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Bangladeshi farmers adapt to climate change


People on the banks of the Kopotakho River in southwest Bangladesh are learning to live with and adapt to climate change. Unaware of modern methods, they are using local knowledge to develop new farming methods and alternate income sources.

Dhaka: Although illiterate Bangladeshi villagers don’t know the climate change lingo, many have shown an awareness of the situation, using local knowledge to innovate and adapt to the natural changes.

Constant fighting with poverty and floods are a common reality of grassroots Bangladesh. Along with development challenges, preparing for and adapting to climate changes has been added to the burden of the rural poor.

The people of Vobodaho and Kashoppur in the Jessore district of southwest Bangladesh are continuously striving to deal with changes to their surroundings. Since 1960, the region’s nature has been affected by aggressive man-made changes, which have led to high salinity levels and arsenic pollution in waterways, and water logging of much of the land.

But unusual flooding patterns are now adding tremendous suffering in three parts of the district. Because of water logging, most of the crop land in this rural area is now underwater. Farmers cannot cultivate as they normally would.

A farmer’s resilience

Samsur Rahman Shaq, one affected farmer, is going forward with incessant efforts. He and his family welcome new farming systems. Dap chas (floating gardens), duck rearing, fishing, and other alternative farming methods are now popular in his area.

Rahman Shaq has become an expert on making floating gardens, and his wife on duck rearing.

Rahman Shaq explains his experiences: “In this Chatga village, catastrophic flooding has been happening since 2000. Before, we never faced such serious flood. The first time flood came here, we enjoyed huge catches of fish in flooded water. We never thought the water would be logged here permanently. As the water did not return, huge water hyacinth started sprouting up in this Kopotakho River.”

Hyacinth covered the whole water surface. Boats could not run and the water became fully useless – even for fishing.

One day the villagers from neighboring Gupalgong showed Rahman Shaq and the others in Chatga how to cultivate on the floating hyacinth dap (bed).

“At first we did not believe it was possible. First year we were surprised to see excellent harvesting – particularly different type of vegetables without any pesticide and fertiliser on the floating garden. And the vegetables grown on the dap were tastier than normal vegetables.

“After this experience, floating cultivation became popular in this area. Now we don’t have hostility with hyacinth,” says Rahman.

“After this experience, floating cultivation became popular in this area. Now we don’t have hostility with hyacinth,” says Rahman.But because Rahman Shaq’s regular crop fields were now all underwater, he didn’t have sufficient income. His wife, Anowara Begam, helped them break through the suffering. She is now rearing ducks confidently with a small investment.

Anowara Begam says: “Our family has been rearing ducks on a large scale since 2003. Samadan NGO (nongovernmental organisation) taught us how we could properly rear ducks. They gave us good species of ducklings. Before this flood we had 75 ducks but now [we] only have 35. Forty ducks were washed away during the flood. Now my husband doesn’t have specific income, but by the income from duck rearing we are now running well our family.”

Inspiration to others

The story of Rahman Shaq’s family creates inspiration to the villages and relatives whose crop land has become water land. Before 2000 this family was economically solvent.

Over the first three years of flooding they became poor to poorer; even their house and assets were washed away. There was no hope. But the floating garden and duck rearing nowadays increases their confidence for sustainability.

How is the climate changing in this part of Bangladesh? Rahman Shaq answers: “[Over the] last ten years the climate has abruptly changed here. Before, we could not understand the changes, but now [we are] facing so many difficulties, [and] many new diseases also.”

While visiting his waterlogged land by boat, Rahman Shaq explains the climate changes.

“Even my forefathers can’t remember flooding on this scale. That’s why we set up home here. If I’d known growing up that there was such a risk of flooding I would never have built a house here. Now half of the year [there’s] nothing [we] can do – we cannot cultivate; but before we did three times per year.

“Each year the water level is rising, [and the] duration of water logging also is increasing. In 2000, our homes were flooded for 14 days. In 2003 it was a month. I fear this year the flood waters will stay for six months. It is now expected in [the] near future, we may be flooded for [the] whole year.”

In this way the inhabitants on the bank of the Kopotakho River are living with and adapting to climate change. And they are using local knowledge in other ways to prepare for more disruptions.

To protect from storms like Cyclone Sidr, which killed thousands of Bangladeshis in November, house structures have been reinforced with the help of local NGOs. Within limited abilities, rural dwellers are making preparations and adapting spontaneously to face flooding each year. They try to make their homes as water-tight as possible. They put wood for cooking up in the roof or somewhere dry. They store dried foods to eat during floods.


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