Climate-Smart Agriculture in Coastal Bangladesh |

Climate-Smart Agriculture in Coastal Bangladesh

Dr. M. G. Neogi and Dr. William Erskine     24 October, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Climate-Smart Agriculture in Coastal Bangladesh

Mungbean field

“Rice, River and Canal – the three faces of Barisal” is a well-known proverb. Barisal was very much known as the granary of Bangladesh.

But with the time everything has gone; only the name is there. Naturally one may ask “How come it happened! Is it for negligence of the farmers or the failure of planning of the government?” It seems neither the farmers nor the government are responsible for the outcomes; the change of climate is solely responsible for this!

Not only Barisal division, the entire coastal region of Bangladesh is affected with floods, water-logging, surges, droughts and salinity intrusion. Climate change is already negatively impacting agricultural production globally and locally. Climate risks to agricultural production are expected to increase in coming decades, particularly in low-income countries where adaptive capacity is weaker. As a result, farmers are losing their interest in rice and other winter crops cultivation in dry season being attacked by thus natural calamities again and again. Salinity has been engulfing new areas in the region gradually. Earlier farmers of this region used to cultivate boro rice and other winter crops in dry season and receive a very good yield and income. But nowadays, failing to gain optimum yield again and again due to increased salinity and severe scarce of salt-free irrigation water, they left boro rice and other winter crops cultivation. As a result, thousands of hectares of land are now remain fallow in the region.

Being a low-lying deltaic plain, Bangladesh is enormously vulnerable to climate change while the country has been rated as the third most vulnerable country in the world in terms of number of people affected with respect to seas level rise. By 2050, supposing a sea level rise of 27 cm, around 33 million people would be suffering from surging. A one-meter rise in sea level estimated during 2100 would submerge around 18 per cent of the total land area of Bangladesh. The coastal area of Bangladesh represents around 47,211 km. sq. which is around 32 per cent of its total land, wherein 35 million people (6.85 million households), i.e. 28 per cent of the country’s total population are living. About 70 per cent of total farmers in coastal areas are sharecroppers while more than 53 per cent of total coastal population are functionally landless and living below poverty line and having no cultivable land. They hardly have any employment opportunities round the year and their food security is at risk.

Bangladesh has the highest population density in the world with more than one thousand people are living per kilometre square. The cultivable land is decreasing giving space for development and housing for the increased population. The coastal area is again threatened by increasing salinity and possible inundation due to global warming and rising sea level.

Around one third of the farmers in the coastal areas are now cultivating only one crop in a calendar year, i.e. aman rice during monsoon while most of the cultivable land remains almost barren in dry season. Thus, the cropping intensity in coastal area is only around 133 compared to the national average around 200. In southern Bangladesh, a large number of people are suffering from malnutrition. Many people in this region do not have a balanced diet, remain undernourished and become easily susceptible to diseases. For socio-economic constraints, the majority of the region can’t afford animal protein and as such, have to depend on plant protein, bulk of which comes from pulses. The excellent nutrition value of pulses is highly complementary to a cereal-based diet in developing countries. Pulses are affordable source of protein, minerals and energy in a human diet for the largest population in Bangladesh while it contains about 23.7% protein as against 7.5% of rice and at the same time it also contains amino acid lysine which is in short supply in food grains.

Pulse crops remain staple food stuffs to this day but their production in the country has declined over the past two decades. This decline can be attributed to competition from irrigated crops, increased incidence of foliar disease due to humid conditions induced by irrigation and lack of farmer knowledge of state-of-the-art agronomic practices which would make these pulses competition with other crops. Further, inclusion of legumes such as these in the cereal-dominated cropping system is required for cropping system sustainability, due to their inputs to the soil of fixed nitrogen and organic matter.

Pulse are suitable for standing cropping process as it needs less time or less term, less input and aridity tolerant quality. For alleviating human malnutrition for the poorest segment of the country’s population, pulses have been identified as crops with excellent potential. With removal or reduce of the yield gaps of different crop species and with emphasis on the increase production of nutrient-rich crops like more pulses can increase the income of poor farmers, and thus, can ensure reduction of poverty at grass-root level with increase nutritional food security at local levels. 

Per capita fish consumption in Bangladesh is only 50 gm. whereas per day protein requirement of an adult person is minimum 150 gm. In this context, pulse necessarily plays a vital role to meet up the protein intake being the proper substitution of animal protein. As it is very cheap compared to any source of protein, mass people specially the poor community easily can meet their daily protein requirement taking pulse with their daily food items. Although Bangladesh has suitable land and friendly environment for pulse cultivation and the country’s demand is close to 2 million tons , the country produces only 0.53 million tons.

Pulses are traditionally grown as subsistence crops on residual soil moisture. The main biophysical impediments to increasing pulses cultivation in Bangladesh relate to late harvest of aman rice. Generally, farmers go for winter crops like wheat/pulses/potato/mustard/winter vegetables/maize cultivation after harvesting of aman rice. The proper time to cultivate these winter crops is in November. But due to presence of aman rice crops in most of the lands in November, farmers have no scope to avail the right time to cultivate such winter crops. This delayed cultivation hampers the normal yield and also increase the production cost of different winter crops. It also be mentioned that when farmers will be able to cultivate wheat/pulses etc. in right time (i.e. in November), farmers will get more yield for timely cultivation and side by side could be able to minimise the production cost by reducing pesticides, fertilisers, inter-cultural operations, while farmers will get good price of their products for early marketing.

On the other hand, inclusion of mungbean after harvest of short duration winter crops opportunity to increase cropping intensity, farm productivity and nutritional status of farm families. After harvesting of short duration winter crops like, mustard, potato in the month of February, farmers can go for mungbean cultivation as an additional crop that matures within 60 days. Thus, mungbean can be planted in early March which will be harvested by May. This crop may not only help to increase production and extra income but also increased household nutrition and improve soil health. Soil health is deteriorating day by day while introduction of mungbean improve soil nutrition status by nodule formation at root level and add organic matter when decomposing the mungbean plant into the soil which would help to reduce salinity in the soil.

After harvesting of potato, mungbean can be cultivated without adding fertilisers since farmers use substantial amount of fertiliser in potato crop. After mungbean harvest, farmers can transplant short duration rice timely in aman season. So, the practices of short duration rice-potato-mungbean cropping pattern offers a great promise to avert food insecurity and improve nutrition of poor households as well as improve the soil health with reducing the salinity at soil level.

Considering the above circumstances, pulse production should be increased rapidly to improve the national nutritional status along with less outflow of precious foreign currency. Therefore, researchers, policy makers, and farmers should give proper attention to develop technology and good variety of pulses in adverse weather to meet the increasing demand of pulse that improves both food and nutrition security in Bangladesh.

Now, the question is – how can we increase smallholder household incomes through improved productivity and profitability of dry-season crops on non-saline land and, with pulses and, wheat with improved salinity tolerance, on saline land in southern Bangladesh! Nested with this – can legumes, including mungbean, green pea and cowpea and fodder options be grown profitably! Can we identify and exploit useful genetic variation in salinity tolerance in wheat and in a range of legumes to improve livelihoods in southern Bangladesh! What are the needs and limitations to adoption of the above!

In order to overcome this adverse situation in coastal area due to changed climate as well as to improve livelihoods of vulnerable poor farm households in a sustainable way, the University of Western Australia (UWA) under joint collaboration with Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) and Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) comes forward along with an Australian institute as CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation) is implementing a project named “Incorporating Salt-Tolerant Wheat and Pulses into Smallholder Farming Systems in Southern Bangladesh” under financial support of ACIAR (Australian Centre of International Agricultural Research).

The aim of the project is to improve smallholder incomes in southern Bangladesh through improved productivity and profitability of dry-season cropping on non-saline land with pulses as well as with improved salinity tolerance wheat on saline land. Under this broad aim, the project has four complementary objectives, as -

Understand the context for practice change in dry season cropping in southern Bangladesh, and establish its evolution as a response to the project. The expected output is understanding of limitations to the adoption of selected crops in increased dry-season cropping including gender specific constraints and impacts, labour, and institutional/political barriers, and how to reduce such constraints.

Understand and evaluate production technologies for dry season cropping of pulses in saline-free land to increase productivity and profitability in the Barisal division of southern Bangladesh. The expected output is profitable production technologies of mungbean, cowpea, grass pea, and relay sowing in pea and lentil.

Identify wheat germplasm with salinity tolerance adapted to southern Bangladesh. The expected output is to develop wheat lines with salinity tolerance either for direct use or use as parents in hybridisation in the national wheat breeding programme.

Identify germplasm of pulses and forages with tolerance to salinity and water-logging stress adapted to southern Bangladesh. The expected output is to develop saline and water logging tolerant lines of mungbean, cowpea, and grass pea and forages either for direct use or as parents in crossing within the respective national pulse breeding programmes.

A modest utilisation in the future by farmers of fallow land and as anticipated increase in current productivity would produce more pulses and wheat. In turn, this would lead to increased employment opportunities for women and also improvements in dietary diversity as well as enhanced soil health outcomes. In the dry season when seasonal male out-migration is most pronounced in the coastal area of Bangladesh, farm activities are commonly managed and led by women. Hence, it is plausible that the gain from higher productivity and increased farm income will mostly be realised by women farmers enhancing women’s empowerment through greater access to income and thus higher decision-making power.

Additionally, weeding, harvesting and post-harvesting processing such as threshing, winnowing, cleaning and seed drying activities are generally done by poor women paid on a contract basis. So, the anticipated increase in pulse production will supplement employment opportunities for women giving extra income. However, it is also possible that an additional crop imposes greater work burden on unpaid female family members who have low empowerment with no control over household income. Hence, although farm income is expected to increase with a greater contribution from female family labours, they are less likely to be the ones to enjoy its benefit.

Mono-cropping along with imbalanced use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides and intensive use of land without application of organic fertilizers have led to a deterioration of soil quality and fertility in Bangladesh. More than 65 percent of the total agricultural area in the country is suffering from declining soil fertility, and about 85 per cent of net cultivable area has organic matter below the minimum requirement. Combating mono-cropping, pulses and wheat contribute to diversification of rice-based systems and to overall system productivity in southern Bangladesh.

This ACIAR project is scheduled to continue until the end of the 2020. By then, it is hoped that improved cultivation technologies as an output of the project would have been widely demonstrated across the southern Bangladesh, and that many farmers would have adopted the technology. It is also intended that the on-farm trials would have indicated how best to improve agronomic packages for these pulses and wheat, in the most cost effective and farmer-friendly manner.

Dr. Neogi and Dr. Erskine, are the Deputy Project Leader and Project Leader respectively of University of Western Australia (UWA).