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Assam women showcase climate-resilient technology to tackle Disang River floods

by Dr. Kanwar Singh & Jyoti Bikash Nath

Assam, a northeastern state of India, faces a climate challenge that leads to huge crop losses in the field. The Disang River overflows every year, affecting more than 50,000 people across seven districts. The Mahomora village, in particular, witnesses the devastating flood almost annually.

As the Disang River floods pose challenges to agriculture and income in Assam, there is a pressing need to disseminate knowledge and technology on appropriate climate-resilient agriculture and to bring institutional innovations to cope with climate variability. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), as a technical partner of the World Bank funded Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project (APART), has introduced Stress Tolerant Rice varieties (STRVs) that can withstand submergence up to two weeks.

An effective and fast approach to reach farmers for technology transfer is through targeting women farmer groups who have a major role in decision-making relative to income generating activities by their families. Women group members interact regularly and help ensure access to immediate finance facilities that can supplement household income.

Voluntary organizations (VO) formed by Assam State Rural Livelihood Mission, are one of the most significant and vibrant women group types in Assam. Abhijatri VO, formed in April 2018, is an association of 16 Self Help Groups (SHG) consisting of 189 women members of  Mahomora Development Block of Sivasagar district of Assam.

Abhijatri VO is managed by an Executive Committee formed by elected members from each SHG. Mrs. Ronju Gogoi and Sagarika Gogoi are President and Secretary, respectively, of the VO. The VO has developed leadership and managerial capacity by virtue of their experience, has the financial capacity to invest in group enterprise, and has good working relationships with local government departments. The members are very keen in experimenting with new technologies and need-based interventions.

How to make a change? How to save their livelihood?  These are the points of discussion among the women during their meeting. Agriculture, as a male-dominated sector, experiences low participation levels of women in decision-making, particularly in selecting the paddy variety.

Traditionally, women support their family in the paddy field in transplanting, weeding, harvesting. The responsibility of selling the produce and procuring the inputs always lies with men. However, as women aimed to be involved in the conversation, their out-of-the-box ideas on rice cultivation to increase group income impressed their family members.

First, the group decided to experiment with STRVs in their village. Considering their zeal and experience in paddy cultivation, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Sivasagar with the technical support of IRRI under APART approved a cluster demonstration of 5 hectare area of a STRV Swarna-Sub1 and ensured all the necessary inputs and technical support. The site selected by the women group for paddy cultivation is rainfed lowland where flash flood or submergence is a common phenomenon that affects crop growth leading to severe yield losses.

Some of the interested group members individually tried the Swarna-Sub1 in their fields too and around 10 bighas of land was cultivated by the VOs in group. As usual this year, water from the Disang River flooded their field but fortunately it was not so devastating, and receded after two days. When asked about the present status of the crop, the president smiled and said that crop growth is very good except for some biotic stresses in their field that can be managed. The submergence was only for three days which did not make any difference to the crop. The paddy field is now at vegetative stage with very effective tillering in each hill, bringing hope for bumper yield.

A single demonstration with 189 women has made a strong bonding between their families. They are now motivated and trained. They have developed abundant self confidence and strong determination that will for sure lead to imitation of climate-resilient technology among farmers in a faster way in the district.