Achieving SDGs through ecosystem-based approach

Achieving SDGs through ecosystem-based approach

To achieve 2030 SDG goals, an integrated approach of different thematic interventions –land use, water resources, agriculture, biodiversity, health, gender, sanitation–need to be adopted

Published on January 26, 2021 at 3:13 am

Updated on January 28, 2021 at 10:42 am

Linked SDGS.

WOTR (Watershed Organisation Trust) is a 27-year-old not for profit, doing some path-breaking work in the areas of watershed development and water stewardship, helping to reduce poverty and ensure sustainable livelihoods, by focusing on climate resilient agriculture while bringing attention to gender parity, nutrition and food security. The overarching objective of WOTR is to reduce rural poverty to build resilience among vulnerable agrarian communities living in the most drought-prone regions of India. As an organisation whose mission is to secure the livelihoods of the poor in a sustainable ecosystem, WOTR’s work is aligned to 9 of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- a universal call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Headquartered in Pune, Maharashtra, WOTR engages at the intersection of planning, practice, implementation, knowledge, research, capacity building in accordance of policy engagement.

All of WOTR’s activities and interventions contribute directly to the following SDGs and align with other key international conventions—Land Degradation Neutrality, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Over the years, WOTR’s areas of intervention have evolved to include watershed development, integrated water resources management/water stewardship, climate change adaptation, climate resilient agriculture, agro-meteorology, health, nutrition and sanitation, women’s empowerment, sustainable livelihoods, training and capacity building, applied research and policy engagement. Viewed through a “Systems Dynamics” lens, all of WOTRs’ activities under the six thematic areas are interconnected and also influence multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Linking WOTR’s work to the SDG targets can greatly help in developing an integrated approach and strategies to tackle the root causes of poverty and deprivation, which is one of the core goals of SDGs. The figure below illustrates the relationship and symbiotic linkages among the thematic areas of WOTR’s work relevant to the SDGs.

Ecosystem-based approach diagram.

Ecosystem-Based Approach adapted by WOTR to address the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals emphasise conservation and revitalisation of ecosystem services as critical in poverty eradication. Needless to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented crisis, causing further disruption to SDG progress, with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable affected the most. An estimated 71 million people were expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, an alarming rise in global poverty since 1998. To worry the policymakers, lost incomes, limited social protection and rising prices mean even those who were previously secure could find themselves at risk of poverty and hunger[1].

‘Ecosystem & natural resource degradation and climate change are the root causes of rural poverty and deprivation.’

WOTR believes that to effectively address poverty and deprivation in India, we must employ strategic solutions that tackle the root causes of rural poverty to bring about enduring change. This can be achieved through regenerating the rural landscapes and ecosystems, developing the adaptive capacity and resilience of rural communities to effectively deal with climate change and economic losses. At the same time, it is focused on simultaneously ensuring that all their actions contribute to the preservation of their ecosystems.

The ecosystem-based approach includes development, adaptation and mitigation-through-adaptation, which itself is a people-centric, nature-based solution which involves the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of ecosystems. This approach offers cost-effective solutions that can help rural communities adapt to the impacts of climate change and economic shocks. It regenerates and protects their degraded ecosystems on which they rely upon for their sustenance, livelihoods and well-being. More information on what is EbA and the value of an ecosystem-based response is available in our publications listed on the website[2].

There is an urgent need to transform the rural landscape of India – from degraded ecosystems and impoverished villages, into vibrant hubs of prosperity. The rainfed drylands of rural India have been the most neglected despite having the potential for growth and development. By using an integrated Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA) approach, we regenerate degraded ecosystems and natural resources which in turn enables rural communities to better cope with and adapt to climatic and economic stressors while expanding livelihood opportunities, improving health, nutrition and the overall quality of life and wellbeing.

Bhojdari learns to adapt to climate change

Bhojdari village lies in the rain-shadow belt of Maharashtra. It is located on the plateau (locally referred to as Pathar) region, which is rain-fed, semi-arid and drought-prone. This region is in the upper catchment and has no river, dam or canal nearby. The land in Bhojdari is said to be barren and hard, and rainwater just flows off after the rains due to lack of harvesting facilities. With frequent droughts, the region regularly experienced acute water shortages and stress in the summer months, repeated crop failures, loss of cattle and livestock resulting in poverty and leading to large-scale distress migration.

  • Bhojdari Village: Sangamner block, Ahmednagar District, Maharashtra
  • Population: 1,082
  • No of Households: 203

Bhojdari village in Sangamner block.

WOTR started working in this region in 1996, implementing a watershed development project under the Indo German Watershed Development Programme (IGWDP). The situation improved considerably, following the introduction of the programme with improved soil, water availability, improved agriculture yields and reduced distress migration. Due to the impacts of watershed development, water availability was year-round, and that started a trend in farmers to shift to water-intensive crops which had a counter effect of a drop in the water table. Over the next decade, patterns of increasing climate uncertainty and extreme events intensified. On several occasions unseasonal rainfall devastated many standing crops in many areas of Maharashtra including this region, driving farmers into penury and suicide. In 2012, Maharashtra alone accounted for about a quarter of India’s farmer suicides!

Despite appropriate watershed management measures taken by WOTR, the villagers could not cope with the changing climate and urgency was felt to act on adaptation measures. The severe incidents triggered the initiation of a climate change adaptation project in 2009, which WOTR initiated in collaboration with NABARD and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC). This project incorporated a holistic Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EbA) approach aimed at helping people adapt to climate change through sustainable use of ecosystem services and biodiversity of the particular region while following participatory governance practices.

Improved green cover, agriculture productivity and biodiversity conservation in Bhojdari village.


Impacts of the EbA approach in Bhojdari

Increased agricultural productivity in Bhojdari led to a substantial increase in incomes and quality of life, and distress migration was completely eliminated. Bhojdari’s water self-reliance even withstood the return of migrants in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Despite this additional pressure on the village’s water resources, Bhojdari could provide water to all the residents, including its incoming migrant workers. Clearly, villages with an ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approach to development are better placed to provide not only food and income security but livelihoods, health and well-being to even returning migrants.

The EbA model actively promotes the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and natural resources. The project has contributed to the restoration of local habitats and return of some wildlife species. Building on practical experiences on the ground, the project has been able to support communities to explore more sustainable livelihood options, while “weathering the storm” by strengthening their natural resource base.

[1] https://unsdg.un.org/

[2] EbA Infobrief: https://wotr-website-publications.s3.ap-south-1.amazonaws.com/EbA_Info_Brief%20_Series_1.pdf



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