India: Dealing with natural disasters through preparedness

No community has control over natural disasters, but preparedness can help mitigate the adverse impacts. Working in collaboration with partners, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is blending disaster relief into sustainable agriculture development programs, using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance disaster preparedness of communities.

Through the initiative of the Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT), ICRISAT is collaborating with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and other non-governmental organizations working in coastal Tamil Nadu to deal with the immediate agricultural problems of tsunami-hit villages. The linkage between the experts and villagers are through the Internet-linked rural knowledge centers (RKCs). The bottom-up communication arrangement established through the RKC will be the platform for building the community's capacity on disaster preparedness.

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said that preparedness is the key in dealing with any natural disaster, be it the tsunami or the drought, which regularly affects rural communities in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is a process of continuous capacity building, where the communication tools can link the farmer with the expert, or one farming community with another.

According to Dr MS Swaminathan, Chairman of MSSRF, the process of establishing these knowledge centers enabled the villagers to use the most appropriate means of communication to save lives on the day of the tsunami. Now the same communication linkage will be used to rebuild sustainable agriculture in the villages.

ICRISAT is collaborating with governmental and non-governmental organizations, through the VASAT initiative, to enhance drought preparedness of communities through RKCs. VASAT's activities are also in line with the recommendations of India's Mission 2007, which aims at creating a knowledge center in every village. The Mission is fallout of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers. ICRISAT Director General William Dar and Governing Board Vice-Chair Mangala Rai are members of the Steering Committee of Mission 2007.

In Tamil Nadu, VASAT is linking with 10 ICT-linked knowledge centers established by MSSRF in select tsunami-hit villages. Scientists from ICRISAT and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes, such as the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, are helping communities rehabilitate their agriculture.

Though initially the aim would be to help the communities overcome the destruction caused by tsunami, the long-term objective is to help the coastal villagers revive their agriculture through sustained knowledge support.

The ICRISAT-MSSRF collaboration will also work on providing enabling knowledge through 20 ICT-linked information centers in severely drought-prone areas of Tamil Nadu.

VASAT has also established pilot projects in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In Andhra Pradesh, it is educating agri-input dealers on drought preparedness and management. VASAT is collaborating with MANAGE-National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management in their project to educate agri-input dealers on drought preparedness and management. This project will be implemented in Adilabad, Mahbubnagar, Karimnagar, Ranga Reddy and Guntur districts. Another project in Andhra Pradesh is in collaboration with the ICICI Bank to provide drought awareness among micro-finance institution activists.

In collaboration with the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Ltd., selected rural communities in Nashik, Ahmednagar and Pune districts are being prepared to cope with drought.

VASAT is also active in West and Central Africa, in collaboration with WorldSpace Radio. Using WorldSpace technology, the ICRISAT Regional Office at Niamey in Niger has linked with 300 community radio stations in the region. Through this network, information on weather, desertification and locust infestation are being communicated to the farmer communities.

For further information, contact Dr V Balaji at