Drought in Gujarat Impacts Heavily on Pastoralists

I am getting ready to make a trip tomorrow to Kutch, the largest District in India, located in the state of Gujarat. Despite its large size, it is rather sparsely populated with just over 2 million inhabitants, many of whom are nomadic or semi-nomadic pastoralists. We are going to attend a community wedding taking place in a Jadeja community. The Jadeja are part of the Yaduvanshi Rajputs or Chandravanshi (Moon Dynasty) Rajputs and are one of 36 royal dynasties  with origins tracing back to Krishna.

Translated into English, Kutch means something with is intermittently dry then wet since large parts of the district are submerged under water during the rainy season but then dry out. Rainy season is supposed to start in June and carry through August. However, this year, there is extreme drought in Gujarat.

A Kutch girl takes a break from her embroidery work. Photo http://www.michaelbenanav.com

One pastoralist advocate that I spoke with, Neeta Pandya, with the Maldhari Rural Action Group (MARAG) (Maldhari is the Gujarat word for pastoralist), expressed her deep concern about the pact this will have on pastoralists in the region. Many pastoralists recently migrated back to their communities where the rains normally would have ensured food for their animals, but the fields are barren and the pastoralists have been forced to head back out on migration to ensure their animals, and by extension, their survival.

Neeta explained that over the last few years conditions had been favourable for pastoralists and as a result they became less vigilant about following the signs of nature, which are arguably harder to read in a time of increasing climatic variability.  Now the drought is having significant impacts on the community and they have turned to the experiential traditional knowledge held by many elders so as to ensure their survival. Neeta told me, “the elders, they have so much knowledge. They look at the birds, the feel the wind, they are helping to make sure that the people survive”.  Thus, while the drought is having devastating effects, and despite the high humidity, the rains are expected to hold off, the crisis brings about an opportunity for the transmission of essential skills that will only become more vital as the impacts of climate change continue to disproportionately threaten the livelihoods of poor people all over the world.

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