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Farmers face climate change in Andhra Pradesh

Women often migrate to work as labourers. But men, being usually the sole owners of the land, consider themselves to be "farmers" and are less likely to adopt new livelihood strategies.

Men have the final word about coping strategies [E. Schipper]

To what extent does a farmer's gender influence his or her response to climate change? Are the impacts of climatic shifts on food security different for men and women? To seek answers to those questions, an FAO project recently conducted research with men and women farmers in some of the poorest villages in drought-prone districts of India's Andhra Pradesh state.

Launched in May 2008 with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the project involved researchers from FAO, universities in Australia and the USA, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Samatha Gender Resource Centre in Andhra Pradesh. Local consultants with experience of the region's conditions carried out field work in two districts, collecting qualitative and quantitative data through participatory research with farmers. In tandem, the institutional context and recorded meteorological trends were analysed.

The focus of the study was six villages, each composed of between 200 and 400 households, with high levels of poverty and reliance on rain-fed agriculture. The men and women farmers participating in the study worked land holdings of 1 to 2 ha (although the large majority of land owners in the villages surveyed were men). Although the farmers rely primarily on agriculture for their livelihoods and food security, they are turning increasingly to seasonal migration and accepting loans and government-funded relief programmes as livelihood strategies.

Among the main outputs of the FAO project is a comprehensive case study of the six villages which documents gender-differentiated aspects of coping with climate shifts. For example, almost 90% of farmers reported poorer harvests and reduced crop yields, although men were significantly more likely than women to note an increase in unpredictability of weather. While men reported reductions in fodder production, women tended to report health effects attributed to weather changes.

Gender roles shaped the responses of women and men farmers to climate shocks, FAO says. Women often migrate and work as labourers, usually in construction. Men, being usually the sole owners of the land, consider themselves to be "farmers" and are less likely to adopt new livelihood strategies (although they readily accept government-subsidized rice at low prices. Both men and women report increased stresses due to weather changes over the past 30 years - while women report increased household work, men report increased pressure to take loans.

Past coping strategies, such as relying on forest cover for supplementary food, are no longer available due to drought and loss of soil cover. Almost all farmers now rely to some degree on government rations. Nevertheless, more than 50% of households surveyed did not have sufficient food often or at some time in the past year. "Men ultimately have the final word when it comes to deciding which coping strategies the household will adopt," researchers reported. "While women are responsible for providing food for the family, men usually hold most of the assets under their control."

An important contribution of the project is the development and rigorous testing of a methodology for exploring the gender dimensions of coping with climate change impacts. The methodology is designed to be used in various contexts, and will be useful for researchers and policy makers.

FAO says interventions to assist the world's most vulnerable cannot succeed if the key elements of vulnerability, including the differences between men and women, are not understood and addressed. Planning for adaptation to long term climate change must be founded on men and women farmers' knowledge and long-term experience.