Farming against the backdrop of climate change in Bangladesh
As per estimates from the Government of Bangladesh: in a year with normal rainfall, roughly 25 percent of the country gets flooded. Every four to five years, Bangladesh witnesses severe flooding that leads to nearly 60 percent of Bangladesh getting submerged under water. The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) has documented this climate change scenario and has reported how Bangladesh has hundreds of thousands of ‘climate refugees.’ With the soil turning saline and seasonal submergence being an annual certainty, farming has become unviable and farmers from rural areas are migrating to the cities in search of employment.
A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the production of staple foods could drop steeply by 2050 because of soil salinity. This would be devastating for Bangladesh as agriculture is the country’s key economic driver. Around 65 percent of Bangladesh’s total population is employed in agriculture and it generates 22 percent of the country’s economic output.
Managing Director, Bangladesh, Crop Science Division of Bayer
Rice is Bangladesh’s largest crop and plays a crucial role in the country’s food security. In Bangladesh, rice security is synonymous to food security. Rice covers a total cultivated area of 80 percent. Rice cultivation in Bangladesh varies according to seasonal changes in the water supply. The largest harvest, Boro, which accounts for more than half of annual production, occurs from April to May. Rice for the Aus harvest occurs during the summer. The Aman, growing season occurs during the wet season and is rain-fed.
It is common for fields in Bangladesh to produce two rice harvests annually. Between rice-growing seasons, farmers grow vegetables, peanuts, pulses or oilseeds. But the apocalyptic changes in weather have hindered the ability to have multiple harvests. In 2017, rice output fell by two million tonnes to 35 million tonnes as farmers shifted to jute and vegetables.
Constant flooding brings with it additional problems for rice farmers in the form of bacterial leaf blight (BLB), a disease that finds perfect ground in wet tropical lowlands with high humidity. While a response to climate change challenges require a coordinated response at a global level, scientific agricultural innovations can help address some of the issues preventing internal population displacement and safeguarding food security in the long run.
Even though wet season rice in Bangladesh has more acreage, it has never been so attractive for farmers due to the unpredictability and lower yield as compared to Boro or winter Rice. Scientists at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) have developed a submergence tolerant variety to help farmers of low-lying areas in Bangladesh.
Farming Against the Backdrop of Climate Change in Bangladesh
BRRI recently released seed varieties named BRRI Dhan 87 which has a higher yield potential up to 6.5 MT/ha. Moreover, it is seven days earlier than BRRI Dhan 49. The other varieties that have been recently released like; BRRI Dhan52, BRRI Dhan56, BRRI Dhan71, BRRI Dhan75, BRRI Dhan79 and BRRI Dhan80 are renowned as Climate Smart seed varieties for rice growers.
The private sector has also come forward to combat the impact of climate change. Multinationals like Bayer have introduced biotic and abiotic stress tolerant hybrid rice seed varieties such as BLB tolerant Arize Dhani Gold, Arize Tej Gold and Submergence tolerant hybrid Arize AZ 7006.
Recently Bayer introduced Arize AZ 7006 (Bayer hybrid 06) is a Climate Smart hybrid rice variety, which is fit for flash flood prone geographies and also provides BLB tolerance with a higher yield potential than the currently available rice varieties in wet season. It is the first submergence tolerant hybrid rice variety in Bangladesh. Arize AZ 7006 sustains underwater for 15 days, which gives farmers the opportunity to cover new areas where lands are inundated by flash floods.
Bayer scientists have also developed Saltol: a gene in the rice chromosome that provides salinity tolerance at the seedling stage, into different varieties of rice. BRRI is also developing water management technology to capture fresh water during the monsoons. The stored fresh water can be used for irrigating rice during the dry season.
With these interventions, Bangladeshi farmers have experienced a 20 to 25 percent increase in yields with Arize AZ 7006 compared to the local high yielding varieties. Additionally, because this variety has a shorter harvest time of 125 days instead of 135 to 140 days, it has helped farmers improve their farm income by growing other winter crops such as mustard, pulses and potatoes.
Bangladesh faces several issues that will continue to affect agriculture and the livelihood of farmers. To help farmers continue to live off their land sustainably and to safeguard food security in Bangladesh, the country needs increased public-private collaboration and product and technology innovations. This could be the game changer for the future of agriculture in Bangladesh.