Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Majuli:Mising tribals vulnerable to climate change,says study

                                                               Bhaskar Pegu

A Mising tribal stilt house in Majuli island with paddy growing around.Agriculture is the main occupation of the majority of the islanders.Photo:Juri Pegu Schmidt Soltau
A recent case study conducted in Majuli on the impact of climate change on livelihood said that the communities inhabiting the largest mid-river deltaic island of the Brahmaputra were vulnerable to climate change .Agriculture being the main source of livelihood,there are solid evidences that the people are facing increasing difficulties to eke out their living as island’s landmass is slowly disappearing couple with floods and erosions due to variation in climate over the years.

The study was carried out in early part of 2011 by Mg Bhupen Mili,an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati (IIT-G) as a part of his Masters’ Dissertation,who is now engaged in the study of climate change in Northeastern region of India,in three tribal villages of the riverine island.The study was conducted with household survey along with questionnaire and focus group discussions with the island communities in three villages namely Pomua,Kumarbari and Jengrai Chapori.Out of the total population of 1,53,362 in the island according to 2001 census,a number of 45,722 comprising 29.81 per cent of the total population constitute the total workforce of which 80.85 percent belongs to the farmers and another 2.05 per cent agricultural labourer.People engaged in other occupation are very low.Agriculture is the main occupation of the people represented by 90 per cent in Kumarbari and 93 per cent in both Pomua and Jengra Chapori as per the study.However,there are small percentage of people ,that is not more than 10 per cent,who are engaged in services,fishing and livestock rearing.

Farmers experience change in agriculture pattern due to climate change

Farmers expressed their concerns over climate change  in the island.Farmers says there is a decline in agriculture productivity in recent years coupled with problems of annual  floods  and erosions.Photo:Juri Pegu Schmidt Soltau
The farmers in all the villages have experience a change in their agricultural pattern on their land in the past few years.In Pomua,Jengrai Chapori and Kumarbari villages maximum percentage of respondents,who experienced change in agricultural pattern,own 0.5-1 hectares,above 2.0 hectares ,and 1.0-2.0 hectares and above 2.0 hectare of agricultural land.Whereas,least percentage of respondents,who experienced change in agriculture pattern,own 0.5 hectares of agriculture land in all three villages.Most of the respondents feel that the rainfall has decreased and a very small percentage observed that the rainfall has not increased or has not change in the past years.The rainfall data obtained from India Meteorogical Department(IMD) also confirmed the farmers’ experiences that rainfall has increased during the monsoon season while it has decreased during winter,pre-monsoon, and post-monsoon season.All the respondents witnessed the loss of property and crops as a result of floods in the villages,they confirmed the occurrence of major floods in 1998,2007, and 2008.In addition,they have experienced erosion and siltation of their agriculture to a large extent,least impact was in Jengrai Chapori(41%) and most was in Kumarbari(63%),in Pomua,on an average 54% of the respondents are affected by erosion and siltation.Flooding,erosion and siltation hampers the growth in agriculture output in turn impacting the income of the household from agriculture.Therefore,employment opportunity diversification is central to raise their economic status and enhance their adaptive capacity.Approximately 82-89% of respondents in the three villages feel that climate change has significant impact on the lives of the people,and their livelihoods.There has been increase in diseases in the population like diarrhoea,dysentery,jaundice etc.

Farmers to labours,migration to other states, and poors not benefitted from government schemes

Mg Bhupen Mili also added that the study has revealed that migration is prevalent in the villages and the prime reasons are lack of employment opportunity,better employment opportunity elsewhere and poverty.People generally migrate to other states like Kerala,Maharashtra,Karnataka etc.The study also significantly pointed out that most of the worst affected people who are on the edge belongs to the Mising tribe as their land have disappeared,so they have transformed from farmers to labourers.Their farming lifestyle is seriously threatened.Many of these communities are living in dire conditions.The study also revealed that the people were aware of government schemes being implemented in the villages but none were able to name the scheme.Over 80 per cent of the respondents in the villages echoed this opinion.The villagers were aware of provisions included in the scheme such as tractors,pump sets,seeds,training etc.Least number of beneficiaries were from Pomua village and most benefited were from Jengrai Chapori.The study shows that the number of beneficiaries are relatively from large land holding households those who have above 2.0 hectares compared to lesser land size below 0.5 hectare.This clearly suggest that poorer farmers are not benefitting from the government schemes as intended.

The island is also home to number of bird species.Photo:Juri Pegu Schmidt Soltau
The Majuli island is a unique geographical occurrence of the vast Brahmaputra river system in a fluvial land form.The island itelf extends for a length of about 80 km and 10-15 north to south direction with a total area of about 875 sq km.It is 85-90m above the mean sea level.Majority of the people of Majuli belong to scheduled tribes.The Mising and Deori tribals are believed to be the largest in the island where they live in unique house form in bamboo made stilt houses often located near the riverine tracts,wetlands and other hydrological features.The change in the climatic conditions couple with occurrence of annual natural calamities is threatening the existence of the tribes in Majuli that may drive out them from their pristine habitat.There is a pressing needs from global as well as local actors for coordinated actions to help the tribes to adapt to the climate vulnerability at the earliest.The government of Assam has also proposed that the island be included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list because of its unique historic importance and co-existence of various cultures .Besides,the island is also home to various species of birds.The fear of the islanders is also looming large due to the construction of 2000 MW hydro power dam project in the upstream of Subansiri river at a place called Gerukamukh on Miri Hills(Miri is an exonym for Mising) located in Assam-Arunachal border.Majuli falls within Jorhat district of Assam in India.

(Mishing Renaissance is thankful to Bhupen Mili for sharing the finding of the above study on climate change in Majuli island .We also acknowledge our gratitude to Juri Pegu Schmidt Soltau for the photographs.)

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