The Financial Express

Australian-Bangladesh partnership in agriculture research

| Updated: November 26, 2019 20:20:38

File photo File photo

Being a low lying deltaic country, Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to climate change as it has been rated as the third most vulnerable country in the world in terms of number of people affected by sea level rise. Climate change threatens food production in Bangladesh while seasonal climate variability reduces fresh water river flows and seawater damages low-lying areas and rain-fed cropping systems. The entire coastal region of Bangladesh is affected by floods, water-logging, surges, droughts and salinity intrusion.

Intrusion of salinity has been gradually engulfing new areas of Bangladesh coastal region. Earlier farmers of this region used to cultivate boro paddy and other winter crops in dry season and receive a very good yield and income. But now-a-days, having failed to gain optimum yield due to increased salinity, they have given up boro and other winter crops cultivation. As a result, thousand of hectares of land now remain fallow in dry season in the coastal areas.

It is assumed that due to global warming, sea level may rise around 27 centimeters by 2050, as a result 33 million people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh would be seriously affected by surging. A one-meter rise in sea level is estimated to submerge around 18 per cent of the total land area of Bangladesh. The coastal area of Bangladesh represents around 47,211 square kilometers which is around 32 per cent of its total land inhabited by 35 million people. About 70 per cent of the total farm households in coastal areas are sharecroppers while more than 53 per cent of total coastal populations are landless. Unless immediate measures are taken, Bangladesh will lose almost one-third of its arable land over the next twenty-five years. Food security will hinge on the availability of land.

It is in this context that the role of Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in trying to mitigate cultivation in water logged and salinity-prone lands in Bangladesh may be relevant to take note of. ACIAR is an Australian government's statutory authority to utilise Australian aid with particular focus on assisting agro-based developing countries like Bangladesh with technical know-how. ACIAR funds research for development aimed at boosting agricultural productivity, sustainability and food system resilience in partner countries.

A key component of Australia's development assistance programme since 1982, ACIAR is becoming a world leader in generating and applying knowledge to help developing countries. ACIAR looks to a world where poverty is reduced and hunger is abolished. Its mission is to avail more productive and sustainable agricultural systems for the benefit of developing countries and also for Australia through partnership approach. ACIAR facilitates and supports bilateral research and development activities in agriculture including crop production and protection, animal health and animal production, fisheries, forestry, land and water resources management and post-harvest technologies.

ACIAR has been working with Bangladesh since the mid-1990s on conservation, farm mechanisation, saline land management and adaptation to climate change. To overcome poverty, ACIAR-Bangladesh collaborative research is helping farming communities to become productive, sustainable and resilient. ACIAR encourages sharing this knowledge with policy-makers, researchers and communities around the world. The result is innovative and lasting local solutions that bring choice and change to those who need it most.

Many south-Asian countries face common obstacles to agriculture production. ACIAR is strengthening the links between Bangladesh and other countries in south and south-east Asia, particularly India and Nepal. Considering the global climate change, ACIAR would continue its support to increasing production of rice and other crops to ensure food security of the country's huge population. 

Although ACIAR's activities in Bangladesh are implemented under an umbrella arrangement between the government of Australia and the government of Bangladesh on a programme of collaborative agricultural research for development signed at Dhaka on February 27, 1997, still ACIAR does not have MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the government of Bangladesh. This prevents ACIAR and Australian institutes from signing direct partnership agreement with the local government institutions. Local government institutions need either a MoU or an endorsement from ERD (External Resources Division) of the ministry of planning. Therefore, majority of the ACIAR projects in Bangladesh are done mainly through the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centres such as IRRI and CIMMYT.

The CGIAR centre formed partnership with the local government institutes such as BARC, BARI, BRRI etc. Very recently, agreements have been signed through universities or KGF (Krishi Gobeshona Foundation) as they are allowed to sign agreement with foreign institutions. KGF is a Bangladeshi agricultural research funding organisation established by the government and sponsored by the World Bank in 2007. KGF has become the key partner for ACIAR in Bangladesh since 2015 and is a co-investor in three projects.

One of the important ACIAR's programmes -- the lentil and grasspea improvement project made significant progress in lentil improvement, particularly variety diffusion, adoption and impact at the farm level. The programme is being extended with additional focus on mungbean and introduction of short duration waterlogging-tolerant as well as salinity-tolerant pulses into rice-based cropping systems. The international mungbean improvement network was established with partners from India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Australia which is coordinated by the World Vegetable Centre. All partner countries are gaining access to more lines and the network has attracted interest in other countries.

Alongside pulses, ACIAR has also invested in cereal crops such as wheat and maize. ACIAR is supporting to develop partnerships using a range of public and private sector extension mechanisms to achieve rapid outscaling of adapted management practices, thereby enabling large numbers of farmers to achieve high and sustained profit by adjusting the production of rice, maize and other crops in response to markets and cost inputs. Currently, ACIAR project is supporting early response to the emerging threat of wheat blast disease in Bangladesh.  

ACIAR is now concentrating more on intensification of cropping systems in the salt-affected coastal zone of southern Bangladesh while introducing wheat and mungbean in the under-utilised and fallow lands of southern region is one of the most important components of its programme. In a workshop in July this year at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Director General of BARI Dr. Abul Kalam Azad pointed that Bangladesh has shortage of germplasm and this is made up by sufficient germplasm supplies through different ACIAR projects. Through ACIAR support, Bangladesh is maintaining a strong linkage with other international organisations like ICARDA, IITA, World Vegetable Centre etc.

On  September 04, 2019, Professor Dr. William Erskine, Director, University of Western Australia, Dr. Eric Huttner along with Dr. Pratibha Singh of ACIAR and Dr. M. G. Neogi, Deputy Project Leader of University of Western Australia visited the Ministry of Agriculture and met with the agriculture minister Dr. Md. Abdur Razzaque. The team opined that salt and waterlogging-tolerant pulses and wheat under a mechanised system can be a good option to greening the fallow land of coastal area of Bangladesh during the dry season. The team informed the minister that the ACIAR is drafting its 10-year research strategy to guide its long term commitment to Bangladesh in the agriculture sector and will organise a consultation meeting with the policy makers of Bangladesh on November 19, 2019. Professor William Erskine who is a world renowned lentil breeder mentioned that 345 germplasms of cowpea have been collected from different international research institutes and tested in Bangladesh condition at BARI Barishal station in last two years to identify most promising variety (s) in terms of yield and salinity-tolerance capacity.

The Australian delegation expect that the government's concerned agencies will appreciate the potential of this partnership and initiate to sign MoU to create a smooth and more fruitful working environment in the country for the benefit of farm families as well as the nation.


Dr. M. G. Neogi is Deputy Project leader, University of Western Australia. [email protected]


Share if you like