Bangladesh food

How Erratic Weather Has Affected Our Food Production

The impact of climate change on daily life in Bangladesh is evident

Many farmers in southern Bangladesh have turned to floating farms as climate change brings more extreme heat and rainfall, flooding, erosion and surges of salt water. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS


Climate change

Many farmers in southern Bangladesh have turned to floating farms as climate change brings more extreme heat and rainfall, flooding, erosion and surges of salt water. FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows how food production is threatened by heat and drought. The report anticipates more serious food security risks from climate change, leading to malnutrition in South Asia, one of the world’s hotspots of high human vulnerability, due to global warming of two degrees Celsius or more. Unfortunately, this is already evident in countries like Bangladesh, especially in climate-vulnerable areas.

In July 2022, Bangladesh experienced the lowest rainfall in 41 years. It has significantly affected climate change adaptation practices in vulnerable communities, causing further loss and damage. In the short term, these impacts fueled food price increases and reduced household incomes. The health risk of malnutrition due to the low level of adaptation, in the short and medium term, was also estimated.

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Aman rice, one of Bangladesh’s main contributors to staple foods, is grown between June and November. Soil preparation and seed germination are usually done in June and July. Then the farmers transplant the paddy seedlings into the main field. Due to the poor rainfall this year, most farmers were unable to prepare their fields and sow the saplings.

Farmers in the north of the country, having the possibility of using groundwater, prepared the bed and sowed the saplings. The plants somehow matured but would have a lower yield due to such a change in rainfall and monsoon this year.

This impact on paddy crops has not only affected farmers, but also day laborers. A large number of unskilled agricultural workers had no other means of support. Such loss and damage to livelihoods forced locals, especially daily wage earners, to (poorly) adapt immediately by reducing meals and food consumption. And this, in the medium term, for almost three months, influenced the migration.

The impact on day laborers was disproportionate as they could hardly adapt to these losses and damages. Having limited opportunities for migration, they have to (poorly) adapt by capitalizing minimal savings (if any), reducing their food intake, having less access to other essentials and bearing the financial burden of ‘a loan. Ironically, such poor adaptation is largely overlooked and ignored.

The situation in climate-vulnerable areas, such as the southwest coast, due to a change in land use patterns, especially after cyclones Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009, is dire. For a long time, coastal populations adapted to alternative crops due to the increase in soil and water salinity. This year, they had a different experience. For example, there was evidence of loss and damage in the cultivation of crops most commonly used as agricultural produce or home gardening, such as brinjal, long squash, okra, red spinach and climbing spinach.

“I planted brinjal seedlings because it gives a good harvest at the end of the rainy season. I usually manage my family’s expenses for about four months with this income. In my field, the plants do not grow right now so I’m doing I don’t know how I’m going to support my family in the next few months,” said Yousuf Jommaddar, from Pajakhola village in Morrelganj, Bagerhat.

They tried hard, even carrying water from distant places, but it didn’t help. Rijia Begum, a farmer from Lakshmikhola village, lost almost all of her Tk 20,000 investment. His crops grew, but ultimately there was no yield. Her loss was greater than her investment because she took out a loan from an NGO. “I have to pay the loan every week including interest. My husband had to move to Khulna town; he pulls a rickshaw to cover the expenses,” Rijia said.

There are several cases of failure of this adaptation in coastal areas. For example, farmers have been producing watermelon out of season for a few years because it has a good yield and a good financial return. The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has also been promoting it to ensure food security and build climate resilience. Watermelon takes about three months to grow and mature. A group of five farmers from Banka Paschim Para in Paikgacha, Bagerhat invested around Tk 1 lakh on 60 decimal land to grow watermelons. Previously, they grew watermelons weighing six to seven kilograms each in the first week of August. This year they waited for rain but got a heat wave instead. Despite their efforts to irrigate the field, most of the watermelons that grew weighed a maximum of three kilograms. And later, in mid-August, the field of green watermelons gradually faded.

In such a circumstance, the Government of Bangladesh and relevant stakeholders should invest more in research to understand the dynamics and impact of loss and damage in climate-vulnerable communities. The government must recognize the impact of slow onset factors, identify the communities affected by this loss and damage and define how to place them under the umbrella of social safety nets. More importantly, since these losses and damages are likely to increase due to global warming, a response mechanism and climate finance must be put in place. And for that, there is no other alternative than to put the issues firmly on the agenda of the next 27th United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27), and to raise the voice for remind polluters of their commitment to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

Ashish Baroua is responsible for the climate change and sustainable development program of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation in Bangladesh.

Jannatun Nayem is Head of Knowledge Management for Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation’s Climate Change and Sustainable Development program in Bangladesh.