Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Protecting agricultural lands from heatwaves and urbanization

Bangladesh must enhance its legislative strategy for climate adaptation and agricultural land preservation

Update : 07 May 2024, 08:31 AM

The severe heat wave that has gripped Bangladesh in 2024 serves as a poignant reminder of how critical it is to address the interconnected issues of urbanization and climate change that threaten cultivable land. Preserving these territories is crucial for the region's economic stability and ensuring the indigenous inhabitants' well-being and nutritional security. 

Agriculture, which employs most rural residents and contributes considerably to Bangladesh's GDP, faces challenges from various sources. As per the World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal, agriculture contributes to 16.5% of the country's GDP and supports the livelihoods of almost 87% of the rural people. However, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has identified a concerning pattern: From 2000 to 2010, around 68,000 hectares of land suitable for farming were converted for non-agricultural purposes. This indicates an urgent requirement for strong legal safeguards.

The ongoing heat wave intensifies the susceptibility of this industry, straining crops and endangering harvests. Not only does this threaten food security, but it also puts the health and economic prosperity at risk for millions. Legal measures like the Agricultural Land Preservation Act (ALPA) are crucial for these issues. Section 5 of the ALPA prohibits converting agricultural land for industrial or residential use without Ministry of Land approval. This clause has harsh penalties for infractions, including fines and land reversion to agrarian status. 

The Wetland Conservation Act of 2000 and the Environment Conservation Act of 1995 provide additional backing to agricultural land by mandating environmental impact studies for any undertaking that could potentially harm these regions.

Sections 8 and 9 of the Wetland Conservation Act of 2000 establish Wetland Conservation Areas, where complex environmental impact studies and Wetland Conservation Authority clearance are required for land use changes. Section 12 of the Environment Conservation Act of 1995 requires an EIA for any project that may harm the environment, including agricultural land. The Act allows the Department of Environment to oversee all agriculture-related operations to ensure agricultural productivity. 

These actions are essential for preserving ecological equilibrium and ensuring the long-term sustainability of agricultural activities. 

International examples

Japan and the Netherlands provide examples of successful agricultural land preservation, even in the face of challenges posed by high population density and industrial development. Agricultural preservation laws, spatial planning, and farming techniques were used to accomplish this. Under the Dutch Spatial Planning Act, cities must prepare spatial plans to protect agricultural land from urban sprawl and non-agricultural development. Section 3.1 allows local governments to prohibit and ban agricultural building and development under Section 3.6 to enforce these plans -- Section 14 safeguards spatial plan-exempt agrarian zones. 

From 2000 to 2010, around 68,000 hectares of land suitable for farming were converted for non-agricultural purposes

For example, Bangladesh could adopt the frameworks established by the Dutch Atrial Planning Act and the UK's "green belts" creation under the Town and Country Planning Act. These countries exemplify the feasibility of achieving a harmonious equilibrium between development and the preservation of agriculture through precise spatial planning and regulatory safeguards. 

Furthermore, cutting-edge agricultural techniques like vertical farming might increase productivity without extending into further territories. Examples from countries such as Singapore have demonstrated the transformative potential of these technologies in agriculture, enhancing their ability to withstand and adapt to climate-related challenges like persistent heat waves. 

Agriculture comprises approximately 70% of the overall land area in the United Kingdom, according to data from the government, as of 2021, agricultural land constitutes 44.36% of the total land area in the United States. In contrast, it is noteworthy that China has consistently devoted a relatively larger area of land (55.46%) to agricultural uses, as stated in 2021. 

Given these international instances and the urgent menace of climate change, Bangladesh must enhance its legislative strategy. Enforcing accurate zoning regulations and allocating certain areas exclusively for agricultural use is crucial. Providing financial incentives to landowners for the upkeep of farmland and community participation activities could promote a shared sense of responsibility for preserving land. Bangladesh has accepted numerous international accords that affect its land preservation policies. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands promotes conservation and intelligent use and applies to the country's agriculture. Bangladesh strengthens its commitment to global environmental standards and local agricultural sustainability by incorporating Ramsar Convention rules into national laws. 

The government must include climate adaptation tactics into agricultural methods to tackle the difficulties presented by rising temperatures and unpredictable weather patterns. By implementing these steps, Bangladesh can guarantee its agriculture's long-term viability and protect its population's well-being and economic prospects. 

Implementing and strengthening current regulations, such as ALPA and various environmental legislation, is essential to safeguarding agricultural land. Bangladesh must improve its legal and institutional frameworks to mitigate the effects of the present heat wave on agriculture and address the continuing challenges posed by urbanization. Bangladesh can safeguard its agricultural history and guarantee food security for future generations by adopting global best practices and fostering innovation within its agricultural sector, even in the face of climate change and industrial expansion. 

Md Fahmedul Islam Dewan is a Lecturer at the Department of Law, World University of Bangladesh and an Alumni of the prestigious DLA Piper Global Scholarship Program.

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