This study investigates how, why, and how effectively farmers in Gujarat, India adapt to a delayed start of the monsoon season. Previous studies have found that, through adaptation strategies, farmers in India are able to mitigate some of the effects and risks caused by variability in weather patterns. This study points out, however, that most of these adaptation studies are limited because they generally assume that an adaptation strategy is always beneficial to the farmer; this may not always be the case. Additionally, a farmer’s decision to adopt certain strategies due to weather variability are complex and are influenced by social, economic, biophysical and perceptional factors, yet studies often don’t consider multiple factors that influence decision-making simultaneously. The present study seeks to overcome these limitations by looking at adaptation strategies, the decision-making processes behind them, and their effectiveness.
The study is based around a framework that identifies the causes and consequences of heterogeneous decision making. The framework identifies which socio-economic and biophysical actors (soil type and assets) are associated with heterogeneous cropping decisions in response to weather variability in a given area and which cropping strategies are the most adaptive in terms of economic outcomes (yields and profits). The framework also accounts for differences between sub-groups of the population that likely face different constraints on how to cope with weather variability (access to irrigation) and was applied to the case of Gujarat, India in 2011. Normally rains in Gujarat arrive by June 15th, but there is high inter-annual variability and in 2011, the monsoon was delayed by three weeks. The study was conducted across fifteen villages split into five clusters, which were divided according to a rainfall gradient (300mm-1800mm) and an irrigation gradient (no irrigation, canal irrigation, groundwater irrigation). One of the clusters selected was characterized by low rainfall and rain-fed agriculture (“rain-fed region”), one cluster by high rainfall and canal irrigation (“canal region”), and three clusters in medium rainfall groundwater irrigation (“groundwater region”). The study focused on clusters characterized by medium rainfall and groundwater irrigation as groundwater levels in Gujarat have been dropping rapidly and the authors wanted to consider what happens when groundwater becomes scarce.
In terms of data collection, the study conducted a mixed methods approach. This included informal interviews with community members and focus groups to assess perceptions of the monsoon, including a farmer’s degree of risk aversion and whether farmers alter their cropping strategies in response to weather variability. Based on this, the study found that the majority of farmers claim that they do alter their cropping patters by switching crop types, delaying sowing, and increasing irrigation.
This was followed by household surveys. In each village, between fifty and sixty households were interviewed, resulting in a total sample of 779 farmers. From this survey, the study managed to produce an overview of assets and decision making processes. This was followed by a statistical analyses between the data collected in the interviews and household surveys with actual actions undertaken by the farmers and their associated yield and profits in 2011.
The study found that the adaptive strategy used by farmers differed mainly depending on the region surveyed. The findings from the groundwater region, where the main crop is cotton, found that farmers with higher assets generally increased irrigation to adapt to the delayed monsoon, regardless of whether groundwater levels were dropping. The poorer farmers, however, switched to castor as it has a later sowing date, and they did not have access to irrigation. In terms of yields, the farmers who used irrigation and switched to castor each had good yields, which suggests that they are both successful adaption strategies. The main drawback with cultivating castor, however, is that it does not allow farmers to sow a winter crop.
In the canal region, where the main crop is rice, the study found that wealthier farmers increased their level of irrigation and that poorer farmers sowed rice later. Farmers generally did not switch to other crops even though they had indicated that this is one of their main adaptation strategies during the interviews. In the statistical analysis, the study found that increased irrigation did lead to higher yields compared to those that did not have access to irrigation. Without access to irrigation there was no significant difference between famers that sowed early or later.
In the rain-fed region, where cotton is the main crop, the study found that some farmers switched crops to castor or sorghum; but yields in this cluster were unable to be assessed as most crops failed due to heavy monsoons at the end of the season. Interestingly, the study found that farmers who planted castor had the lowest failure rate.
In analyzing these results, a number of significant findings stand out. Although farmers experience the same weather fluctuations, there is a great diversity in the ways farmers cope with weather variability and the factors that drive decisions to adapt. Overall, the study found that assets, access to irrigation, weather perceptions, and risk aversion were the strongest factors associated with decision making. The most preferred adaptation strategy to weather variations was planting the same crop but increasing the amount of irrigation during the dry period as compared to normal monsoons. For farmers that did not have access to irrigation, other factors played a bigger role. In those instances, farmers were more likely to adopt crop-switching in the groundwater region and delay sowing in the canal region. In terms of outcomes, the study found that increased irrigation to mitigate the effect of a delayed monsoon was effective. For those that did not have access to irrigation, the study found that delayed sowing had no significant effect on crop yields’ findings also suggest that switching crop type is likely to be beneficial. Further research during multiple monsoons is needed to see if these findings are generalizable.
BY: Bas Paris, IFPRI