March 2008  -  Announcement of a publication

Improved Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change for Sustainable Livelihoods in the Agriculture Sector

Summary Report
Project Phase I
Community Based Adaptation in Action

by Stephan Baas
and Selvaraju Ramasamy

Bangladesh is particularly prone to natural disasters due its geo-physical position and socio economic context. The territory expands through the delta, where the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, Meghna and their tributaries meet and drain into the Bay of Bengal. This wet environment has created arable land, conducive for agriculture. Its economy is highly agricultural, with 63% of its labor force in the agriculture sector. Agriculture is the single most important and the largest sector of Bangladesh's economy, accounting for about 35% of the GDP.

Bangladesh, in particular its northwestern region, is drought-prone. Droughts are associated either with the late arrival or with an early withdrawal of monsoon rains. This phenomenon adversely affects rice crops, which account for more than 80% of the total cultivated land of the country, and also causes regular damage to jute, the country’s main cash crop.

Droughts in March-April prevent land preparation and ploughing activities from being conducted on time, delaying the broadcasting of Aman and the planting of Aus and jute. When droughts occur in May and June, they destroy broadcast Aman, Aus and jute. Inadequate rains in July and August delay transplantation of Aman, while droughts in September and October reduce yields of both broadcast and transplanted Aman and delay the sowing of pulses and potatoes.

Boro, wheat and other crops grown in the dry season are also affected by drought. Major droughts occurred in 1966, 1969, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2000, causing substantial reduction in food production. The consecutive droughts of 1978 and 1979 directly affected 42% of cultivated land and reduced rice production by an estimated 2 million tons.1 The losses due to drought in 1982 were more than double the losses caused by floods in the same year. The 1997 drought caused a reduction of around 1 million tons of food-grain, of which about 0.6 million tons is transplanted Aman.

Because farmers are exposed to recurring droughts, they need to adapt their farming systems from year to year to the differing conditions caused by droughts. For most, however, agricultural adjustment is a costly option, as investment is needed in re-sowing, crop replacement, intercropping or irrigation. Most resort to disposal/mortgaging of assets, borrowing and eventually, to migration. This was particularly evident in 1994 and 1995, where 72% of households in a study community, sold and/or mortgaged their lands in order to cope with recurrent droughts, leading farmers into an inevitable debt trap.

Increasing climate uncertainties are an additional threat in drought prone environments and also one of the major factors for risk averseness. It forces farmers to depend on low input and low risk technologies. Non-adoption of new technologies to derive maximum gains during favorable seasons delays recovery after disasters. There is a risk even that investments made for poverty reduction are lost within the high-risk areas due to regular hazard impacts. Increasing climate risks, thus, further undermine development efforts of Bangladesh and aggravate poverty.

Impacts of climate change on food production and food security are global concerns, but they represent a particular threat for Bangladesh. Agriculture is already under pressure mainly due to an increase in demand for food, as well as to depletion of land and water resources. The prospects of global climate change make this problem a priority for Bangladesh.

Higher temperatures and water stress due to heat would result in a decline in vegetation and agricultural production. By 2050, according to forecast scenarios, dry season rainfall may decrease by 37%, thus increasing the risk of droughts significantly. Though monsoon rainfall is expected to increase by 28%, intermittent dry and wet spells can not be ruled out. High intense rainfall would result in increased flooding and sedimentation of floodplains, making them less productive. Encroaching salinity due to sea level rise will further degrade agricultural areas.

Several government programs since the 1970s have sought to address climate risks. The development of the irrigation system in the 70th led to increased Boro rice production in recent years. This, however, was at the cost of other pre-monsoon crops, including pulses and oil seeds, which led to lower nutrition levels in the population, as large areas were converted to Boro rice. To reverse this trend, the government promoted crop diversification thereafter to increase rice production during monsoon season and other crops during dry season. However, farmers preferred to cultivate more rice during the less risky dry season. New ways and methods are needed to better inform farmers to help them identify alternative, technically viable options for livelihood adaptation. Better access to climate information could encourage farmers to adopt new risk/opportunity management practices under changing climatic conditions.

The Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) recognizes the risks associated with climate variability and change and the current lack of capacity in assessing and managing long-term climate risks in Bangladesh. Component 4b of the CDMP seeks to establish an integrated approach to managing climate risks at national and local levels. Under this Component, efforts were undertaken in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to implement activities designed to promote livelihood adaptation and reduce vulnerability to climate change, particularly amongst women and poor communities who have the lowest capacity to adapt.

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