the importance of the seed bank, Chanulaamma mentioned,
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 111
It is important because earlier all the seeds used to be with Kaapulu
(one of the land-owning castes in Andhra Pradesh) and obviously, an
agriculture laborer like me who did not have any seeds had to rely on
the owner completely. But now, with the introduction of seed banks,
during rainy season, we store seeds and sow it as per our convenience.
She further mentioned that about 70 villages have their own seed banks, and
she felt that seed banks have “solved the problem of scarcity of seeds for
everyone, the food scarcity also has been solved and we now work in our
own elds. We know the importance of working in our own elds.”
Compared to earlier times when, although they had small tracts of fallow
land, the farmers were not able to grow crops because they lacked access to
seeds, they are now able to store different varieties of seeds with the seed
bank. When asked why they do not use government seeds, Candramma was
skeptical if the seeds provided by government and other private corpora-
tions were trustworthy, may require pesticide use, and if such seeds were
suited to the semi-arid climatic conditions of the region. Moreover, she
pointed out that accessing government seeds would require one to travel
to distant places, such as to the district headquarters, and may require addi-
tional investment in the form of pesticides and fertilizers. In other words,
their ability to exert agency through ownership of land, seeds, crops, and
market as well as enact programs that enhance their sovereignty appear to
be key to successful adaptation.
Adaptation policies that women farmers oppose and support
When asked about what kind of government policies they would support
that will help them adapt, the sangham members narrated a variety of pro-
grams they conducted to voice their concerns about policies. These included
mass media campaigns opposing the government and corporate promotion
of GM crops as a solution to climate change and agrarian crises, running
an alternative food distribution program, and more recently, demonstrating
at an important climate change conference in Copenhagen. However, they
also noted deep skepticism of government, including academic experts,
support for policies they seek to implement.
For example, one of the issues they have been fighting for is to get the
government to accept millet as part of the PDS. Critiquing the government-
run PDS, Chunamma said that traditionally, rice is not a staple food in the
region, as rice requires irrigation access. Moreover, the rice that the govern-
ment provides is often of low quality and lacks nutritional value. As part of
the alternative PDS scheme, the sangham members surveyed fallow lands
that could be used for food cultivation. The beneficiaries of the PDS were
112 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
identified using community consultation processes, thereby reducing the
errors of excluding households who need the food most but are unable to
provide proper paperwork to get government benefits. This way, the alter-
native PDS was found to generate employment, increase household income
levels, increase agriculture productivity, and was able to address food and
nutritional security. About 5,000 acres of fallow land was brought under
cultivation under this program, generating 2.5 lakh person days of employ-
ment every season, and helped to feed 50,000 poor households (see DDS,
2004 ).
Few participants provided another example of government programs that
led to unintended consequences, even though the program aims to aid cli-
mate change adaptation. For example, the government-run 100-day work
guarantee scheme in rural areas aimed to help increase adaptive capacity
and also reinforces existing caste and gender inequities with disproportional
benefits. According to Pollamma,
Generally, under the 100 days’ work scheme, they make people work to
improve agricultural land. But the government never takes up such jobs
in our lands because we are poor and un-influential. Only the influen-
tial in the village get loans and get sanctions to drill bore. Such works
will be done only in the lands of rich who can influence the government
officers. When we went to ask, they say you are working in sangham,
you people have lot of money and you are providing employment for
the other people. So why don’t you do it for yourself. This way they
show partiality. This situation has to be changed. The relevant officers
have to visit different lands, do a survey, and see which lands need
attention, rather than sitting in offices and passing orders. Even our
lands need to be cleaned under this work but we are not getting atten-
tion from the government officers at all. Although they do not help us
better our farms, they still call us to work in other farms, in the farms
of rich and influential people.
The narratives of women farmers suggest that vulnerability and success-
ful adaptation is not only related to climate change impacts, but is situated
within local contexts of food and farm access, and in the global context of
increasing industrialization of agriculture practices, especially the corporate
takeover of seeds and farm produce. Having access to their own farms and
growing different varieties of crops that can withstand changing rainfall
patterns are important adaptation measures. At the same time, adaptation
measures such as work guarantee schemes often take place in the farms of
rich and influential farmers; thereby, government programs are found to
perpetuate the prevailing structural differences in access to resources.
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 113
This chapter foregrounds the voices of lower caste women farmers from
low-income households from a semi-arid region in south India to under-
stand how they conceptualize the problem of climate change and what adap-
tation strategies they support. Women farmers not only perceive a decrease
in annual rainfall patterns, but also state that the shift in rainfall patterns has
affected their cropping cycles, as well as shifts in pest cycles that, in turn,
affect crop yields. They are already implementing several adaptation mea-
sures to cope with decreasing rainfall patterns, such as planting a variety of
food crops that can survive both low and high rainfall patterns. By doing so,
they state they are able to not only preserve biodiversity in their farms and
in the region, but also are able to help supply diverse nutritious food for their
families. Women farmers are critical of government policies, specifically
related to encouraging Bt cotton cultivation, the government’s PDS scheme
that does not include millet, and inequitable access to benefits from govern-
ment programs such as the 100-day work guarantee scheme.
Memories of walking in hard and dry fields that turn muddy during rain-
fall season, increasing unpredictability in onset and duration of seasons,
and simultaneously changes in pest cycles and yields are some of the ways
women farmers construct climate change in this study. Previous studies
have shown that members in rural communities construct climate change
through their everyday lived experiences of agriculture practices and access
to food ( Carr, 2008 ; Eriksen et al., 2005 ; Eriksen et al., 2011 ). Wangui
(2014 ) showed that pastoralist communities in Masai understand climate
change through gendered livelihood impacts such as access to water, fuel,
and food. These gendered experiences of what constitutes climate change
are an alternative to objective, context-free, and value-laden scientific and
technocratic frames of climate change.
The findings of this study indicate that women farmers believe that
unless their concerns about the relationship between women and agricul-
ture, food security, and seed sovereignty are addressed, adaptation policies
will most likely hinder social change and more fundamentally continue the
technology-centered social change that lies at the heart of climate change
processes (e.g., Bee et al., 2013 ; Eriksen et al., 2011 ). For example, some
governments and economists have argued that GM crops are an important
climate change adaptation strategy, especially for poor women farmers
( Glover, 2010a , 2010b ; Qaim & Kouser, 2013 ; Zilberman, 2014 ). The ratio-
nale for this argument is the measured success of GM cotton in India and
elsewhere. The primary concern in economic studies of GM crops focuses
on profits and yields; few studies investigate the impact of GM crops on
farmers’ food access and security, preservation of biodiversity, and loss of
indigenous knowledge systems and forms ( Stone, 2010 ).
114 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
Women farmers’ narratives show a need to move away from yield and
profit oriented assessments, to a comprehensive change in gender relations
in agriculture practices and power relations within a family. These asser-
tions are supported by several empirical studies which indicate the height-
ened risks of GM crops for poor farmers due to their capital and resource
intensive nature ( Morse et al., 2012 ; Crost et al., 2007 ). For example, Stone
(2010 ) and Glover (2010a , 2010b ) showed that findings of beneficial effects
of GM crops are largely biased in favor of rich farmers. In fact, studies have
shown that profits from Bt cotton are contingent on several factors, includ-
ing farm size, access to resources such as irrigation, and credit.
The 100-day rural work program is potentially one of the important adap-
tation policies in India, especially for the rural poor. Although women con-
stitute a substantial proportion of workers participating in the 100-day rural
work guarantee program, women farmers in this study reveal constraints
for equal access, participation, and benefits of the program. These claims
are found consistent at the national level as well as in regional studies ( Das,
2013 ; Gupta, 2009 ; Narayanan, 2008 ). For example, although the program
is credited to provide equal wages for women, women face several social
barriers for equal participation, and the performance levels vary across
states ( Khera & Nayak, 2009 ). In 2012, although a majority of women were
enrolled to find work, only 19% of female-headed households with no adult
males reported seeking work, and only 16% actually worked. Only a minor-
ity of females from lower castes (17%), widows (17%), and females with
young children (9%) reported to have worked in the program ( Khera &
Nayak, 2009 ). Narayanan (2008 ) pointed out that the program had no facil-
ity for childcare, which constrains the participation of young mothers.
In addition, the current study found that rich landlords and local admin-
istration officials use the “empowered” women collective trope to dismiss
protests by women farmers that the benefits of the work are not equally
distributed. Recently, Amaral, Bandyopadhyay, and Sensarma (2015 ) found
that increased female labor participation following the Mahatma Gandhi
National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) increased
instances of gender violence. Similarly, Anderson and Genicot (2015 )
found that a shift in property rights for women in India was associated with
increased cases of domestic violence. Together, these studies suggest that
social change is rarely simple or easy, and climate change and developmen-
tal policies need to explicitly address such unexpected consequences.
Disempowering discourses about “the poor victim” renders adaptive
strategies of the most vulnerable either invisible ( Tschakert & Machado,
2012 ) or used to justify technology fixes as the only suitable route for devel-
opment and social change ( Bee et al., 2013 ). Technology fixes to solve
climate change, for example, the adoption of GM crops, are considered
value-neutral, objective, and context-free. Moreover, adaptation is framed
Women farmers’ voices on climate change adaptation in India 115
as doing something “new” while old cultural practices are considered not
being able to cope with rapid, unanticipated impacts of climate change.
Adaptation solutions that such communities propose are also dismissed as
unique and not applicable to international contexts ( Cameron, 2012 ). Such
framing renders local knowledge and indigenous developed technologies
outdated and in need of modernization. This study points to different ways
that women farmers are already adapting to climate change risks, and the
policies that may hinder their adaptive capacities. As scholars have argued,
there is a need to identify social biases and discriminatory institutional
practices that perpetuate unequal access and control over resources that
“undermine timely, fair and successful adaptive responses” ( Tschakert &
Machado, 2012 , p. 282).
When we asked what kind of community-academic partnership one
can envision, some women farmers showed skepticism. They asked,
“Will you care to listen?” Their prior experiences with advocacy
showed that government, including academic experts, may notice their
work, but do not listen and participate in dialogue. Climate change and
development policymaking processes have often been limited within
communities of experts, dominated by Western science. This has largely
resulted in framing climate change as a problem that can be solved by
technology fixes. A gendered analysis of climate change impacts and
adaptation can resist and open discursive spaces for participation by
marginalized and vulnerable poor women farmers in developing solu-
tions to climate change. Listening and advocating the concerns of vul-
nerable groups can help the call of “no climate justice without gender
justice” result in transformative change, grounded in the participatory
agency of communities of women from the global South. When asked
what it would mean to demonstrate that someone has listened to them,
Ramamma said,
The government should recommend our farming techniques and crops.
Our crops could get better market rates, or in other matters, our seeds
should get preference. Anyone who is doing this should get recogni-
tion. Recognition means, that you give others subsidy, we should also
get subsidy and that is a forward-looking policy. Only when they do
that, we will know they have listened to us.
National University of Singapore provided funding for this project. We
want to thank DDS advisory board members and other community mem-
bers for participating in this study. We also thank researchers at Culture-
Centered Approaches to Research and Evaluation at National University of
116 Jagadish Thaker and Mohan J. Dutta
Singapore for insightful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this
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... Many women are already on the front-line concerning climate change. For example, women farmers in India have employed creative ways of dealing with unpredictable rainfall due to climate change (Thaker & Dutta, 2018). They planted various crops that required different amounts of rainfall to ensure at least one successful harvest. ...
Our world faces potentially catastrophic climate change that can damage human health in multiple ways. The impact of climate change is uneven, disproportionately affecting the lives and livelihoods of women and girls. This conceptual article compiles evidence for a model that argues that climate change has more detrimental consequences for women than men because of women's precarity (unequal power) and corporal (physical) vulnerability. Climate change challenges the human rights of women and girls, triggering displacement, interrupted education, food and water scarcity, economic instability, mental and physical health challenges, reproductive injustice, gender‐based violence, exploitation and human trafficking. Women are effective and essential change agents; their empowerment can directly contravene or mitigate climate change and also break the links between climate change and its negative consequences for women and girls. Gender‐sensitive responses to the effects of climate change are imperative. Women's empowerment will further human rights and achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
... Similarly, in contrast to being portrayed as victims or virtuous environmentalists, communities in poor and developing countries seek to be portrayed as active change agents who are seeking to protect their cultural and human rights (Harris, 2018). In other words, media not only makes the "invisible" environment challenges visible, but community-owned media can enhance local communities participation in and management of environmental resources (Thaker & Dutta, 2018). ...
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Environmentalism is often construed as a “full stomach” phenomenon (Guha & Alier, 1997,p. xxi), a luxury only the rich can afford (also see Dauvergne, 2016; Dunlap & Mertig, 1995; Dunlap & York, 2008; Guha, 1989). According to several theorists, most prominently associated with Ronald Inglehart (1981), the rise of green or environmental protection movement in the 1960s in the Global North was a result of shifting values, from materialist to post-materialist values, a shift from prioritizing sustenance and safety towards self-expression and quality of life. It marked a change in societal values of economic growth at any cost to concerns about limits to growth due to its negative impact on the environment. This shift has been attributed to the unprecedented levels of economic and physical security following the second world war. This chapter aims to illustrate an alternative theorizing about environmental communication, one that is rooted in culture and lived experience of poor, marginalized, and indigenous communities. Does there exist an environmentalism of the global South, as distinct from environmentalism of the global North? If so, how is environment conceptualized, what theories of environmental communication can be derived from such a distinct conceptualization? To be able to effectively answer that question would need a comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective, bringing together environmental historians, economists, ecologists, development, and social movement researchers.
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For many years, climate change discourse was dominated by a technicalscientific framing based on modernist notions of objective knowledge, control, and efficiency. In recent years, a robust alternative discourse of climate justice has emerged, challenging mainstream adaptation and mitigation policies as reinforcing capitalist, colonialist, and patriarchal power structures and further marginalizing already vulnerable peoples and communities. But while the climate justice movement has provided a sorely needed corrective to climate change discourse, it has been hampered by addressing only policy issues without critically examining the scientific knowledge on which climate change discourse is based. Drawing on critiques of science and technology from ecofeminism and feminist science studies, we argue that scientific knowledge is always already structured by social power relations before it ever enters into policy discussions. In place of the (illusory) God-trick of absolute knowledge and control of the global climate system, we use Haraway’s ideas of feminist objectivity, partial perspective, relations between species, and cyborg standpoints to situate and pluralize knowledge about climate change. This intervention opens up discursive space for multiple, partial knowledge about the climate system, all of which can be held accountable to their ethical and political implications. This pluralization of knowledge allows feminists to recognize and support many forms and venues of climate change-related activism, moving beyond the impasses of international and national political negotiations. Thus, far from dismissing climate change, a feminist critique of climate science makes possible a range of interventions that can more effectively promote social justice and ecological health.
The role that agricultural biotechnology can play in the mitigation of climate change has been ignored in the new IPCC report (IPCC 2014). This is unfortunate in light of results seen in a growing body of literature, which show that genetic engineering (GE) has already contributed to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and indicate that it can play a large role in both the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, especially under less-restrictive regulations. Conversion of non-cropland to cropland is a major contributor to the greenhouse gas increase in the atmosphere. An important way to decrease pressure for land conversion is to increase productivity on land currently used for food and feed crop production. Here, GE has proven benefits and huge untapped potential. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
The 'steps forward' include a commit-ment by the G8 to continue collaboration "to identify a goal to substantially reduce global emissions by 2050" (G8 2009). The G8 did not offer such a goal, rather it de-clared the aspiration to arrive at one. Be-yond this aspiration, the official record of the Summit identifies almost no specific goals towards which future collaboration will be directed. The G8 achieved no har-monization on reduction standards or benchmarks. The G8 leaders, for example, apparently could not come to an agreement to stipulate the baseline year against which their aspirational carbon emission "reduc-tions by 2050" would be measured. Tar- International policy-makers are forging a consensus that a 2°C rise in global temperature represents an acceptable and manageable level of danger to the planet. This is not a conclusion supported by climate sci-ence. Feminist analysis helps to re-veal the gendered political and ideo-logical underpinnings of this ap-proach to climate change.
We investigate how smallholder farmers at two sites in Kenya and Tanzania cope with climate stress and how constraints and opportunities shape variations in coping strategies between households and over time during a drought. On the basis of this analysis, we draw out implications for adaptation and adaptive policy. We find that households where an individual was able to specialize in one favoured activity, such as employment or charcoal burning, in the context of overall diversification by the household, were often less vulnerable than households where each individual is engaged in many activities at low intensity. Many households had limited access to the favoured coping options due to a lack of skill, labour and/or capital. This lack of access was compounded by social relations that led to exclusion of certain groups, especially women, from carrying out favoured activities with sufficient intensity. These households instead carried out a multitude of less favoured and frequently complementary activities, such as collecting indigenous fruit. While characterized by suitability to seasonal environmental variations and low demands on time and cash investments, these strategies often yielded marginal returns. Both the marginalization of local niche products and the commercialization of forest resources exemplify processes leading to differential vulnerability. We suggest that vulnerability can usefully be viewed in terms of the interaction of such processes, following the concept of locality. We argue that coping is a distinct component of vulnerability and that understanding the dynamism of coping and vulnerability is critical to developing adaptation measures that support people as active agents.
Grounded theory methodology and procedure have become one of the most influential modes of carrying out qualitative research when generating theory is a principle aim of the researcher. This volume presents a series of readings that emphasize different aspects of grounded theory methodology and methods. The selections are written by former students of the late Anselm Strauss and have been chosen for their accessibility and range.