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24 July 2020  |  2 minutes

Supporting farmers at the front line of climate change

By Linus Kendall and Professor Andy Dearden

Friday 24 July • Viewing time: 1 minute

Farming communities in West Bengal bear the brunt of the climate emergency. We worked with them on a scheme to help protect their livelihoods.

Low-lying terrain and a tropical climate mean the Ganges Delta in West Bengal is highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis.

Cyclone Amphan hit the region in 2020. Electrical transformers exploded, roofs were torn from their buildings and crops were flattened. It was the latest in a series of increasingly common and severe cyclones centred on the area.

But the destruction of buildings and infrastructure like what we saw with Cyclone Amphan isn't the only effect of extreme weather. The livelihoods of people in the region — based predominantly around small-scale farming and fishing — are threatened all year round by flooding, unseasonal rain and soil salinity. 

A local NGO, the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), has been helping the farming communities of West Bengal manage the effects of climate change by supporting sustainable agricultural practices. 

We’ve worked alongside the DRCSC as part of a Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Creative Communications initiative — applying our knowledge of IT, development and participatory design to this pressing issue. 

Our joint project is reaching 11 villages and over 1000 farming households. It's a scheme of relatively simple measures that have a big impact.

Three approaches

The scheme is based around ‘technology stewards’, comprising DRCSC fieldworkers and community volunteers. These technology stewards share specialist information with the farming communities. 

We held workshops to help them adopt three approaches.

Firstly, the stewards access online weather forecasts and make them relevant for local farmers. This includes simplifying and translating forecasts into Bengali and making specific agricultural recommendations like when to sow seeds, shelter livestock or harvest crops.

The next step is to disseminate the information effectively. We helped the stewards with communication methods like WhatsApp groups, notice boards and handouts.

Finally, each steward has been trained and provided with equipment to monitor rainfall, temperature and humidity. This means they can validate weather forecasts and interpret weather patterns independently. By doing so, they've been able to get a better impression of forecasting accuracy in their local area.

These measures have already proven valuable. Farmers can reduce costs by planning their activities around predicted rainfall and temperature patterns. They are also now actively discussing weather guidance at notice boards, places of worship and other meeting places — which brings about closer collaboration and better understanding of climate change.

A man updating agricultural notices in West Bengal
Editing display boards

Cyclones and pandemics

The scheme was quickly put to the test in times of crisis. 

Before Cyclone Bulbul struck in 2019, the service provided early warnings to farmers to protect themselves and their crops. Just a few months later, it was needed yet again as the more severe Cyclone Amphan hit the region.

It has also had applications for the Covid-19 pandemic. As West Bengal locked down, the stewards used their WhatsApp groups to share information about the appropriate actions to take to stay safe during the virus.

As a result, local police have recognised the scheme as an essential service. Fieldworkers have been given permission to continue to update their notice boards and distribute essential information during the lockdown.

This adaptability is central to the success of the project — and its sustainability. Even in highly unpredictable conditions, it's helping farming communities work together and protect their livelihoods.

A crop advisory in West Bengal
Creating crop advice using forecasts

More about the Global Challenges Research Fund

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It links UK researchers with local organisations for collaborative, community-based projects — making a difference to people's lives in areas of poverty, danger and disadvantage. 

Research themes

About this project

Explore the people and organisations behind this research, and find related publications by the research team.

Global Challenges Research Fund

The GCRF addresses urgent issues in the developing world through cutting-edge research. Through the fund, we're applying our knowledge across the globe and making a positive impact on people's lives.

Related courses

Our teaching is informed by research. Browse undergraduate and postgraduate courses with links to this research project, topic or team.

Get in touch

Find key contacts for enquiries about funding, partnerships, collaborations and doctoral degrees.

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