The need for correct weather and climatic information in order to make right agricultural decisions cannot be overemphasised, particularly when the planet's climate is becoming more capricious throwing the seasonal variations and meteorological trend into turbulence. So, a World Bank-funded project titled 'Agro-Meteorological Information Systems Development Project (AMISDP)' was undertaken to keep farmers abreast with the updated weather and climatic information. The system was supposed to provide with daily information on weather of previous three days and of the three days to follow.
No doubt, knowing about the weather vagaries beforehand ---even if it is a day, two or three days earlier ---can be of tremendous help to farmers in saving some of their produce or taking decisions on a host of farming issues to avoid losses. But still it is not enough for planning with cultivation of the right type or the alternative types of crops that can adapt to the extreme weather to follow within three to six months or even later. In this context, the Bangladesh Meteorological Department's (BMD's) shift to long-term weather forecast is likely to be helpful.
Implemented by the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), the AMISDP covered the country's unions. Agro-meteorological display boards were installed at all the union parishads in order to display weather information. Sub-assistant agriculture officers (SAAOs) were trained to do it in legible language for farmers with input from the BMD, the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) and research organisations such as the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) and Bangladesh Sugarcrop Research Institute (BSRI).
Sadly, a report carried in a Bangla contemporary now holds that the project has fallen flat in large areas of northern districts. The agro-meteorological display board meant for showing rainfall, temperature, humidity, air flow, duration of daylight and forecast of storms in 10 information charts is either out of order or even missing from many union parishads. Rain gauges and solar panels have also been stolen from some of the union parishdas. What is particularly concerning is that the majority of farmers are not even aware of such a project. A few who had prior knowledge of the facility and those who were told of its benefits, lamented that no one cared to tell them about such a good government initiative. A few elderly people further added that they cultivate their lands on the basis of their innate observation of Nature and traditional knowledge.
In this context, it may be pertinent to note farmers' reliance till date on sayings of Khana, a soothsayer whose insight into weather-related farming was quite relevant until recently, for their cropping. Unfortunately, with increasing emphasis on cultivation of boro paddy and other high-yielding varieties of crops and fruits, Khana, much as she might have been wise, has become irrelevant. Even science is struggling to keep up with the extremes of today's weather. So, the AMISDP's role could be counted on most positively for better and higher production of crops, avoidance of losses leading to food security of the country.
The dismal picture of the AMISDP in the northern districts is a clear example of how a good initiative with immense prospect can be abused. How the project is faring in other parts of the country can present a complete picture of its impacts on crop production of the land. Different areas of the country have different types of soil structures and even varying weather conditions. Thus the meteorological bulletins produced and distributed for the 64 districts of the country twice a week focused on the special conditions and needs of each district. Then national bulletins are also issued once a week. The turbulent weather condition in the coastal regions is sure to be completely different from those prevailing in the north of the country.
Now if farmers were fed the bulletins regularly through the various means such as the Agriculture Information Service (AIS), community radio, digital display board, BAMIS portal, SMS and interactive voice response (IVR), the dissemination of information on and knowledge of agriculture would have scaled enviable heights among farmers. At a time when climate is in turmoil and there is a greater uncertainty and unpredictability over temperature, rainfall, storms, lightning, cyclones and floods, farmers need regular updating in order to plan with their cropping pattern, harvest, storage facilities and shift to alternative crops. In case of lightning tragedies can be averted. But it appears that the facility that reached at the union parishad level has been rendered non-functional.
But why? Who are to blame for this blunder? So far the DAE has been performing very well to the extent that it has under the guidance of BARI and BRRI catapulted the moribund agriculture system on to a most productive and efficient course of development. The country's land could not feed only 70 million people when it became independent but today it has to its credit the excellent record of feeding more than double that population size. What is more, farmers have been advised and guided to diversify vegetables and fruits with many of the exotic ones getting acclimatised with the environment here.
So, hopefully the AMISDP can still be revived with positive intervention by the ministry concerned. When the project has the potential to help farmers in a number of ways including in combating natural calamities, it must be injected fresh blood for its revival. In a way the survival and sustainability of the nation largely depend on the survival of farmers and their well-being.