Exploring the relationship between local institutions in SAT India and adaptation to climate variability


This paper examines the relationship between local institutions and adaptation to climate variability in four semi-arid villages in India. Based on a qualitative survey, it draws attention to the constraints that farming households face, the role of institutions, and the implications for their capacities to adapt. Using an institutional framework, the study examines the role of local institutions in facilitating community adaptation to perceived climate variability. It was found that at the institutional and community level farmers rely on government schemes that provide social safety nets and the private sector such as moneylenders as sources of adaptation options regarding access to credit. Serious constraints emerged, however, in terms of adaptation to what may be a more challenging future. These constraints were further explored by means of grounded theory. The lack of collective feeling and action has hindered bargaining for better market prices and the development of alternate livelihood options. The need for better financial inclusion and access to more formal systems of finance is necessary to increase the overall adaptive capacity of households. During crisis situations or climatic shocks, the absence of these systems means the sale of household assets and resources especially among small and landless groups of farmers. Overall, rural households perceive that public, civic, and private institutions play a significant role in shielding them against the adverse effects of climate variability. The perceived importance of different institutions is, however, different across different categories of farmers, women, and labourers.

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  1. 1.

    Where capabilities according to Sen and Nussbaum are defined as freedoms and functionings, the freedoms come in the form of freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. Functionings on the other hand include working, resting, being literate, being healthy, being part of a community, being respected, and so forth (Nussbaum 2000; Sen,2009; Sen 1992).

  2. 2.

    The perception of the farmers seemed quite accurate as this information was confirmed by the first-generation ICRISAT resident investigators. In addition, the climatic data obtained from the district level concurred with the description of the years of extreme events by the farmers.

  3. 3.

    In 2009, farmers in Kanzara lost about 70 % of Kharif crops, the worst sufferers being the farmers without irrigation. There was little or no production of the subsequent Rabi crops, which also meant loss of work for the labourers.

  4. 4.

    In Aurepalle, open wells were reported to be completely dry as were 75 % of bore wells. In Shirapur, farmers had to dig bore wells up to 400 feet deep to get water compared with 10 years ago when water was available at 100 feet.

  5. 5.

    Mealybug pest, and a disease identified as Karbya Rog on soya bean in Kanzara, in the last five or six years; a new kind of pest on BT cotton and castor in Dokur.

  6. 6.

    Where bad year is defined as a year where the rains are not up to the expectations of the farmers in terms of onset, quantity and distribution; there is poorer crop production than expected; there are floods; water shortage either for agriculture or for drinking or both; labourers find it hard to get farming work inside the village.

  7. 7.

    Started as an NGO in 1998, SKS is a for-profit NBFC (non-banking financial corporation) regulated by the RBI. SKS uses the group lending model whereby poor women guarantee each other’s loans.

  8. 8.

    The loans are from $ 200 to $800 with a weekly repayment of $ 4.5 over a maximum of 50 weeks.

  9. 9.

    Aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing a hundred days of waged employment in any one financial year to a rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

  10. 10.

    An Indian food security system that distributes subsidised food and non-food items to India's poor through a network of public distribution shops (PDS) established in several states across the country.

  11. 11.

    Anganwadis are defined as play schools for children aged from two to five.

  12. 12.

    Zilla Parishad is a local government body at the district level in India. It looks after the administration of the rural area of the district and its office is located at the district headquarters. The Hindi word Parishad means Council and Zilla Parishad translates as District Council.

  13. 13.

    There is a milk co-operative which is about 5 km away from the village. The milk is sold to the nearby hotels for Rs. 15/- to Rs. 12/- per litre depending on the fat content. The quality of milk is measured by its fat content. The villagers sell the milk directly even to those traders who come from the cities.

  14. 14.

    Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) is a project of Indian Council for Agricultural Research for testing and transfer of Agricultural technologies to bridge the gap between production and productivity and to increase self-employment opportunities among the farming communities. The trainings offered here follow the principles of “Learning by doing” and “seeing is believing”. As per the mandate of the ICAR, KVKs are supposed to be present in every state and every block in India and in close proximity to villages in the particular block. The translation of the same would be Farmer Science and Training Centers.

  15. 15.

    Where climatic shock is defined as extreme events such as a drought or a flood.

  16. 16.

    On the one hand, medium and large farmers feel that the government is favouring small farmers and the landless, but this is ok from a pro-poor perspective; on the other hand, some preferences based on political parties. For instance in Kanzara, the local and the state ruling parties are different, and this is perceived to hamper co-ordination in service provision.

  17. 17.

    There is a toll free number issued by the Department of Agriculture India, 1800-180-1551 to enable farmers to access Kisan Call Centers (KCC) through landline and mobile network of both public and private telephone service providing agencies. KCC is functioning since January 2004. Kisan is the local term used for Farmers.


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We wish to thank the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for providing financial resources to support this study. We are grateful to Senior Scientific Officers VK Chopde and Mohan Rao Yelamarthi and Resident Field Investigators N Rama Krishna, Vishwambhar Duche, Anand B Dhumale, and K Ramana Reddy for their full-time assistance in the villages of Shirapur, Kanzara, Dokur and Aurepalle.

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Correspondence to Rupsha Banerjee.

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Banerjee, R., Kamanda, J., Bantilan, C. et al. Exploring the relationship between local institutions in SAT India and adaptation to climate variability. Nat Hazards 65, 1443–1464 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0417-9

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  • Climate change
  • Perceptions
  • Institutions
  • Adaptation behaviour
  • Adaptation constraints