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Barley production in changing climate: Old crop for a new climate

  • Published at 08:19 pm April 30th, 2016
  • Last updated at 08:53 pm April 30th, 2016
Barley production in changing climate: Old crop for a new climate

As we approached the field, we came upon three farmers at work. They smiled brightly when I asked them about the production of barley in Shyamnagar this year. Fifty year old Ahad Ali was the first to enthusiastically answer: "From five decimal land, I harvested 26kg of barley, which was beyond my expectation. A bumper production of barley this year has been a blessing for the farmers of Shyamnagar sub-district.” A little ahead we saw a group of farmers busy packing bales of barley. The geographical location of Bangladesh renders it as one of the most disaster prone countries of the world. Over the last thirty years, Bangladesh has experienced nearly 200 climate-related disasters accounted for around $16 billion economic losses including damage of asset, property and livelihoods. According to National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) for Bangladesh, crop agriculture ranks highest in terms of physical vulnerability. The coastal areas of Bangladesh contain more than 30% of country’s cultivable land, of which 98% coastal area is covered through tidal floodplains. The average crop yields are very low in these coastal belt areas, resulting from high salinity, land erosion, low soil fertility, and drought in the dry season.

It's getting hotter in here Climate change has become a threat to lives and the earth’s capacity to produce food. These effects are anticipated to get worse in future. Statistical data shows that every 1.8°F increase in average global surface temperature might decline to about 10% in yields of major grain crops, like- rice, barley, wheat etc. According to Food Planning and Monitoring Unit 2013 report, cyclones in the Bay of Bengal will ascend more frequently due to increasing temperature. Together with the peak intensity of cyclones may increase by 5% to 10%, which might reduce the crop production by 30%. Observed changes showed that 1.6 million acres of cropland and over 25% of the rice crop was damaged after cyclone SIDR. In addition, 96% of the livelihood in coastal area had been lost due to the cyclone, which totally hampered the economy of this region. Nearly 7392 acres of agricultural land had been lost by AILA in 2009. Soil salinity by storm surges makes widespread coastal areas unstable. Climate scientists agreed that salinity intrusion will likely worsen as changing rain patterns, which reduces the amount of dry season water supply from upstream river sources in coastal areas. Levels of salinity differ in different months of the year. During March-April the peak dry season, salinity occurs in maximum level, which is in minimum level in July-August after the onset of monsoon rain. In addition, the climatic feature of Bangladesh is bracketed by a hot-humid summer and a dry winter. So local farmers in coastal areas has to device a sustainable, low-input, risk-aversion type of mixed farming to attain a minimum food security in face of climate change. As a means of tackling this challenge, Islamic Relief Bangladesh has been implementing a technical approach, Farmers Field Laboratory (FFL) in both coastal and haor areas of Bangladesh. FFL is a modern coping strategy, adopted by the local farmers to thwart the impacts of climate variability and change. Generally, FFL is an extension approach through which farmers can test a new crop technology with diversifying their knowledge and skill. The main aim of the FFL is to improve coping strategies by piloting innovative agricultural practice in hard to reach areas of Bangladesh.

Barley bounty Barley yield is possible only in certain localities in Bangladesh, and it’s considered as minor crops because of its smaller amount of production (about 0.10%). Its production can be increased by 50% along with pulse and oil seed crops, which will provide a better balanced diet. The yield of barley is influenced by the rainfall and temperature. From statistics it was observed that for 19 years, the average yield of barley is 897.2 kg/ha because during 1980-1994 the seasonal rainfall below average and seasonal temperature above average. Following Farmers Field Laboratory, the production of barley can be increased about 15-25%, which was 5-10% in 1990. Barley is a stress tolerant and saline adaptive crop suitable for coastal area. Local farmers said that the harvesting time of barley is early November in winter season, free from salinity intrusion. Soil can be protected from dusting and exposing to sun light through barley production. It doesn’t require much irrigation to yield barley. If a proper water supply is ensured for irrigation next to storage from monsoon rainfall in existing canals and on-farm reservoirs a large barley production will be possible. Abdul Ahad, a local farmer narrated that, "Barley has good prospects for coastal area and it also provides economic improvement and sustainability to the local people.' Abdul Ahad also added "Barley cultivation requires timely fertiliser application. I invested only Tk4,000-5,000 on my land, which is approximately 32 decimals, and from this cultivation profit was about Tk3,000-3,500 after production cost. Farmers in Shyamnagar are getting interested in cultivating barley, discovering it as a profitable scheme for their economic fortification." The susceptibility of climate variability makes it unattainable for coastal people to meet their food indemnity. So, vulnerable people induced to climate change are constrained to build their own coping strategies and mechanisms to cope with the hazards affecting agricultural performance, and other factors adversely affecting their livelihood options. Following FFL with barley growth, the climate adaptive crop ensures the food security of coastal area in dry season. Successful barley production helps to minimise local people’s vulnerability of livelihood uncertainty in cropping season in context of climate change. Apart from this, barley is being used in poultry farms as alternative feed.

The writers work with Islamic Relief Bangladesh and can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]