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The Financial Express

Natural disasters and agriculture

| Updated: October 23, 2017 04:14:34


Natural disasters and agriculture


More than 300 rivers and alluvial soil with annual siltation of land and low-lying areas are a boon for the agriculture of Bangladesh. But the country is regularly battered by natural disasters like floods and tidal surges that have become more frequent now-a-days.  Such calamities take their toll on food production. 
Back in 1971, food production could not even support a population of 70 million. Thanks to innovations of agricultural scientists, the country has now increased food output three times to cater to the increasing demand of the present 160 million population. Adoption of modern technology and research has placed Bangladesh as one of the highest per hectare output food grain producing countries in the world. It has surpassed India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
With high-yielding varieties of seeds and improvement in food production practices, Bangladesh has succeeded in becoming self-sufficient in food production and starting export of aromatic rice on a limited scale.
Scientists at the Rice Research Institute have introduced high-yielding and flood resistant varieties of seeds for rice cultivation to the benefit of the farming community in general and the country as a whole. 
The agriculture of the South Asian country is largely reliant on seasonal weather patterns and climatic conditions. The global climate change has also had a negative impact on the farming pattern in the country. The prevalence of heavy rainfall, floods, extreme temperature patterns and droughts has slowly changed the cropping patterns.
These phenomena will adversely affect the country's agricultural system through (a) reduction of crop productivity (quantity/quality) ,(b) changes in water use (irrigation), land use and migration and (c) increased frequency/intensity of floods, water logging, soil erosion and salinity that have made the farming communities highly vulnerable and resilient.
Besides climate variability and uncertainties (such as temperature rise and erratic rainfall), the major weather and climate-related extremes are frequent floods and river erosion, cyclones and tidal surges, salinity, drought, heat waves, cold and fog and water logging. The emerging climate change is having an impact on food security of the poor and marginal sections. Protection of biodiversity and improvement of the environment for preservation of the natural resources is the need of the hour. Usage of advanced technologies that include satellite imageries and computer-assisted systems has enhanced the capabilities of weather forecasting system. Traditional and indigenous policies have helped engagement of stakeholders and policymakers for mitigating impacts of floods and adaptation of resilient agricultural and food security policies.
Agriculture, the mainstay of majority people, has thus become vulnerable to climate changes. But then it is also a fact that nearly two-thirds of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector. It contributes about 20 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Despite all the natural calamities the highly resilient farmers are moving ahead facing all odds and rebuild their homes and carry on with farming activities within months of a severe tidal bore or cyclone.
Tidal surges in the coastal areas are often damaging affecting almost one-fourth of the total population of the country living there. Majority of the coastal population are affected, directly or indirectly, by coastal floods, tidal surges, river-bank erosion, salinity, tropical cyclones, etc. With the rise of sea level up to one metre only, Bangladesh could lose up to 15 per cent of its land area under the sea water and around 30 million people living in the coastal areas of Bangladesh could become refugees because of climate change impacts. Salinity Intrusion from the Bay of Bengal already penetrates 100 kilometres inside the country during the dry season.
Well-known researcher Dr M Asaduzzaman quite has rightly said frequency of natural disasters due to climate change is going to increase instability of agriculture in general in all its sub-sectors and particularly for crops and rice production due to the extremes of weather and the related natural hazards that are expected over the next several decades. "In the future, climate related natural hazards may become more frequent and more severe, adversely affecting Aman output. On the other hand, uncertainties of rainfall will also mean uncertainties regarding irrigation during boro season. Furthermore, if the regional warming becomes quite severe, Boro will be adversely affected also due to temperature extremes. If either Aman or Boro or both substantially fail in a year, that will bring huge food insecurity, economic, social and ultimately political instability", he said.
There has, however, been a growing realisation in the country that there must be adequate planning and investments for growth in agricultural and food production under climate variability and change. But then the country has to adopt policies supportive of agriculture to offset climate variability impacts. While there is some awareness regarding food security under climate change, the concern remains confined, by and large, to staples such as rice. As in the case of non-crop agriculture, non-rice crops have also not been given attention regarding climate change impacts.
Prof. Dr. Akbaruddin Ahmad is Chairman of Policy Research Centre bd. (PRC.bd) and Chairman (Admn) NAPSIPAG (Network of Universities & Institutes of Public Administration and Governance of the Asia Pacific Region).
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