The Climate-Smart Village approach is improving the quality of life of tribal communities in Betul, India.

Samantabai is a happy woman. The first 'super-champion' farmer in her village, she has been involved in the Climate-Smart Village (CSV) project under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Before the project, Samantabai, along with 3,725 other beneficiaries, had to deal with water scarcity due to frequent drought and erratic rainfall. The undulating land surface, with poor soils, further threatened their livelihoods.

The CSV project aims to build climate-resilient communities over the course of three years in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh, India. It also envisages the incorporation of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) along with a range of farm activities tailored to the geo-climatic and socioeconomic context in the region.

Income generation

Project activities aim to increase productivity and resilience of major crops of the region including rice, wheat, and millets through improved agricultural practices. Solar irrigation and other water management initiatives help in conserving water for critical irrigation during climatic stress and preventing run-off. Apart from these, the project also includes farm diversification through kitchen gardening and mulberry cultivation for sericulture. 

Introduction of on-farm vermicompost also supplements farm income both directly by selling the vermicompost in the market or indirectly by increasing yields through the use of compost in own fields. Azolla farming acts as an excellent source of fodder for livestock and as bio-fertilizer for rice.

The project also aims to create a sustainable farm model through establishing custom hiring centers. These are centers owned and managed by farmers, and lease improved machinery and agricultural inputs in the village at cost-effective prices.

Health and nutrition

Before the implementation of the project, limited farm income from low yields restricted the communities to cereal and millet-based diet. Vegetables, milk, and meat from backyard poultry were luxuries affordable only during good agricultural years.

Promotion of kitchen gardening and increased farm income from the CSV project has altered the dietary pattern of the households. Increased milk production from improved breeds of livestock has also increased nutritional intake of farming families.

Climate-smart housing further protects the animals from extreme heat conditions. Design features and construction materials of climate-smart housing helps in regulating air temperature, improving hygiene and providing an easy collection of livestock waste for other uses.

Another pivotal project intervention has been the installation of biogas unit in farms. Smokeless cook stoves were also included with the unit, which has given tremendous health benefits, especially for women who used to cook on traditional wood-burning stoves, resulting in wide respiratory disorders.

Additionally, many such project villages are linked to ongoing government schemes like Swach Bharat Abhiyan and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) initiatives. Samantabai reflects:

I remember myself and my daughter had to walk for up to 2 hours every day to collect firewood for cooking. The biogas unit from the project has made my life a lot easier, and I now have more time to focus on my farm and family. Additionally, we now consume more vegetables harvested from my kitchen garden and dairy products from higher milk production.”

Ecosystem services

The CSV project in Betul has focused heavily on integrated nutrient management because of poor soil health and unaffordable prices of chemical fertilizers and pesticides for the communities. Indigenous knowledge has been utilized to formulate bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers using farm products like livestock waste, Azolla, vermicompost, and local tree species. Reduced usage of chemicals on the farm has resulted in better environmental conditions and increased savings on inputs.

Knowledge and education

Traditional practices like low seed replacement rates, lack of knowledge about improved varieties and management practices had stalled food production in the region.

The project has led to increased awareness of climate-resilient farm practices amongst the community. Additionally, the biogas unit under the project portfolio has had a spill-over effect in other sectors too. Women and their children now don’t have to walk for hours to collect firewood, freeing them up to pursue other activities.

The more efficient smokeless cook stove has also helped in reducing the cooking time by more than half, liberating women, especially the daughters in the family, from household chores to pursue other activities, including schoolwork.

Moreover, high emphasis on capacity-building through training and knowledge-sharing has resulted in better awareness.

The inclusion of farmers, especially women, at every stage of the project and continuous training has helped in increasing the self-confidence and has given them the ability to assert their opinion and participate in decision-making. 

With secure livelihoods from multiple sources of income from the CSV project, many women expressed their desire to focus on education of their children. With hopes of a secure future, Samantabai now plans to enroll her daughter in a technical course nearby to enable her to develop income-generating skills. 

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This project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and activities implemented by BAIF Development Research Foundation.

Arun Khatri-Chhetri is the Science Officer at CCAFS South Asia.

Shalika Vyas is a Research Consultant at CCAFS South Asia.