Human Behaviour influenced by Environment – WOTR

by Upasana Koli

An Environment is a setting in which various biotic (plants, animals, humans, bacteria, etc.) and abiotic (water, soil, atmosphere, etc.) components interact with each other based on their individual characteristics, features and processes. The synchronising depends on their compatibility with each other, thereby creating a suitable environment for them to thrive. However, as they face challenges such as climate change and weather vagaries, or any externalities, etc., it disturbs the synchronization, hence impacting their very characteristics, features and processes. Humans, a part of the biotic component, have a significant position in the environment. Any action of varying magnitude, either positive or negative, has the potential to impact the environmental processes surrounding it, alike the above-mentioned challenges. This interaction of humans and the environment function in a circular motion. A positive action by humans would lead to an environment supporting each other, while a negative action would worsen their association leading to depletion of environmental resources. This fluctuation in resources necessitates humans to adjust for a continuation, by changing their behaviour towards the resources. Below are two scenarios of two villages belonging to two different agro-ecological zones of Maharashtra, displaying different behaviours resultant from different land, soil and climatic characteristics.

Pimpri Pathar village  

– This village is characterized by low annual rainfall (between 500-700 mm), natural vegetation, and aquifer capacity. It is located on a plain surface. The villagers have had a behavioural change towards their livelihood caused by water scarcity causing low agricultural productivity, wage earning opportunities and diminishing lifestyle. Watershed structures built in the past do not function to their optimal capacity. Broken pipelines, low water harvesting structures, etc. have kept water availability low. Also, the environment has been changing with various pests emerging caused by weather change, wild life wandering around village settlements, etc. Subsequently, many of the villagers have either shifted to non-farm activities or migrated outside. Villagers with financial capabilities have built individual water structures like farm ponds or do flood irrigation thereby lowering water levels for surrounding farms who cannot afford individual water structures. This is causing an increasing disparity between such farmers not only in terms of agriculture but also, in terms of social and financial capability.

Kadwanchi village

– This village falls in the region that receives 700-1200 mm of rainfall. The soil type and texture are fertile with high levels of nutrients due to good rainfall conditions, leading to good vegetation capacity. In the past, when water harvesting was low, this village faced intense water scarcity, but currently, an increase in these structures and consequently, water, has led them to adopt organic farming, cultivate horticulture crops such as grapes, earn from farm related secondary income activities such as fish sales, etc. This improving situation has increased their financial capabilities. Low-income farms have also benefited from this improvement by knowledge transfer and increased market value. However, this has also led to moral hazards, as farmers have increased groundwater extraction as compared to before, but the impact is much lower than that of Pimpri Pathar since rainfall is better here.

The two scenarios explain how the lows and highs of the environmental conditions affect the choices humans make for sustenance. In the scarcity zone village, as water availability was historically low due to low rainfall, aquifer and water preserving and harvesting structures, the behaviour of farmers with low financial capacity turned to other sources of income, while those with better finance adopted unsustainable practices of excessive groundwater abstraction.

In the transition zone village, better water structures and storage capacity as compared to the past have given them better agricultural outcomes. However, these outcomes made them more precautious towards water availability and storing excessive water is the behaviour adopted to avoid past conditions.

Humans’ cognitive function of perceiving, recognizing, reasoning, judgement, etc. is based on the knowledge gained through past and present experiences in the environment, through which their behaviour is arrived upon. Any nudge by the environment can drive human behaviour to any direction and could direct to unsustainability also. Hence, if the behaviour of humans needs to be driven towards sustainability, the environment should be reshaped in a way that support both good behaviour as well as the whole environmental process.

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