Scientists have been warning that climate change – including a combination of erratic and delayed rainfall, rising temperature, frequent floods and cyclones, increased salinity – is going to impact Bangladesh’s agriculture greatly. Farmers in the fields are already feeling the heat
Shahadat Hussein, a primary school teacher, also oversees the agricultural activities on his family land. Belabo upazila in Narsingdi district, where Shahadat lives, is well-known for fruit and vegetable production.
But this year, Shahadat Hussein said, production is not good at all.
"Rainfall usually decreases after the month of Bhadro (mid-September), now three weeks of the next month Ashwin is gone, but it is still raining," Shahadat said.
"Vegetables like bitter gourd were damaged the most. Many farmers could not even grow the plant to full size; the plants died. Of course, some plants like sponge gourd did well," he added.
Scientists have been warning that climate change – including a combination of erratic and delayed rainfall, rising temperature, frequent floods and cyclones, increased salinity in the south – is going to impact Bangladesh's agriculture greatly in not so distant future.
Farmers in the fields are already feeling the heat.
While the production of vegetables and sugarcane was affected due to excessive rain in the Belabo upazila, transplanting Aman rice seedlings were hampered due to the absence of rain. Farmers had to irrigate the fields with pumps.
When the rain was due, it did not show up. It came late, and low-lying rice fields got inundated and consequently damaged.
The saga of rain-hurt farming is yet to end.
"Because of delayed rain, farmers could not transplant early winter vegetable seedlings such as cauliflower, cabbage etc. They were supposed to plant them two weeks to one month earlier," Shahadat added.
He said some farmers sowed seeds and transplanted the seedlings to the field, but the rain ruined their efforts. Some even redid it multiple times, only to be disappointed again.
Yet, Belabo is a part of the Madhupur Tract- one of the Pleistocene uplands, meaning the upazila is higher than average places of the country.
Different locations, different signs
In Manikganj, a third phase of flood submerged many farmlands in early October, and in the north, the fourth phase of flooding barred farmers from preparing the land for winter vegetables.
Last year, too, early winter vegetable cultivation was affected by prolonged rainfall that lasted until the end of October.
Aside from erratic and excessive rainfall, frequent flooding and salinity increase are also hurting Bangladesh's agriculture.
In 2017, a flash flood destroyed the lion's share of our rice crop in the haor basin. This year's floods, which many dubbed as unprecedented in terms of recurrence, have also harmed rice production to a great extent.
In coastal upazilas of Patuakhali, production of rice has decreased significantly due to growing salinity, as per the local farmers. Croplands get flooded with tidal water regularly, and when the water is supposed to be gone, low lands still remain waterlogged. As a result, their lands are left unused most of the time.
In Lalua union in Kalapara upazila under the same district, housewife Rahela Khatun used to grow vegetables at her backyard to support her family. It was difficult for her to grow vegetables for the past few years. This year – since the embankment has broken during the last spring tide – things have become impossible for her.
As Rahela cannot grow anything and has to buy from the market instead, she started a local shop in an attempt to make a living.
Rahela said, "In the last spring tide, we suffered the most – even more than the cyclone Amphan. After that, we tried to cultivate a few crops but nothing grew. Saline water damaged the crops in a way that when we uprooted the plants it seemed like someone had burned the roots."
Rising temperature is also going to be a big problem for agriculture.
Dr Jiban Krishna Biswas, former director-general of Bangladesh Rice Research Institution (BRRI), said, "In the last 50 years, the temperature in Bangladesh has risen by 0.5°C. On the other hand, the temperature often decreases during winter. In a nutshell, the climate is clearly becoming extreme."
The rise of temperature has an impact on plants' photosynthesis, added Dr Biswas, who is also the incumbent executive director of Krishi Gobeshona Foundation (KGF), a government-sponsored non-profit organisation responsible for the management of short and long term research programmes on agriculture.
Rising temperature is also responsible for accelerated glacial melting, thus contributing to increased floods.
According to Agriculture Extension Department sources, from 20 September to 7 October, excessive rain, flood and high tide caused crop damage in 144,883 hectares of cropland in 24 districts.
Erratic and excessive rainfall, salinity increase, early and frequent flooding are clear signs of climate change, according to Dr Jiban Krishna Biswas.
However, specific climate extremes, such as the aggression of salinity, waterlogging and increased flooding have often been exacerbated by human activities like shrimp farming, riverbed rising, and construction of dams, barrages and irrigation projects.
According to a 2018 World Bank report, agriculture GDP will decrease by 3.1 percent each year in Bangladesh due to climate change in future.