Journal of Biodiversity Management & ForestryISSN: 2327-4417

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Research Article, J Biodivers Manage Forestry Vol: 2 Issue: 3

A Framework for Indigenous Community-Based Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment in the Garo Hills, North-East India

PK Yadav1* and Kiranmay Sarma2
1Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, H.N.B. Garhwal University, Srinagar Garhwal, Uttarakhand 246174, India
2University School of Environment Management, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Dwarka 16C, New Delhi - 110078, India
Corresponding author : Dr. P. K. Yadav
University School of Environment Management, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Dwarka 16C, New Delhi - 110075, India
[email protected]
Received: June 26, 2013 Accepted: October 09, 2013 Published: October 14, 2013
Citation: Yadav PK, Sarma K (2013) A Framework for Indigenous Community-Based Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment in the Garo Hills, North-East India. J Biodivers Manage Forestry 2:3. doi:10.4172/2327-4417.1000111



A Framework for Indigenous Community-Based Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment in the Garo Hills, North-East India

The framework is part of the efforts to address vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. It is useful to eradicate poverty, fill productive employment and enhance social integration. Climate change will have the largest impact on areas that have high population density, significant historical exposure to climate related hazards, high household’s vulnerability, poor governance, and low resilience to stress on natural resources. Indigenous community based climate vulnerability and capacity assessment (CBVCA) in the Garo hills has implications for livelihoods, food systems, ecological stress and perceive culture. This study characterizes CBVCA in the Garo hills of northeast India to climate change in the context of ongoing socio-economic and environmental challenges.



Climate vulnerability; Capacity assessment; Garo tribe; Climate change; Garo hills


Indigenous communities living in hilly regions of developing countries are predominantly vulnerable to climate change as result of their high dependency on natural resources for their livelihoods, comparatively higher exposure to extreme events and widespread poverty marginalization [1]. It is commonly assumed that communities in developing countries are particularly vulnerable, given their more direct dependence on and exposure to climate related conditions, climate sensitive resources and given limits to their adaptive capacity associated with economic circumstances, institutions and technology [2]. Already there is evidence of changes related to global warming in hilly areas. Rising in temperature are disproportionately higher rates at higher altitude and changing precipitation patterns and deforestation with hilly areas becoming relative ‘hotspots’ of climate change. The CBVCA attitude contributes towards understanding the implications of climate change for the lives and livelihoods of the people. Vulnerability of a community is generally understood to be a function of the stresses experienced by a community and the community’s ability to deal with those adaptive capacity [3-5]. There is an implicit recognition of multiple sources and scales of change and stress, including climatic and non-climatic forces. While vulnerability is generally defined relative to harm, it is also recognized here that changes or stresses related to climate change have the potential to provide benefits for communities. Through combining local knowledge with scientific data, the process builds people’s understanding about climate risks and adaptation strategies. However, little is known about the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of indigenous communities, their perception of these changes, or their capacity to adapt to climatic variability and change.
Garo hills of Meghalaya are undergoing tremendous changes in recent decades due to varied livelihood activities. Vegetation and land characteristics of Garo hills are heavily influenced by jhum (shifting cultivation) activities. Once harvesting is done the site is kept fallow for years for regeneration. Once the area regains the forest cover again this area is used for cultivation. Due to increase population and pressure on land the cycle of jhum has reduced to few years as a result the area hardly gets any time to regenerate [6,7]. These results in heavy sheet erosion which is accelerated by torrential rainfall, which is the characteristic feature of the area during rainy seasons. This makes the areas vulnerable which are located down slope [8,10]. Again in the burnt practices of biomass during shifting cultivation there is release of Green house gases [11] and this could play significant role for climate vulnerability in the region like Garo hills which are considered as the biodiversity hotspot area. In the present study an attempt has been made to find out the adaptability of the indigenous people towards climate change incorporating the traditional knowledge and scientific ways.
Indigenous societies have evolved through complex interactions of climate and environmental systems. There is an intimate relationship of climate fluctuations and consequent human responses such as migration and adaptation. Climatic variability and environmental changes affect men and women differently because they have different roles in their household and society and different rights and access to resources. Although both are vulnerable to climate change, the causes of their vulnerability and their experience of it are different, as are their capacities to survive and adapt. Gender is one factor affecting people’s inequitable vulnerabilities and capacity to survive with and adapt to impacts. Class, caste, race, and ethnicity are additional stress factors that can increase vulnerability [12]. It needs to be looked from a different perspective. Within climate change adaptation of community, there is a common assertion that if we could survive better with the present climate risks, possibly we could significantly reduce the impacts of future climate change [13]. There are also views that the adaptation to short-term climate variability and extreme events serves as a starting point for reducing vulnerability to longer-term climate change [14]. It has also been agreed that the climate change vulnerabilities are related to the developmental state of a country, as indicated by the differential impacts of climate change on countries at different developmental levels [15,16].

Methods and Materials

The present study was designed to investigate how climate and socioeconomic change is affecting indigenous community’s livelihoods, what makes them vulnerable, and how they are coping with and adapting to change. The relevant information and data for CBVCA study were collected mainly from secondary sources available in publications and reports of various government departments and academic institutions. However, some information pertaining to “Indigenous Community-Based Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment” was also collected by conducting primary sample survey at village level. The details of data collection and compilation are described herewith.
Secondary data collection
An extensive review of the available literatures on urbanization, agriculture and forest resources was carried out by visiting different government departments, academic institutions and libraries. Published and unpublished data pertaining to land and forest resources, and their various goods and services were collected from journals, theses and technical reports.
Primary data collection
Primary data were collected through semi-structured questionnaire survey and interviewing stakeholders in East, West and South Garo Hills districts (Figure 1). Interviewees reflected a crosssection of age, gender and livelihoods in the indigenous community, including fulltime hunters, farmers, board members of the Members of the Elders Council, hamlet employees, a former mayor and school employees. The aim was to interview a cross-section of the community that reflected age, gender, types of employment or livelihood and participation in traditional activities. Purposive sampling was necessary for targeting groups such as members of the district council, elders and community leaders, who have been identified in the literature and by community members as important sources of information regarding environmental changes and their effects on people. Interviewees were compensated according to local research protocols, and interviews were carried out with the local research assistants. During present study primary survey was conducted to the find out the changes in traditional cultivation and extraction of different type of forest product due to high demand of population pressure and urbanization.
Figure 1: Socio-economic surveys with indigenous Garo community.
Study area and socio-economic profile of Garo hills
The study area covers three Garo hills districts viz., West, East and South of Meghalaya located in the western part of the state (Figure 2). Garo hills experience monsoon type of climate and directly influenced by the south-west monsoon. The average maximum temperature goes up to 30.7˚C and mean temperature goes down to 7.5˚C during mid-winter. The average annual rainfall is 2400 mm. Garo hills are dominated by tribal people and Garo tribe is the predominant (Figures 3 and 4) while other tribes like Hajong and Rabha are also found in small numbers. The matriarchal law of inheritance, by which custody to property and succession of family position runs through the female line passing from the mother to the youngest daughter, is a common cultural tradition of Garo tribes. The Garo group is a part of the greater Bodo-Kachari family both by ethnic group and language. Their present location enabled them to maintain many of their traits and characteristics. Significant changes came only after the British colonization of the area in the first half of the nineteenth century. Traditional customs are maintained and religious festivals include varied forms of dance and are an important element in the local culture. Wangala is the prominent festival of the Garo’s and is devoted to the Sun God. The area is rich in tribal culture and tradition. Drinking and dancing to the complement of traditional music, bamboo flutes and drums are integral parts of religious ceremonies and social functions. The advent of Christianity along with its strict ethics, has somewhat weakened many of the tribal institutions. One of the unique features of the landscape of Garo hills is the occurrence of numerous sacred groves found all over the region, many of which are untouched and protected by the local communities. These groves of vegetation are considered sacred by the Garo indigenous community.
Figure 2: Location of Garo hills districts of Meghalaya, India.
Figure 3: Typical household of Garo tribe.
Figure 4: Traditional hut of indigenous Garo people.
Livelihood in Garo hills
Shifting agriculture (jhum) is the main occupation of the people of Garo hills. The mining activities in the region have brought in the desired effect of economic growth but on other hand, affected the environment in a variety of ways which contributes to its degradation [17]. There is no heavy industry in the region and few small scale industries established which are based on local natural resources viz., cement, plywood and beverage. Important fruits grown here are orange, pineapple, lemon, guava, jackfruit and bananas, while potato, jute, mesta, cotton, areca nut, ginger, turmeric, betel leaf, black pepper and broom grass are the chief commercial crops. Few people are dependent on coal and limestone mining and small trading. But the dependence on forests for sustenance and livelihoods of the Garo people is heavy as other alternative livelihoods are limited.

Results and Discussions

Current and future climate vulnerability
Exploitation of natural resources reflects the vulnerability of people and communities to climatic conditions, and adaptive capacity reflects a community’s potential or ability to address, plan or adapt to exposure. Exploitations and adaptive capacity are not mutually restricted. Exploitation to repeated climate related conditions, for instance, can develop experience of how to manage the climatic conditions, and enables response with learning, thus increasing the adaptive capacity of the system. Certain adaptive strategies can also change the nature of the community like location, structure and organization; such that the community is more or less exposed, or exposed in a different way. In this conceptualization, vulnerability at a local level is viewed as being conditioned by social, economic, cultural, political and climatic conditions and processes, operating at multiple scales over time and space, which affect community exposure and adaptive capacity [18,19].
Climate vulnerability and capacity
Vulnerability to climate change varies within countries, communities and even households. Therefore, adaptation requires context-specific activities, with strategies targeted to meet the needs of different groups of vulnerability. Local and national policies and institutions also play a critical role in shaping people’s capacity to adapt to climate change. The CBVCA process focuses on the indigenous community level but incorporates analysis of issues at regional and national level in an effort to foster an enabling environment for community-based adaptation. Vulnerability implies the susceptibility to damage or injury due to any negative impact. In the prospective of climate change, vulnerability just refers to probability of negative effect by variability of climate, including extreme climate events. Adaptive capacity is referred as the ability of indigenous people to adjust to climate change to moderate potential damage, to take advantage of opportunity or to survive with consequences. It denotes the capacity to cope up with the change and adapt to changing conditions; and depends on several socio-economic factors such as infrastructure development asses to key resources and literacy level. Health and educational facilities and roads density are example of infrastructure development. Similarly, asses to safe drinking water, lighting and houses indicate the extent of asses to resources which people have in a region. Literacy rate and female work participation also determine the level of development of community.
Adaptation actually takes place at local level and people are already making the changes they can, independently of government. In the Garo hills, indigenous people (Figure 5) are harvesting crops by adopting slash-and-burn agriculture. Some studies [20-22] suggest that slash-and-burn farming may also be associated with poor crop yields and rapid soil degradation. Gradually shifting cultivation has been replaced by cash rich plantation of crop in many parts. But individual’s and community’s ability to adaption is limited, for instance by lack of financial resources and technical expertise, and by the sheer scale of some of the changes that are needed. There are only few things that indigenous people can go forward without any government backing.
Figure 5: Garo women cooking in lack of resources.
Many of the observed community-based responses in the study areas were short-term coping strategies. Examples include shifts in the agricultural calendar in response to varying annual precipitation patterns, re-sowing after an early season failure, and use of failed crops as food, borrowing money and selling assets, and even migrating due to lack of drinking water. Many of these coping strategies deplete the household’s livelihood asset base and may actually render it more vulnerable if another shock occurs. Adaptation and capacity strategies are longer-term and sustainable. The examples observed include the introduction of new crops; maintaining multiple cropping systems; growing more than one crop per year; construction of water harvesting systems; and livelihood diversification. In order to increase the resilience of Garo communities, appropriate longer-term strategies that build on indigenous communities’ traditional knowledge need to be developed, rather than focusing on short-term responses which may reinforce vulnerability in the longer term.
High adaptive capacity is seen only in the main urban town such as Tura, Wiliamnagar, Baghmara, Siju, Rongara and Chokpot. A majority of the villages are very low in regard to provision of basic necessities of living. Even in terms of infrastructure development such as educational and health facilities these towns rank quite low as compared to few other towns of Meghalaya. These towns are also highly dependent upon natural resources for their livelihoods that range between 70 to 90 percent. The variations of infrastructure and asses to basic facilities show a general trend that the urban towns have better access to services and resources. The villages which are around the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve mainly implies area severely lacks of infrastructure development and in case of any changes in the climate theses area might not be able to cope with the severity. These areas need more attention for making them better adapted to climate change.
Change in cropping pattern and agriculture practices
Human interventions in natural systems have resulted in large changes in vegetation composition and distribution patterns. Cropping pattern and agriculture practices; changes in land use and hence in vegetation cover, due to climatic change and demands of human survival, affect surface water and energy budgets directly through plant transpiration, emissivity and roughness. Due to change of cropping pattern and agriculture practices indigenous crop diversity becomes threatened. Biodiversity is also critical for the maintenance and enhancement of food security. Conserving and maintaining healthy soil, clean water, a variety of genetic resources, and ecological processes are essential ingredients of a sustainable and productive agricultural system and the subsequent eradication of hunger. Variation in genetic diversity is particularly important in marginal lands, where genetic adaptations to conditions such as water scarcity and poor soil fertility are critical to the maintenance of local agricultural and grazing livelihoods. In the Garo hills agriculture is the main occupation with 83 percent of the total population being dependent on it for their livelihood. The traditional shifting cultivation of Garo hills region is in transitional phase as parts of the regions are replaced by economically viable cash crops concentrated in small plots with multi-species complex agro ecosystem [23].
The shifting agriculture, which is essentially “farming the forests” and is the next important step in the socio-ecological evolution of agriculture from ‘domiculture’ [24], due to the introduction of plantation crops, the ecological diversity of the region has permitted large number of horticulture crops. This has led to the evolution of a wide spectrum of genetic variability in these crops for various traits. The crop diversity has also been enriched with the introduction, acceptance, and adoption of new cash crops from outside, such as the potato, areca nut (Areca catechu), pineapple (Ananas comosus) and different tea varieties which is playing a major role in the economy of the region (Figure 6). Many more new crops are being adopted in recent times. In potato, the local farmers have also developed several in-situ and ex-situ methods for storage to facilitate year round market supply as per the demand and avoid losses in storage. Similarly, to capture water in the difficult undulating hilly terrain and to facilitate its efficient use, the local people have developed ingenious bamboo drip irrigation technology, which might have been the source of thought in the development of the present day drip irrigation system practiced globally [25].
Figure 6: Loading of cash crop for transportation through Simsang river of south Garo Hills.
The rich heritage of different native crop species and genetic diversity of the region is getting depleted because of several factors such as preparation of land in the hill slopes for permanent cash crop, cutting, overexploitation due to climate vulnerability, and burning of valuable forest products, which is also causing serious damage to the ecology and natural environment. Indiscriminate destruction of forests that exposes vast tracts of hilly lands to erosion causes rapid depletion of the valuable fertile top soil and other nutrients, creating low-base-status soil. Further, assessment of capacity inadequate knowledge about the value of diversity is also resulting in the destruction of vegetative cover and removal of valuable flora causing irreparable genetic erosion. Like other forms of agriculture, slash-andburn can be mismanaged and lead to severe environment degradation [26] and increasing human population demand for food, folder and transportation has leads to natural land cover degradation, resulting a habitat degradation, biodiversity loss, and ecological instability [27]. Therefore, efforts are needed to develop awareness, remediation and initiation of appropriate policy initiatives to restrict these processes.
Economic pressure
Community-based climate vulnerability in any form either man made or natural often significantly affect primarily the local economic structures through breaking the cash flow systems within the economy specially the financial systems within the informal sector. In informal sector workers are the one that become economically most vulnerable at the time of disasters. It is also important to mention that the effect of different kinds of vulnerability on the local economy is not always the same and so there are diverse coping up mechanisms required to reset the economic structures. One among the very critical is the resetting up of the local economic structures along with strengthening of the local livelihood mechanisms. Often in vulnerability affected localities alternative livelihood and cash flow establishing are explored which may not be the right approach to recharge the local economy and setting up of the cash flow mechanisms.
Indigenous native communities in the developing country are often marginalized from political influence and economic opportunities. They generally face high levels of poverty and the ecosystems they dwell in are among the most sensitive ecosystems in the world. Forest ecosystems and indigenous people are exposed to multiple drivers of change including globalization, economic policies, and increasing pressure on land and forest resources resulting from economic growth and changes in population and lifestyle. Climate change is expected to place additional stress on these already challenged ecosystems and livelihoods. It may be noted that Garo hills has some of the poorest tribal villages in the country who still practice shifting cultivation which gives little returns. In the absence of basic facilities for education, healthcare and most importantly alternative avenues for income generation, it is hardly a riddle why these people are so backward economically. Many of the Garo people are landless and engaged mostly as agricultural labour. Children are also engaged for livelihood generations; and not getting even rights of childhood. Collection of forest produces, fishing and hunting are their other economic pursuits (Figure 7).
Figure 7: A Garo child fishing in Simsang river of South Garo Hills district.
Community based climate vulnerability disaggregated data are necessary for governments and other public and private organizations to plan adequate services for the overall population which address the different needs of children, women and men and help bridge the inequality gaps. They also help governments, development workers, and others to understand how socioeconomic changes affect women and men differently, and how they can cope with new realities. In general, gender inequalities affect women’s access to education, health care services, and financial resources, and constrain their participation in decision-making. This in turn limits their capacity to seize new opportunities and to handle with economic stresses. Knowing this leads to the assumption, for example, that households headed by women will be poorer, an assumption that can only be tested if gender disaggregated data are available. This study therefore will find the ways and means for re-knitting the local economy through various post disaster activities. It should suggest the importance of a linking of the relief with rehabilitation and planning out the various activities in various phases in way mutually compliment and finally impact on the local economy. Relief should be planned in a way that should address these issues associated with economic re-manufacturing from the very first day of the disaster management efforts.
Overall low level of development process in the sample villages is reflected by lower levels of female literacy rate. The village survey findings reveal that 43 percent of the households in the villages are below poverty level (BPL) category families. Further, the villages suffer from serious bottlenecks in respect of transport and communication, education and health facilities. Agricultural activities in the district show poor productivity. Lack of institutional credit has reinforced money lenders presence in the villages. Lack of livelihood opportunities has also led to migration of workers outside the villages; however most of the migrants have been migrated to other areas of the state. The development programmes for poor viz., Indira Awas Yojana, NREGA or low cost latrine programmes is well accepted by the Garo people but due to high economic pressure for continued existence kits are involved for livelihood collection sacrificing by their educations.
Some non-governmental organizations are involved by contributing alternative livelihood to people by involving them in habitat restoration of degraded forests or by developing eco-tourism. For instance Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) a conservation nongovernmental organization has declared Village Reserve Forest (VRF) with the help of District Council and local community for restoration of degraded forest patch and fallow jhum land. Restoration and management of VRF provide employment to a large number of people in each village for more than 100 days per years. Other alternative livelihood schemes are implemented by them like poultry and piggery farms, development of permanent agriculture land and rice mills are established in different villages. Samrakshan Trust, other NGO is rigorous in capacity building through ecotourism activities to reduce people’s foot print on the natural resources.
Climatic and ecological stress
The large scale destruction and transformation of forest into degraded formations in the form of logging, grazing and collection of non-timber forest products have rendered forest vulnerable to forest fire [28]. Increasing intensity of shifting cultivation practices leads to low rainfall due to destruction of habitat which finally reduces ecological diversity and causes extinction of previously undiscovered indigenous species too [29]. Like other forms of agriculture, slashand- burn can be mismanaged and lead to severe environment degradation. Continuously increasing human population and their demand for food, fodder and transportation leads to natural land cover degradation, resulting into climatic and ecological stress [26].
Climatic and ecological stress can influence the socioeconomic setting in the Garo hills landscape in a number of ways. Drivers of deforestation like shifting cultivation, urbanization, forest fire, mining, extraction of timber and lactation are predominated as climatic and ecological stress for CBVCA in Garo hills [30]. It can influence the economy (e.g., agriculture, livestock, forestry, tourism, fishery, etc.) as well as human health. Human activities like sub-surface coal mining and shifting cultivation cause extensive degradation of the forest that support a variety of successional communities ranging from open forest to abandoned shifting cultivation fields [9]. Increasing human intervention and excessive exploitation of resources have resulted in great changes and provide alarming signals of accelerated biodiversity loss [31]. The consequences of biodiversity loss from climate vulnerability are likely to be the worst for the poor and marginalized people who depend almost exclusively on natural resources. Poverty, poor infrastructure (roads, electricity, water supply, education and health care services, communication, and irrigation), reliance on subsistence farming and forest products for livelihoods, substandard health indicators (high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy), and other indicators of development make the Garo hills more vulnerable to climate change as the capacity to adapt is inadequate among the indigenous community (Figures 5 and 8).
Figure 8: Water supply for drinking water from forest in cash crop field of South Garo hills district.
Climate change is projected to reduce poor people’s livelihood assets, such as access to water, homes, and infrastructure. Climate change is also expected to have a negative impact on traditional coping mechanisms thereby increasing the vulnerability of the world’s poor to perturbations such as drought, flood, and disease. The impacts of climate change on natural resources and labour productivity are likely to reduce economic growth, exacerbating poverty through reduced income opportunities. Climate vulnerability is also projected to alter regional food security.
There is a widespread assumption that forests help in maintaining a sustainable water supply of good quality for the people of the area as well as for the people downstream. Forest ecosystems act as a sponge, soaking up and storing water when it is in abundant and releasing it during dry period. De Groot et al., (2002) [32] defined water supply as filtering, retention and storage of water in streams, lakes and aquifers. Filtering is performed by vegetation and soil biota and retention and storage depends on site characteristics. Loss of forests has been blamed for many problems ranging from flooding to aridity and for catastrophic losses to water quality. In fact, the hydrological role of forests is complex. Precise impact on water supply varies with location, age and composition of the forest. It has been reported that reduction in native forest cover causes substantial decrease in supply of drinking water [33].
Due to the lack of drinking water resources and high dependence on natural resources the villagers are not self-sufficient and are vulnerable to the impact and ill effects of climate change. The forest cover in the villages is minimal and the land use pattern suggests that agriculture is the mainstay in the villages with a total focus on paddy cultivation in the seasonal cycle. Flash floods often deluge sloppy plots, destroying standing crops and damaging the downslope areas with the debris carried by the flood water. An innovative coping strategy practiced by upland farmers in the Garo hills is the use of bamboo matting across inlet channels to trap the silt and debris brought by the flood water.
Conservation implication of community-based climate vulnerability
The conservation of biodiversity, including restoration and rehabilitation, can be a key adaptation strategy to help vulnerable people cope with climate vulnerability. The maintenance of traditional crop variety is an important tool in adapting to climate change. For example tribal communities in the Jeypore tract of Orissa (India), with the support of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, have started working to conserve the genetic diversity of their agricultural crops to ensure a sustainable food supply [34]. By establishing community seed and grain banks. The project also encouraged cultivation of overexploited medicinal plants in community gardens, to reduce dependence on, and damage to local forests. Work to increase the market for traditional varieties of rice and medicinal plants also provided income benefits. In addition to biodiversity playing a central role in many CBVCA adaptation strategies, climate change is threatening biodiversity that is central to livelihoods especially amongst rural populations and indigenous people.
Women’s role in climate vulnerability and capacity
Indigenous community based climate vulnerability and climate change will affect everyone in big way. Its impact will be distributed in a different way between men and women as well as among regions, generations, age classes, income groups, and occupations. The poor, the majority of whom are women living in developing countries, will be excessively affected. Yet most of the debate on climate so far has been gender blind [35]. Gender inequality and climate change are inextricably linked. By exacerbating inequality overall, climate change slows progress toward gender equality and thus impedes efforts to achieve wider goals like poverty reduction and sustainable development. And women are powerful agents of change whose leadership on climate vulnerability and capacity building is critical. Indigenous women can help or get in the way strategies related to conservation of biodiversity, suitable use of natural resources, control of population pressure, economic growth, and science and technology, among other things.
Climate vulnerability can have disproportionate impacts on women’s well-being. Through both direct and indirect risks, it can affect their livelihood opportunities, time availability, and overall life expectancy. An increase in climate related disease outbreaks, for example, will have quite different impacts on women than on men. Each year, some 50 million women living in malaria endemic countries become pregnant; half of them live in tropical areas of Africa with high transmission rates of the parasite that causes malaria. An estimated 10,000 of these women and 200,000 of their infants die as a result of malaria infection during pregnancy; severe malarial anemia is involved in more than half of these deaths. In general, women tend to have more limited access to the assets like physical, financial, human, social, and natural that would enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change, such as land, credit, decision-making bodies, agricultural inputs, technology, and extension and training services. Thus any climate adaptation strategy should include actions to build up women’s assets. Interventions should pay special attention to the need to enhance women’s capacity to manage risks with a view to reducing their vulnerability and maintaining or increasing their opportunities for development [36].
In the Garo hills, women play a crucial role in enhancing, maintaining, and using biodiversity sustainably, particularly agriculture and forest resources. This role cannot be ignored. They are active participants in household and subsistence agricultural activities and invest most of their productive life in the land-based production process. Women are therefore, viewed in ecofeminism as close to nature in both a material sense, as a result of their dependence on natural resources and the environment, and also in a spiritual or conceptual sense, because of their organic, holistic connection to nature [37]. Most ecofeminists are highly critical of contemporary forms of green developmentalism, including those advanced by environmental movements and organizations, which they regard as insufficiently radical and deeply compromised by an instrumental and masculinist view of nature as something to be subdued, managed, and governed [38]. While many ecofeminists reject the notion of development altogether, because it is seen as inherently masculine and necessarily destructive of women and the environment, others propose an alternative model of development based on feminine principles of nurturance, subsistence, harmonious and symbiotic interactions with nature, and self-sufficiency [39].
In most of the Garo hills region, women are responsible for supplying water and fuel and play a crucial role in food security besides looking after their children (Figure 9). Since climate vulnerability affects the mountain natural resources and biodiversity that provide water, food, and energy, the depletion of natural resources has particularly negative consequences for women. Women will have to work harder to access these resources with the extinction of some plant species and changes of water sources; this will increase their already heavy workload, but also increase their awareness of changes. Women often appear to be better managers of resources.
Figure 9: Another prime responsibility of Garo woman.
Gender relations are significant ‘pre-condition’ of people’s ability to anticipate, prepare for, survive, manage with, and recover from disasters and women are victims of most natural disasters [40]. Motherhood partially explains this fact; but the main factors that place women at greater risk are related to social norms and gender roles, such as dress codes, behavioral norms, and the mode of decision making [41]. Although women are highly vulnerable, they also play a tremendous role in disaster attention and responses. During the study it was found that women manage and use natural resources, such as wood, water, and fodder on a daily basis. There is other important social networks provide them with information about members of the community who may need assistance, or who can help in times of crisis, for family and community roles make them important ‘risk’ communicators. In Garo community women are leading as village head called ‘Nokma’ and they have leadership roles in informal local networks and organizations, which are not visible to outsiders or taken seriously by men.
Like all tribal women, Garo women work extremely hard (Figures 5, 6, 9 and 10). They work in field; husk rice collect fire hood, water and same still spin cotton and weave. The women cultivate rice, millet, maze, yam, tapioca, caster seed cotton, betel, nuts, and variety of vegetables and fruit. Among the other parts of northeast region of India, the Garo hills seemed to be most lusciously covered with natural vegetation and planned cultivations but one could see the need for systematizing the agriculture produce and channelizing the marketing of the products. The women directly market the surplus produce to rich business men who export it outside Garo hills. The women are not geared to manage outside market as yet. There is tremendous scope for empowering women economically as production is not problematic at all.
Figure 10: Garo women cultivating in jhum land.


The present study was formulated as a pilot case for the application of a participatory approach, whereby insights can be gained into vulnerability and adaptive capacity through mutual learning and exchange with the affected communities. It also concerns about loss of traditional knowledge and threats to indigenous cultures have been expressed among Garo indigenous community and other cultural groups. The Garo indigenous community generally views changes in weather and biodiversity conditions as part of climate variability, with responses being consistent with year-to-year adjustments. The stresses documented in Garo indigenous community bear some similarities and differences with other initials community’s case studies, like modeling of socio-ecological systems examined climate change risks in different regions Mexico [42], Western Himalayan of India [43], North-east India [44,46], Ghana [47] and in the Canadian Arctic [48,49]. Giannecchini et al., (2007) [50] also used the socialecological systems approach to look at land cover change and socioeconomic factors in villages in rural South Africa. Traditional system of cultivation of Garo hills is being replaced with different methods; bringing land under permanent cash crop cultivation [22]. Yadav et al., (2012b) [51] concluded that land use/cover is an important component to understand global land status. It shows present as well as past conditions of the earth surface and it is a central component and strategy for managing natural resources and monitoring environmental changes.
The findings of this study lend further support for the need for local communities and regional governments to play central roles in adaptation planning. In contrasting the ways that Garo indigenous community experience infrastructure, livelihoods and wellbeing stresses with different climate vulnerability. As a community, it is evident that while there are some common experiences, local circumstances indicate that blanket solutions would have limited effectiveness. At the same time, it is apparent that local financial and technical resources alone are not sufficient for climate change adaptation and contributions from higher levels of governance are necessary. Adaptation planning and policy needs to enable local involvement in the protection of important community attribute. This article has contributed to the identification of key areas of risk and resources that can assist in this process.


We are thankful to State Forest Department of Meghalaya and Garo Hills District Council for providing an opportunity to work in the given study area; and Balsreng, T. Sangma, James, G. Momin, Polenson, G. Predick, and Spinder Areng (Nokma at Daribokgre village of West Garo Hills district) from Garo hills for invaluable support during interviewing of the Garo community.


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