- Bangladesh is the fourth-highest rice-producing country in the world, but much of that production is threatened by salinity.
- More than 30% of the cultivable land in Bangladesh is in the coastal area; a comparative study of the salt-affected area showed that of 2.86 million hectares (7.1 million acres) of coastal and off-shore lands, about 1.056 million hectares (2.6 million acres) — an area roughly the size of Lebanon — of arable lands are affected by varying salinity, hampering agricultural production.
- In the coastal zones, farmers mainly cultivate low-yielding, traditional rice varieties during the wet season, while in the dry season (January- May), most of the land remains fallow because of soil salinity.
- To cope with the situation, government and nongovernmental organizations are introducing different types of saline and extreme weather-tolerant crop varieties to use the farmland yearly.
Salinity intrusion triggered by different factors, including sea-level rise, commercial shrimp cultivation, and decreased upstream transboundary water flow, have directly affected agriculture in Bangladesh’s southern coastal districts in Bangladesh, some of which are also major producers of rice, the national staple.
With changing climatic patterns, farmers are struggling to cope with the situation, which has forced them to keep the land fallow during dry months, ultimately reducing crop production and increasing livelihood insecurity.
To monitor this, different initiatives from government and nongovernmental organizations have been launched in the last couple of years. BRAC, an NGO, introduced a new knowledge-based service to cater to farmers by checking production loss using the fallow portion of the year.
In addition, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture have developed about 25 extreme weather-tolerant rice varieties since 2003, aiming to deploy them in areas where regular varieties cannot produce high yields due to changing climatic patterns. However, they are yet to become popular among farmers. Consequently, large tracts of arable land across the country remain underutilized or barren.
According to the Soil Research Development Institute, more than 30% of the cultivable land in Bangladesh is in the coastal area. A comparative study of the salt-affected area between 1973 and 2009 showed that out of 2.86 million hectares (7.1 million acres) of coastal and offshore lands, about 1.056 million hectares (2.6 million acres) — an area roughly the size of Lebanon — of arable lands are affected by varying degrees of salinity caused by withdrawal of fresh river water from upstream, irregular rainfall and the introduction of brackish water for shrimp cultivation.
Data from Bangladesh Soil Resource Development Institute, Department of Fisheries, Barind Multipurpose Development Authority, and Bangladesh Delta Plan reveal that among the country’s total arable land, some 2 million hectares (4.9 million acres) are vulnerable to salinity, drought and submergence.
According to a study, the annual average maximum and mean temperature and rainfall in Bangladesh have fluctuated over five decades, which directly affects the production of major crops such as rice and wheat.
Variety-specific adaptation strategies could help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and thereby reduce the risk of food insecurity, according to the study.
Moreover, increasing temperatures and rainfall variability lead to increased risk of reduced crop production due to increases in pest attacks.
Another study suggested that agricultural innovation and technology shifts are critical among the forces of change; integration with services is increasingly facilitated through institutional innovations.
The more that human potential of marginalized smallholders is realized, the more sustainable it will be to tap agroecological potentials through agricultural technological advancements, it suggested.
Government agencies have been desperately trying to invent and promote high-salinity-, drought- and submergence-tolerant paddy varieties with some degree of success. However, that is no match for a visible shift in agricultural patterns as traditional paddy growers switch to other stress-tolerant crops.
In addition, the SRDI suggested shifting cropping patterns from rice to other cash crops, including vegetables, based on the condition of soil salinity and other factors.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture has introduced an integrated digital platform from which farmers across the country can receive information about agricultural know-how amid changing climatic patterns.
BRAC as a catalyst
BRAC, with its capacity to reach around 68.4 million rural people annually, has introduced a service for farmers by providing updated weather information and appropriate technology including machineries, seeds and adaptation know-how.
Explaining the theme of a BRAC program called the “Adaptation Clinic,” Md. Liakath Ali, director of BRAC’s climate change program said, “It is a one-stop agricultural service center for strengthening capacity of climate-vulnerable farmers to manage the increasing risk of climate change. The main modality of this service center is to facilitate context-specific regenerative agricultural practices with a climate change lens following the horizontal and vertical extension approach to minimize the gap in the agricultural production of the country.
“As a large amount of land remains fallow around half of a year, our plan is to use all the lands throughout the year. For that, we are introducing different types of technologies, including extreme climate-tolerant crop varieties from rice to vegetable— whatever fits for the land,” he said, adding that the organization is trying to provide information that farmers are unaware of, delivered to their doorstep.
Bangladesh comprises around 8.8 million hectares (21.7 million acres) of arable land, which are divided into 30 agroecological zones facing different varieties and degrees of extreme climate-triggered hazards.
Citing an example of context-specific solutions, the BRAC director said that considering the crisis, the Adaptation Clinic designs information, technological input and support farmers need.
Praising the initiatives, Jiban Krishna Biswas, a former BRRI director-general, said the way the BRAC program is designed, it will be helpful for poor and marginalized farmers in Bangladesh by increasing crop production as well as their income.
Compared with other agricultural services, including the government one, this initiative could lead to better outputs, as the organization has the most extensive network across the country and access to every corner of the country, said Biswas, who is also the executive director of the agricultural research nonprofit the Krishi Gobeshona Foundation.
Banner image: A farmer holds yardlong beans in his farm. Image courtesy of BRAC.
Ahsan, M. (2010). Saline soils of Bangladesh. Retrieved from Soil Research Development Institute, government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh website: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1b9NDz8kJfo-IVH3gsgg5sEKDGNcF89Ez/view
Chen, M., Atiqul, H. S. M., Ahmed, K. J., Hussain A. H. M. B., Ahmed, M. N. Q. (2021). The link between climate change, food security and fertility: The case of Bangladesh. PLoS ONE 16(10): e0258196. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0258196
Salam, M. U., Krupnik, T. J., Montes, C., Nessa, B., Khatun, M. T., Ali, M. P., Shahrin, S., Ishtiaque, S., Mannan, M. A., Hassan, S. M. Q., Aziz, M., Uddin, M. S. (2019). Potential impact of climate change on crop insect pests and diseases in Bangladesh: Future scenarios and strategies for climate services. In: Climate change and Bangladesh Agriculture: Adaptation and mitigation strategies. Dhaka: Krishi Gobeshona Foundation: 105-134. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10568/106115
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