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.
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.