Even though the government has taken several initiatives to safeguard the country's crop production from the impacts of climate change, experts believe that more specific plans in this regard is necessary.
They said introducing climatic stress-tolerant varieties of crops is not enough as cultivable land is decreasing rapidly due to the growing population of the country.
“The state-run agricultural research bodies have developed paddy and wheat varieties which can withstand extreme climatic events, and they are getting popular among farmers. But what we also need right now is region-specific cropping pattern,” said Dr Jiban Krishna Biswas, former director general of Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI).
Region specific cropping pattern means cultivating certain crops in a region where the crops would give good yield and be tolerant of that region's weather pattern, the veteran scientist explained.
Bangladesh has developed 27 paddy and wheat varieties that are tolerant of different effects of climate change, i.e. rising salinity in the water and soil, rising temperature, drought and rising water level, according to sources at BRRI, Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).
Of them, 11 paddy varieties are salinity-tolerant, seven drought-tolerant, and four submergence-tolerant, and five wheat varieties that are temperature-tolerant, they said.
The BRRI is also working on paddy varieties that are tolerant of cold weather.
Besides these paddy and wheat varieties, the government also needs to develop more crop varieties that would need less water for irrigation for northern districts, where groundwater is depleting fast, and southern districts, where salinity is increasing in the water, Jiban further said.
Prof Ainun Nishat, professor emeritus at Brac University, agreed with him.
“Moving towards cultivating rain-fed Aush paddy from irrigation-fed Boro paddy could a great solution in this regard,” the noted water resource and climate change expert told the Dhaka Tribune.
He further said the government was on the right track in implementing Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan to combat the climate change impacts on agriculture.
“But it also needs to take the reduction of cultivable land into consideration,” Nishat added, referring to the unplanned industrialisation of the south. “The country needs industrial growth for the economy, but it also needs agricultural land.”
Nishat also said there was a lack of coordination between different government offices involved with the sector. “We need to remember that food production is not solely dependent on the Ministry of Agriculture. It is also dependent on the Ministries of Land, Food and Environment. All of them must work together in this regard.”
Threats caused by climate change
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies Bangladesh as a country specifically at risk from climate change due to its exposure to sea-level rise and extreme events like salinity intrusion, drought, erratic weather pattern and tidal surge.
According to a study on drought induced by climate change, Bangladesh has increasingly become vulnerable to drought in the last few decades as a result of changing patterns of global climate, which may lead to complete soil infertility in some regions of the country in near future.
The survey, conducted by Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief in 2013, also identified 213 upazilas as extremely vulnerable to this phenomenon, many of which are not even drought-prone areas.
“Production in the country's agricultural sector is still up to the mark, but that is due to the high yielding varieties of the crops. It will not work for long against the increasing trend of drought,” said Malik Fida A Khan, who led the survey.
Experts predict that by 2030, farmers will face at least 30% yield loss in districts such as Bagerhat, Dinajpur, Moulvibazar, Panchagarh, Rangpur, Sirajganj, Thakurgaon, Rajshai, Khulna and Barisal divisions.
Regarding salinity and sea level rise, Bangladesh has been experiencing sea-level rise by 6-20mm per year in three different coastal regions, according to a study titled Assessment of Sea Level Rise and Vulnerability in the Coastal Zone of Bangladesh through Trend Analysis.
According to a study conducted by Soil Resource Development Institute in 2009, salinity intrusion has been effecting agricultural land at an alarming rate: around 22,000 hectares of land is affected by salinity every year.