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How to have climate-resilient food security in the coastal area

  • Published at 07:39 pm November 8th, 2021
Photo-1: Fisherman fishing in local fishponds, where salinity is a key reason for low production. Courtesy

The local governments must strictly implement ‘Jatiyo Chingri Nitimala 2014’ to guarantee an equal distribution of agricultural and shrimp farming resources

An array of adverse environmental conditions threatens Bangladesh, particularly its coastal region. Periodically, the country has been plagued by cyclones, storm surges, riverbank erosion, floods, and saline intrusion due to its geographic position and physical state of coastline. 

Native populations in the southwest coastal area rely heavily on natural resources like water bodies, land, and forests for their livelihoods. Most of the people here are dependent on the agricultural sector for their livelihood. Climate change-induced stressors and strains are the biggest threat to Bangladesh's farming production, particularly in the coastal areas, where most of the population depends on agricultural goods. 

Loss of households, farmlands, water, and food are all short-term consequences of climate-induced changes on the environment and especially on agriculture. Also, farming activities will potentially be further disturbed by saline water due to increasing sea levels encroaching on fertile land in the long run. Non-climatic anthropogenic sources, in addition, exacerbate the coastal community's loss of livelihood.

The scenario of food insecurity

Many farmers in the southwest coast, in recent years, have given up agriculture because of significant crop failures and poor profits. Low agricultural yields have been caused by a gradual rise in salinity both in soil and groundwater, being amplified by the frequent storms in the region. 

Cyclone episodes produced a rapid increase of saline intrusion, resulting in devastating crop damage and cropland damage. More significantly, short-duration precipitation causes frequent flooding and severe waterlogging. 

Waterlogging, along with high heat throughout the summer, encourages insect infestation, which reduces agriculture output. Households relying on fishing for a living have abandoned freshwater fisheries due to decreased fish supply caused by increasing salinity in the rivers and freshwater bodies. 

Salinities in village ponds have increased gradually, reducing the ponds' production yield. Virus infection significantly impacts freshwater fish farming in the region, which local communities tend to blame on salinity and severe weather during the summer season. 

The extensive use of shrimp farming in the neighborhood caused significant losses in fish production. Over time, small-scale shrimp farming developed into shrimp ghers, leading to saline water intrusion into adjacent fishponds. 

Photo-2: Small-scale fish farming in a ‘shrimp gher’.  Courtesy

Shrimp farming's recent expansion, along with mismanagement of sluice gate, has emerged as a significant non-climatic driver increasing levels of climate change-induced salinity in coastal communities. On the other hand, shrimp farming is hindered by the same viruses that damage freshwater fish. 

Eventually, many activities associated with saline-tolerant crop types, such as vegetable gardening on homesteads and raised beds, fish culture, and community-based animal raising have been promoted, food shortages particularly in between August and November (monsoon period) is reported though.

Current coping mechanism and limitations

There is numerous evidence on the ground regarding how the community in the coastline area in general, and then in the southwestern and southern region specifically is trying to adapt to the variations in domestic food production influenced by climate change. 

There are good examples based on their traditional knowledge and acquired learning despite their struggle with increased soil salinity inhibiting development, lowering fertilization, fading of agricultural land, and affecting total agricultural output. 

Because of limited access to information and knowledge, the farmers are taking a long time to cope with this adverse situation. Likewise, lack of capacity to produce saline tolerant and resilient crops is a key concern when it comes to optimal production. 

In recent years, almost all the initiatives have been deemed ineffectual because of a lack of essential resources and inadequate knowledge about the consequences of climatic variability. Diverse organizations aid in food and other necessities, but relatively few programs specifically address food insecurity leaving the problem unrectified. 

In addition, responsible authorities often operate and maintain the facilities but in unsatisfactory condition. There are several agricultural and shrimp farming policies and standards for shrimp farming in place in Bangladesh, but the procedure is made worse by a lack of cooperation between several governmental bodies. And a lack of good governance in the sector ultimately prevents the country from achieving its long-term and sustainable goals.

Way Forward

In this context, certain measures should be considered for execution to guarantee food security and to improve adaptability in the situation of a changing climate. Firstly, the Department of Agriculture and relevant government agencies should provide free and low-cost saline and flood-tolerant seedlings to the farmers so that it is promoted in a timely manner. 

Secondly, ensuring capacity building opportunities on climate change context and adaptation for the Union and Upazila level agricultural, fisheries, and other relevant local government authorities will contribute to better yield. 

Thirdly, the local governments must strictly implement ‘Jatiyo Chingri Nitimala 2014’ to guarantee an equal distribution of agricultural and shrimp farming resources. Then, maintaining rigorous execution and incorporating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into local development planning will be key to addressing local challenges and mobilizing required finance and other resources. 

Additionally, local governments should set up well-managed collection hubs and storage facilities in each community to guarantee enough market infrastructure. Last but not the least, the local government and the Bangladesh Water Development Board must adequately manage and maintain existing sluice gates and embankments. 

As a supplement, local governments with support from government and non-government organizations should re-excavate irrigation canals and cancel illicit agreements on communal water sources. Therefore, particular emphasis on homestead gardening and diversification of food security is needed to alleviate such food shortages at the household and community level.

Overall, government and non-government organizations must concentrate on improving food security and water availability in light of a changing environment to meet the demands and contributing to fighting poverty and improving food security. 

M Manjurul Islam is working in HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation as a Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) Specialist, his research interest lies in climate change adaptation, climate change governance, food and water security. Can be reached at [email protected]

Ashish Barua is working in HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation as a Programme Manager, his research interest lies in empowerment, justice, and social equities. Can be reached at [email protected] 

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