Farmers in Bangladesh adapting to increased soil salinity and climate change.
Barguna is at the very southern end of Bangladesh and looks nothing like the rest of the country.
Bangladesh is very green – driving through you can see the luxuriant green rice fields stretching out endlessly, the spread interrupted only by clusters of dark trees surrounding a small village, and sometimes by the yellow patches of mustard fields. But Barguna is not green and vibrant - it has now become drab brown.
Stepping onto the soil of Barguna, one is reminded of a parched desert. The ground is rock-hard, cracked and mostly barren. I was careful, threading lightly - afraid of stepping too hard in case the ground suddenly gave away.
The district wasn’t always this desolate. But devastated by repeated cyclones, erratic weather patterns and saline intrusion along the coast, farmers in these coastal communities have seen their lands yield less and less with the passing years.
Adapting to the rising salinity of the soil requires further agricultural research, testing and the introduction of new crops resilient to this new reality. With this in mind, a pilot initiative supported by the World Bank, introduced BRRI-47 salt tolerant rice variety to farmers in the coastal regions of Bangladesh. The aim is to safeguard the livelihoods of farmers and increase the resilience of the communities living in disaster prone coastal areas.
We were going to meet the farmers in the village of Paschim Garjon Bunia who had received salt tolerant rice seeds.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting the implementation of this initiative. Guided by our local contact from FAO, who is involved in providing the agricultural inputs and training the local farmers in adopting new farming practices, we soon reached the community.
From far away, I could see a few men and women working on a refreshing patch of green. The lush patch stood out in stark contrast from the rest of the bleak surroundings. Little oasis of life, these were actually the seed beds of the salt tolerant rice crops. Farmers were working to re-plant the saplings onto the rice fields.
Md. Harun Ur Rashid, Chairman of the Village Farming Society was working, bent over his field, when we arrived. His entire family was there helping him carefully pick out the rice saplings and make bundles of them, to be carried away to the fields for replanting. He looked up from the seed beds of the BRRI-47 and explained how previously he could only grow one harvest of Amun rice during the entire year, his land not being suitable to grow crops during Boro rice season due to high salinity levels and shortage of fresh water for irrigation. This was certainly not enough to help keep his family comfortable.
Now with the introduction of the salt tolerant variety, he will be able to grow 2 additional harvests a year, almost doubling the yield from his land. During the last Boro season, the average yield of farmers using BRRI-47 was around 4 metric ton per hector - greatly improving their prospects in difficult circumstances.
“We are not only at the absolute mercy of cyclones and frequent floods, but we are also a community plagued by saline intrusion in our soil and drinking water. BRRI-47 will help us grow food even during times when our soil would otherwise not have been able to sustain life,” said Harun. At that moment, Harun’s youngest daughter, a mere child of about five ran up to excitedly show her father the first bundle of rice sapling she had helped her mother make. The green in her hand was as fresh as the joy in her eyes.
Harun smiled: “While the last cyclone washed away everything I built up for my family, I am hoping that the BRRI 47 will help us get back on our feet. The green saplings you see in front of you will double our harvest and our income. And hopefully the green will double our happiness as well…” mused Harun with a pensive glance towards his family.
The initiative to introduce the BRRI-47 salt tolerant rice variety to farmers in the coastal regions of Bangladesh is supported by the Emergency Cyclone Recovery and Restoration Project (ECRRP). Among other initiatives, project also introduced Maize seeds and Mung Bean seeds to the coastal communities and aims to distribute good quality family silos to help communities store rice grains well.