-Shanjida Khan Ripa
Agriculture sector is the worst victim of increasing frequency of disasters’, causing untold sufferings and threats to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and their food security. The impacts of natural disasters on rural agriculture and livelihoods damage household economy, food and nutrition security, health, and push them towards massive poverty and hunger.
Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-biggest rice producer. According to the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, nearly 75 percent of croplands in Bangladesh of which 8.57 million hectares of arable lands are used for rice cultivation. About 48% of households or about 13 million rural families are employed in the agriculture sector where about 80 percent of people live in rural areas.
Asia's largest delta Bangladesh is a natural disaster-prone country by default. Cyclone, floods, river erosion, etc. are the common features here, but due to the adverse effects of climate change, the 'intensity and frequency' of natural disasters have increased in the recent past. The prevalence of heavy rainfall, floods, extreme temperature, and droughts have slowly changed the cropping patterns also; and reducing crop production, irrigation water, land use, which ultimately affects the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers and they are continuously trying to fight against the consequences.
Super cyclonic storm Amphan rushed into the coastal regions of Bangladesh on 20th May this year has crippled the agriculture sector of Bangladesh again. The cyclone caused severe damages to seasonal fruits like mango and litchi, also to Boro and Aus paddy, jute, betel leaf, soybean, vegetables, etc. According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, the cyclone Amphan has damaged 1 hundred and 6 thousand hectares of agricultural land in 26 districts of the country. The embankment in the coastal area has collapsed and houses of many farmers have been submerged by the impact of Amphan. Cattles have died. Saltwater has entered the croplands and it has become unsuitable for cultivation. The farmers have suffered an irreparable loss.
Mango farmers of Satkhira district were waiting forcollecting the matured mangoes within a few days which got knocked off the trees due to the mighty cyclone Amphan. About 80 percent of mango orchards in the Satkhira region have been destroyed. Other vegetable fields have also been severely damaged. The cyclone has breached at least 50 embankments on the rivers of Satkhira coast and flooded more than 100 villages. The number of affected farmers is 1 lakh 5 thousand 870 only in Satkhira.
Kamala Rani Munda, a marginal indigenous woman farmer of Shyamnagar upazila of Satkhira, cultivated different varieties of vegetables on about 0.33 hectares land. But the cyclone Amphan has caused severe damage and dealt a double blow to her hopes of living. Saltwater entered the field and have ruined all her vegetables due to the breakage of weak dams by storm and surge. Earlier, in November last year, cyclone Bulbul had also damaged her crops badly. Frustrated Kamala Rani said, “I started cultivating vegetables again this year with new hopes lending money from the local moneylender. The vegetables were spoiled by saltwater exactly when it started to grow.”
In last year, crops of 5.32 lakh hectares were destroyed in 28 districts by the flood (Daily Star: July 29, 2019). Besides, Bangladesh has experienced two floods in 2017— a sudden flash flood during late March to mid-April in the North-Eastern region affected people living in the haor basin and low-lying areas and their only crop in a year. The Haor basin region in Bangladesh comprising of Netrokona, Sunamganj, Brahmanbaria, Moulvibazar, Habiganj, and Sylhet districts usually cultivates one Boro paddy crop in a year. The damage only for the Sunamganj district in the Haor area was 80-90% of its Boro paddy harvest as consequences of an unexpected flash flood about three weeks before the harvesting period. And another monsoon flood in late June affected 32 more districts of Bangladesh. The two rounds of floods have inundated croplands, damaged rice production, and caused serious miseries for people in affected areas, particularly for the marginalized farmers and lowest income groups.
Presently agricultural production, harvesting, marketing, etc. are in peril due to the recent crisis of COVID- 19 pandemic. As a result, rural farmers have to pay the ultimate price to face these challenges. Even the export of agricultural products has been severely affected due to the closure of air communication during the lockdown period. The global economic downturn and epidemics have appeared simultaneously as effects of the rise of Coronavirus. It has changed the way of life of the whole world. It also halted the country's economic activities; stagnated all kinds of productions and marketing; and restricted the mobility of people and transportation also. Consequently, the livelihoods of more than 50 million people in the informal sector are now at stake. They are moving towards the village leaving cities with an uncertain future and untold miseries as their earnings have certainly geared down. Besides, a large number of Bangladeshi migrant workers have returned from different countries after losing their jobs. Moreover, the economic recession during the Corona period is changing the classes among the societies, as a result, the number of low-income and extremely poor people are increasing significantly. Many experts opined that agriculture will be the main driving force to overcome the economic downturn in the future. The government has taken initiatives to support the returnees by arranging loans to enable them to pursue viable economic activities, especially in the agriculture sector.
Generally, farmers in Bangladesh do not get a fair price even in normal situations though the government fixed the market price of paddy and rice. Mostly farmers invest in farming taking loans from local NGOs or other moneylenders and are forced to sell rice early even at a loss to pay back loans. The nexus of unscrupulous middlemen and private rice millers are responsible for market manipulation which results in farmers’ miseries. An artificial crisis has been created by this group, so farmers sell paddy at a low price and millers make a huge gain by selling rice. Small landless farmers are getting frustrated by incurring continuous losses instead of profit from the only source of livelihood for their family.
On one hand, they’re deprived by the millers and traders who control the rice market and on the other hand, the climate shows its wildness upon the agriculture-dependent marginalized lives. There is no doubt that the challenges to agriculture and our food security will rise continuously due to the hostile effects of the global climate. Therefore, it is pivotal to give utmost importance and special attention to the rural economy and food production for sustaining of the farmers, agro-economies, and ensure the food security of the country. A fast and robust approach is required to deal with such a crisis to save the smallholder farmers and to ensure the economic vibrancy in rural areas.
Shanjida Khan Ripa works at the Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD)
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