Enhancing capacity building in terms of disaster risk reduction and response, as well as the improving ability to deal with crisis associated with the pandemic is a must to reduce the vulnerability of farmer communities
The agriculture sector has been a major driving force of the Bangladesh economy and has played a crucial role in cementing our self-sufficiency in food production.
Because of the multidimensional crisis brought about by Covid-19, a reduction in geographical mobility of labour due to unavailability of transport and disrupted communication during shutdown has resulted in a complete breakdown of the supply chain.
Amidst the Covid-19 panic, Bangladesh recently had to tackle a difficult disaster in the form of cyclone Amphan, which caused massive damage to an aggregate of 1.76 lakh hectares of crop yield across the country.
According to reports, 0.85 million mango and lychee gardeners, Boro, Aus and other crop farmers in 43 districts were affected as their land had been hit by the super cyclone, causing monetary damage worth Tk 6.72 billion.
Being one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world, Bangladesh is inherently at risk of natural disasters such as riverine and flash floods, tropical cyclones, storm surges, droughts, salinity intrusions, sea level rise and riverbank and coastal erosions.
While the country has made significant progress in reducing death burden from natural disasters, the challenge to protect the livelihoods which push people below the poverty line, force them to migrate to the urban areas in search of work and also excludes them from a rightful participation in shaping the local level decision-making and service provisioning in favour of them remains.
The sheer magnitude of poverty, underdevelopment and the massive impact of climate change related events have compelled large sections of the population to continue to remain vulnerable, challenging the nation's target to graduate to a Middle-Income Country (MIC) by 2021.
The most marginalised and poor populations situated in disaster-prone coastal areas of
Bangladesh are often victims of extreme climatic conditions, as was observed in case of cyclone Amphan.
Due to the combined ramifications of Covid-19 and Amphan, there is a dire need for judicious intervention in areas of food security, water security and livelihood rebuilding to build resilient poor and marginalized communities.
A number of key barriers in the agriculture, water, economic opportunities and livelihood sectors remain present in the current spectrum.
Farmer communities in coastal regions face multidimensional challenges, two of which emerges in the form of market exclusion and lack of resilience to climate change driven disasters.
Other major challenges include broken supply chains, credit imbalances, manipulation of market by middlemen and the lack of insurance or effective social safety nets.
It is assumed that climate change is the biggest form of market failure that exists today, omnipresent in the social costs imposed by unbridled carbon emission. The developed countries far North continue to pollute and impose such costs on the global South, who undoubtedly have to bear the ramifications.
In the present dynamics of promoting environmentally sustainable, carbon-free income generating techniques, there is, however, a lack of understanding of the existing demand and supply-side or the actors/stakeholders, which include both beneficiaries and service providers.
An 'inclusive market' refers to markets that extend choices and opportunities to the poor (and other excluded groups) as producers, consumers and wage earners. Such a marketplace that addresses the necessity of an efficient supply chain and creates jobs, affordable goods and services needed by the poor is missing.
The past decade for Bangladesh has been monumental with soaring growth rates, per capita income and GDP. However, local markets at the rural level remain untapped with huge potential in terms of manpower.
There is a lack of a multi-stakeholder platform that can make the country move both backward and forward via linkages between the poorest market, all of which are a result of a lack of understanding of both the socio-cultural context and the pathways on how to reach the end-mile populations, tap into those local market, how to better understand the side effect of economic growth and the livelihoods of the poor market actors.
A multi-stakeholder platform which could otherwise provide comprehensive information of all actors to represent these gaps transparently is thus needed to help branch out to the broader supply chain of agricultural goods and services available in the market.
Thus, the creation of a 'resilient marketplace' for farmers belonging to vulnerable communities can become such a platform where demand side actors (vulnerable farmers) will be able to connect with all supply side actors (private sector and government) to meet their demand in a market structure.
These demands can be met through innovative technology and financial tools such as insurance and capacity building of farmers by introducing them to disaster-resilient cultivation - a combined effort which can help them sustain in the long run.
To ensure that benefits of growth reach the poorest and most vulnerable, it is vital that poverty reduction schemes are dissociated from the classical 'top-down' approach, and that tools designed to penetrate at the grassroots level make concerted efforts to link producers at the bottom rungs of the value chain.
The government recently announced a Tk 5,000 crore stipend package for farmers at four percent interest rate. However, given present circumstances, farmers in coastal regions cannot afford to pay such an exorbitant amount, given that they have already incurred heavy losses.
A special zero percent interest loan package can be introduced for this selected group, along with a lumpsum compensation.
Experts have opined that Covid-19 will leave a world that will become a 'new normal', and it is our sincere hope that mankind, already battered and exhausted from a long drawn out battle with climate change, learns its lesson.
The effects of climate change are ubiquitous and all-encompassing, causing the magnitude, frequency and duration of natural disasters such as Aila, Sidr and Amphan to increase, thus making marginalized communities extremely vulnerable.
As our economy gradually reopens after the shutdown, we must keep in mind that adopting proactive measures to increase both economic, as well as climate resilience, are necessary.
Enhancing capacity building in terms of disaster risk reduction and response, as well as the ability to deal with crisis associated with the pandemic must be improved to reduce the vulnerability of farmer communities.
This is crucial to sustaining the upward trajectory of food security and socio-economic development that Bangladesh has attained till date.
Lamia Mohsin is currently working as an intern at the Resilience and Inclusive Growth Cluster of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangladesh Country Office.