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Thinking Big on Climate Change Adaptation: Scaling Rainfed Agriculture Projects in India

Rainfed agriculture sustains millions of farmers in India, meeting 40 percent of India’s food demand. But the impact of a changing climate, including increased droughts and rising temperatures, threatens food production and farming patterns. Although Indian farmers are adapting to climate change by improving water and soil management, and planting drought-resistant crops in various parts of India, these often small-scale efforts do not reach the millions of others who need to adapt. Can adaptation activities spread across a large area to help millions of people adapt to climate change, especially in rainfed regions, where less than 40 percent of farmland is irrigated?

Numerous small-scale adaptation projects are underway across India’s rainfed regions. One example is the Andhra Pradesh Drought Adaptation Initiative (APDAI), initiated by the Andhra Pradesh State Government, the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, and Watershed Support Services and Activities Network. The project focuses on Anantapur and Mahbubnagar, two of the driest of the eight drought-prone districts of Andhra Pradesh, where some 35 million people live. Choosing these two districts enabled the projects to focus on impoverished villages and high levels of climate uncertainty and drought. A total of 42 villages were chosen for the pilot initiatives, and the pilot villages had an average of 95 households.

Like many adaptation projects, APDAI shows potential to expand to meet the adaptation challenge. The project initiated 19 activities including crop, soil, livestock and pest management, as well as water conservation to help farmers cope with drought and climate uncertainty. Apart from activities directly linked to agriculture, this project also convened existing self-help groups to work with farmers to manage, implement and assess the activities. The self-help groups were set up in villages to ensure community participation and ownership of the project at every stage. Getting the community to believe in these activities, help implement them and report on results is critical to bring this kind of adaptation project to scale. Engaging with communities ensures that their view of success is integrated into scaling adaptation activities.

The project also built the Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture Network to promote and coordinate the sharing of knowledge on adaptation activities across organizations and geographies. This helps to transfer and expand adaptation activities from one village to the next, which is an important factor to enable scaling. The biggest challenge, however, has been to comprehensively monitor and evaluate adaptation progress to continuously demonstrate how the project benefits farmers as the project is implemented across the state.

Adaptation projects such as APDAI indicate that it’s time to think bigger. Adaptation activities need to shift from small-scale activities to those that benefit more people and lead to policy reform. A new research report from WRI entitled Scaling Success: Lessons on Adaptation Pilots in the Rainfed Regions of India provides a diagnostic framework to help think about how to support scaling of adaptation projects. It provides ways to incorporate indicators of good practice, assess readiness to scale, design pathways of scaling and identify conditions that may affect the scaling process. It also suggests that scaling should start at the project design phase, and requires dedicated financial and human resources.

The report presents case examples from India, but its lessons are applicable in many countries and to many stakeholders. Project implementers can use the framework to design projects with scaling potential. Funding agencies can use the framework to design investment initiatives or assess projects that seek funding for scaling. Likewise, policy makers can use the framework to develop new policies or programs to support scaling of adaptation activities, or to accelerate scaling by modifying existing policies or programs.

WRI and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) launched Scaling Success: Lessons on Adaptation Pilots in Rainfed Regions of India at the international conference on Scaling up Good Adaptation Practices in New Delhi, India. The event was hosted by WRI, SDC and the Watershed Organization Trust (WOTR).

LEARN MORE: Read the publication, Scaling Success: Lessons on Adaptation Pilots in the Rainfed Regions of India.

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