As a consequence of rapid climate change, more parts of the country are turning into affected zones with untimely flash floods and sea levels rising. Several studies published in recent times reveal the extent to which climate change causes huge losses to Bangladesh in economic terms. The State-run Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services recently unveiled a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) with a required budget of $84 billion for the next 27 years to address the losses.
The NAP estimates that annual economic loss due to climate change takes 0.5 to 1% of GDP. And the amount would rise to 2 also by 2050. Evidently, the first shockwaves will hit agriculture-based professionals. How are they adapting to the changes?
The Business Standard talked to Gawher Nayeem Wahra, Member Secretary of the Foundation for Disaster Forum, to know more.
The current climate policy, known as the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP), was drafted in 2009. Why do we need a new adaptation plan?
The action plan has so far not been implemented properly. The kinds of research and advice needed to implement the plans have not been done. The research works lack people's engagement.
For an adaptation plan, you need to talk to people, particularly the climate victims. How could they adapt to the changes? The policymakers must know.
Climate change is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for hundreds of years and people adapted with slow changes. However, the concern is that the climate has been changing rapidly in recent years.
We can try to adapt to rapid climate changes, using scientific solutions. But there is no research to help climate victims get an effective solution. We don't clearly know what kind of adversities are coming in the future. We are still doing things in line with the old cyclical calendar. It also rains in winter now. Although it is useful for mango cultivation, it harms potato cultivation.
Given the changes in seasonal patterns, traditional agriculture has become challenging. So the farmers need to learn scientific solutions to adapt to the changes and minimise the economic losses. There should be action-oriented research.
Moreover, we should keep in mind some issues that are not directly linked to climate change. For example, farmers used to get two-thirds of the harvested crops while the land lessee got the rest. This was called Tebhaga. Tebhaga is no longer in practice.
Now the landowners collect the lease money in advance. If floods or any calamities damage the crop, only the farmers suffer the consequences. Ironically, they cannot avail of incentives or aid since they do not own the land and they can only register as a farmer if they own land.
In this case, how can the victim adapt to the calamities? They try to fetch a quick return. They try to minimise risk factors by applying excess fertiliser and pesticides which are toxic. By this practice, the land–a living entity–is losing its economic life.
The government is implementing a development plan that includes concrete infrastructures. How does that impact agriculture? We are losing croplands as well as the topsoil. This type of development plan does not match climate adaptation.
The idea of adaptation suggests that farmers build bonding with the land and then control the agricultural process. When there is no guarantee of a land lease in the coming season, how can they bond with the land?
Climate adaptation plans should consider these types of issues, including the rapid changes within our production system. Otherwise, no plan will be effective.
Do you think that the policymakers should take the local practices into account while planning climate adaptation and mitigation solutions?
People take to homegrown solutions quickly compared to imported ideas. However, the best local practices have not been accumulated here. It should be. Moreover, homegrown ideas need to be updated on a regular basis.
Practices native to certain areas may not work in other places. So research on local knowledge should be done with regular follow-ups. Unfortunately, this has not been emphasised either at the grassroots or policy level.
There is a flood forecasting mechanism in the country. But the farmers, who are among the worst victims of climate change, can yield little from the technology. Do you think that the government should address this?
The available flood forecasting system is okay. But the farmers need a warning mechanism.
What types of warning? Forecasting the rainfall; designated officers will warn farmers not to start cultivation of particular crops which are intolerant to stagnant water. Or the officers will warn the farmers that they should harvest crops and store those in safe places within a stipulated time. Or the farmers get proper guidance before choosing crop varieties for the next season.
Flood-prone zones have already been identified. Farmers there should be given the advice to cultivate flood-resilient crop varieties.
The neighbouring West Bengal government implements this kind of warning system with available technologies and workforce. It helps their farmers minimise the risk factors. We also have the required manpower and technologies. There are agricultural officers at every Upazila level. They have the knowledge to guide the farmers during critical times. The government should utilise them in disaster warning mechanisms because only using flood forecasting will not help the farmers minimise their losses.
A top official of an insurance company said that they don't feel interested in making agro insurance popular because of poor weather forecasting. What are your thoughts?
Is there any business sector that exists free of risks? Insurance companies may consider their business opportunities first. The question is who will pay the premiums for agro-based insurance? Farmers who have leased a cropland will not be able to pay the premium because they are not the landowners. On the other hand, the landowners will not pay the money because they don't cultivate crops. They take the lease money in advance. So they will not bother about the damage to crops.
After every disaster, the government provides relief. A significant amount of money is spent in the name of relief. If the relief were to be converted into an insurance premium for a few years, the affected farmers would no longer need the relief. Agro-insurance management is possible with the government fund.