Through discussions and cross-sectoral sharing like at the Climate Change workshop held in Rajasthan's Barmer district recently, people have taken it upon themselves to act in small ways to the huge problem of change in environment and the climate.
According to Charkha Features, those with half-acre of land decided against the use of tractors. They said: "We will save local plants and we will not use plastic bags and stop the people who use it."
Each participant vowed to create awareness and share the knowledge they gathered amongst five people. These are small steps but in the long road to equity in climate and responsibility for ones own life and environment not only laudable but an example for the powers that be to emulate.
Thar, the desert has a unique eco-system, harsh climatic and terrain conditions coupled with an amazing grace that life and practices speak of, which conserve the natural resources.
Interestingly enough the heat generated in the atmosphere actually helps to draw the monsoon in the region. Though there is a water shortage but traditional water management has still kept the desert moist.
The immense stretches of sand dunes and a coarser kind of sand does not allow for agriculture. Yet it also has the incredible 'Khejdi', a hardy, gnarled tree which provides life-giving fodder.
'Sevan', 'Dhaman' and other countless plants which provide succor to the life-forms there. The ubiquitous camel is itself a natural marvel, so totally adapted to the climatic and geographic conditions that life in the desert virtually centres around it.
Home to the wildlife like deer, blue bull, wolf, desert fox, rabbit, Barasingha and birds like vultures, great Indian bustard, grey francolin, common quail and peacock, the desert humming with diverse life-forms.
Yet something fundamental is changing in the Thar. Ghowaram, former Sarpanch of Pataudi, Barmer, says: "Weather and its cycle are changing. Summer is getting longer and winter is becoming shorter day-by-day. Monsoon comes either before time, or very late. Drought and famine, the desert has never seen such changes. We have not seen such heat in November and December. Famine comes every now and then."
This insight would have possibly remained buried in the Thar but for the workshop on "Climate Change and its impact on community livelihood", held in November 2009 at Balotra block of Barmer district.
Organised by Idea in association with Oxfam, this brought together not just experts from the fields of agriculture, forestry and science but also rural communities, who are often left out from such debates. It is from this constituency that what was really happening on the ground emerged.
Without even knowing the term 'Climate Change' which has taken up reams of paper and hours of air-time and the immense resources to hold an international summit, the rural population are deeply and perhaps silently conscious of the change around them. And the way their lives are getting affected.
According to them, animals like deer, rabbits, 'Godvani', part of the desert-scape are not so common now and vultures have completely vanished. The mainstay of the desert, plants like Sevan, Dhaman, Phog are also fast disappearing. Even the 'Khejdi' is becoming rare. The desert is expanding and soil erosion increasing.
But can all these 'environmental' factors be linked to the larger issue of 'Climate Change'? This was the point leading to much brainstorming. Agricultural, animal husbandry and environmental experts presented their analytical explanations.
Rural communities spoke of their insights from the ground. What then emerged was a link between the vast changes in agriculture, animal farming and people's lives and the deeper dimension of Climate Change.
Practices which violate the fundamental principles of the environment not only contribute to factors leading to Climate Change but in turn are affected by this change which pushes them further to adopt environment unfriendly practices. A case in point is the use of tractors unsuitable to the terrain in the Thar.
Even the non-irrigated fields are so soft, it does not require tillage through tractors. Yet they are used and destroy plant-life. The result is shortage of fodder and wood for fuel thus directly affecting animal husbandry, an important source of livelihoods
The use of tractors has another disastrous fall-out. The destruction of plants, which bind soil has increased soil-erosion. The fertility of land has been affected. People believe that farms, which once produced 8-10 quintals of grain, are now producing only 3-4 quintals per hectare. The desert has huge but unexploited grasslands which could be tapped for fodder. But a combination of government and social apathy is destroying this green gold.
Exploitation of ground water continues at a relentless pace. The water-level is going down and in some areas, wells have dried.
Jodhpur, once famous for producing onions and chilly, is in dire straits today because of drying up of wells and falling soil fertility. The much-touted Indira Gandhi Canal, meant as a drought-prevention structure has led to environment related problems.
The canal has encouraged the move towards irrigation agriculture thus eating up grasslands. The government has compounded the problem. It is converting grasslands into farms and selling it, destroying the traditional base of not only agriculture but the eco-system as a whole. Perhaps as a result of such short-sighted policies, over the last three decades, there has been a perennial shortage of water in the canal.
How do the experts view these changes in the Thar? Scientists from Central Agricultural Resources Department Institute at Kajri believe that global warming is causing western storms during summer, which is driving moisture-laden monsoon winds away from Rajasthan.
According to satellite data of American Space Agency NASA, the climate of Thar is expected to be unstable over the next few years. There will be periods of drought and periods of heavy rainfall. Though the monsoon will be active, it may pour over certain area while leave others bone-dry. Floods and drought are literally as two sides of the coin in the Thar, which earlier had a distinct pattern of rainfall. Agricultural patterns were tuned to it, now will be disrupted.
There is a response from the ground to these dire predictions, There is growing awareness, even preparedness to understand and address the changes which are detrimental to life in the desert.