Harvesting rainwater for sustainable agriculture in the High Barind Tract


Drought like situation has been one of the biggest enemies of farmers in Bangladesh. The country has a record of drought spells. In 1999, Bangladesh suffered the longest drought in 50 years, with more than four months without rain; and in 2010, the country recorded its lowest rainfall since 1995. In the recent past, droughts were more frequent in Bangladesh than in the past because of climate change (NDMC, 2006) and it appears in every five years.
Each year about 0.45 Mha of land is affected by very severe drought during rabi season whereas 0.40 and 0.34 Mha are affected during pre-kharif and kharif seasons, respectively (Yu et al, 2010). High Barind Tract is among the severely drought affected area since time immemorial.
Drought caused by inadequate rainfall is the most important climatic anomaly which has impacted agricultural production in HBT. Occurrence of droughts is an annual event like floods. Drought is most widespread and damaging of all environmental stresses, affecting rainfed rice in the HBT.
Drought prevails during pre-kharif, late-kharif, and rabi season. Because of an increase in area under irrigation and introduction of new crop varieties, the impact of drought has reduced to some extent. However, droughts will be more frequent and more intense in Bangladesh due to climate change that will also aggravate the scarcity of water.
High Barind Tract is flood free zone. Low rainfall and unpredictable climatic condition make agriculture difficult here. The Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) has long been trying to increase irrigation coverage through installation of deep tube-wells.

However, installation of numerous deep tube-wells could not ensure production of crops as farmers are not able to pay for irrigation as well as certain difficulties, specific to HBT including depletion of groundwater, and those are of concern for sustainability of crop production. Considering the constraints of HBT, rainwater harvesting for crop production in the HBT could be a sustainable solution. It is expected that use of rainwater will save farmers’ money as well as increase production.
Rainwater harvesting (RWH) is a method of inducing, collecting, storing, and conserving local surface runoff for agricultural production. Farmers in water scarce areas like HBT face difficulties in agricultural production due to unavailability of water at right time and in right amount.
Rainwater harvesting can be effectively used by farmers to overcome the hardships of nature. Use of rainwater harvesting for agriculture is common as a result of the irregular nature of rains in many countries and is widely practiced in areas where there is irregularity in seasonal rains. Rainwater harvesting technology helps to store water in rainy seasons, for usage, during the drought period.
Amount of rainfall in HBT is less, around 1200-1400mm per year, which is the lowest among all areas of Bangladesh. This area is characterised by delayed arrival of seasonal rain (mid-May) and early withdrawal (mid-October).
Main rainy seasons cover only four months (June to September). However, in most cases less rainfall is observed in most of the years which is insufficient than required. Due to elevation and distance from rivers, main source of groundwater recharge in HBT area is rainfall.
Nature of soil surface restricts percolation of surface water into the ground and increases surface runoff; as a result groundwater recharge is less in HBT. Due to continuous withdrawal of water for irrigation, groundwater level is continuously falling by years. Scientists therefore recommended less use of groundwater for irrigation in this area to maintain the groundwater table within suction limit. Therefore, the only alternative is rainwater. ­

The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has recommended rainwater harvesting back in 1993 for High Barind Tract (HBT). On-farm research division of BARI published “Harvesting rain water for crop production in dissected Barind tract” with research results and recommendations of specific technologies. The research suggested excavation of mini pond for irrigation to increase farm income. According to the research, mini pond can increase profit up to 23% from the same piece of land. Only a small portion of land (2.5%) is sufficient for storing rainwater to provide irrigation if crops are selected carefully, according to the BARI study. To avoid land degradation caused by improper cultivation in terrace land and higher rate of groundwater depletion in HBT, proper initiatives should be undertaken. Coordinated efforts should be taken. Recently, Bangladesh government has also reached a position to avoid groundwater for irrigation in the HBT. Government has imposed a ban on installation of new DTW in HBT. Motivational package is being offered by the government to avoid cultivation of irrigation intensive boro rice in the area. According to its mandate, the BMDA have to take the lead and coordinate all activities in the Barind area. BMDA’s mission, vision, and objectives are very clear in this regard. The major development priority of BMDA, particularly concerning the development of agriculture, include augmentation of surface water resources and its use, installation of deep tube-wells to facilitate irrigation using groundwater, re-excavation of ponds/khal for pisciculture development and irrigation, afforestation to achieve environmental and ecological balance, etc. It should be noted that the number one objective of BMDA is to increase irrigation facilities through use of surface water. The organisation is working in this regard. BMDA re-excavated 42 khals during 2015-2016 financial year. The first Barind Agro-eco Innovation Research Platform Conference held on January 29, 2017 organised by BMDA suggested low cost preservation technologies of rainwater harvesting. Scientists in the conference have cautioned regarding the danger of ground water depletion and recommended policy planning needs for small holder irrigation water use. It is therefore expected that the BMDA will take the lead to increase surface water use through promotion of rainwater harvesting technologies. National Agricultural Research System (NARS) organisations shall continue research to find out new technologies to ensure water efficiency and will continue sharing knowledge with BMDA. The initiative of Agro-eco Innovation Research Platform by BMDA can be used for knowledge sharing and technology transfer for sustainable development in the HBT.

Solar-powered irrigation revolutionising Bangladeshi agriculture


Only last year, farmers from the border village of Haibatpur in Jhenaidah had to spend Tk2,000 for irrigating each bigha – one-third of an acre – of land with conventional diesel or electric water pumps every season. But things changed when they used solar-powered water pumps – the costs were cut down by nearly three-fourths.
“I never imagined that I would be able to irrigate without using electric or diesel-run water pumps. The solar-powered irrigation system has cut the production cost down by more than 50%,” Shakhawat Ullah, a farmer in Haibatpur, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Shakhawat says he earns about Tk1 lakh on an average annually from his six-bigha plot by cultivating multiple crops. He expects his earning to go up by 50% this year as the production cost came down, thanks to the new water pumps.
In March, BASE Technologies Ltd, in collaboration with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), launched Solar Irrigation Project in the village at the cost of Tk20 lakh. It was a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and part of BASE’s sustainable agricultural development programme.
The 7.5 horsepower solar pump can irrigate 30 bighas. About 100 farmers are reaping direct benefits of the project.
Farmers of Haibatpur Krishi Unnayan Samabay Samity (agricultural development cooperative society) say they hope to have a good harvest in the coming winter, which is practically a dry season in the region.
The solar-powered pump can supply up to 70,000 litres of water every day. It has substantially reduced the total irrigation cost of the farmers from Tk1,000 to less than Tk350 per session.
“With proper expertise, efficient solar irrigation systems can be developed to deliver water to even the most difficult irrigation terrains or locations in the country,” said a senior official of BASE Technologies Ltd.
According to the World Bank, 1,340,000 diesel pumps and 270,000 electric pumps are used for irrigation. Every year, diesel pumps consume one million tons of diesel costing $900 million.
Enamul Karim Pavel, head of renewable energy department of Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (IDCOL), said one of the most feasible forms of renewable energy can be availed through solar-powered irrigation pumps.
Haibatpur agriculture development cooperative society members said diesel-run pumps were cheaper than solar-powered ones, but their operating costs were quite high and depended largely on diesel prices.
“Solar-powered pumps, on the other hand, are relatively expensive but the source of energy is free, and there is no other operating costs except the maintenance,” said Mofijul Haque, president of the cooperative.
Enamul Karim noted that the solar-powered irrigation system had a high potential value in terms of sustainability benefits to agronomy.
“With solar power, we can easily decrease dependency on fossil fuel,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
According to him, about 1.5 million conventional pumps can be replaced by solar pumps. Each solar pump can replace four to five diesel-run pumps and can cover more than 60 bighas of land, he said.
“Using an independent and alternative energy system can be a solution for the farmers as solar power is one of the best climate change adaptation and mitigation measure in agriculture,” he added.

Climate finance brings sustainability to the agricultural sector

A necessity for the vulnerable sector

Bangladesh is recognized as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change because of its geographical location and socio-demographic features. Agriculture is the most significant economic sector in Bangladesh. Despite Bangladesh’s remarkable achievement in improving agricultural productivity, the sector is facing risk from climate change, extreme weather events, and sea level rise to address the adverse impact of climate change on agriculture. Climate change is expected to decrease Bangladesh’s agriculture GDP by 3.1 % each year (World Bank). For example, the damage from climate change effect in 2007 and 2009 cyclones were estimated at around 2 million metric tons of rice, which is enough to feed 10 million people.  Transforming the agricultural sector and building resilience will not be possible if there is no significant amount of capital available for climate-smart investments in agriculture. Moreover, robust financial investments are needed to support the global food system.

Climate finance plays a pivotal role by supporting developing countries to reduce emissions, decarbonize their economies. Climate finance in agricultural sector innovates ways to use climate finance to improve and increases access to finance for smallholder farmers in the agricultural sector while delivering positive outcomes namely increased resilience and reduced emissions intensity. The smallholder farmers are the most vulnerable vast majority of farmers who have little or no capacity to adapt, lack a safety net, and are highly exposed threat in their livelihood and food security risks.

Bangladesh is among the largest recipients of climate funds from International Finance Corporation, World Bank mostly for adaptation in the agricultural sector. Climate finance budget allocation for the Ministry of Agriculture in 2018-19 is Tk13,915 crore where climate-relevant allocation is 39 percent (Finance Division, Ministry of Finance). Adaptations to climate change for agricultural sectors include: resilient variety crops, new and diverse cropping pattern, irrigation techniques, sustainable land management, early warning systems, new research. In this case, climate finance acts as a remedy as it helps to adopt many strategies to cope with the existing situations and those expected to impact the country in the future.

Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) mainly focuses on the promotion of agricultural practises focusing on floating gardens, community-based adaptation, advocacy for climate change adaptation measures, coastline and flood defences. Bangladeshi agricultural scientists have encouraged adopting new technologies and developing climate-smart crop varieties, as a means to diversify the agrarian practices of subsistence farmers. Due to the fund, many farmers are reporting experiencing increasing bumper yields. Thus through the use of new practices and new technologies climate change finance has, for now, improved the situation for some farmers.

Examples of adaptation for the agriculture sector

Floating Gardens are a process used in many regions during the monsoon season, ingenious farmers create their floating seedbeds and grow plants on floating gardens. Hydroponics system in Bangladesh, based on floating gardens, was recognized in December 2014 by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) for innovation, sustainability, and adaptability. Farmers in some parts of the country where flood waters can remain for a prolonged period have developed floating gardens in which plants can grow on the water on floating organic beds of water hyacinth, algae and other plant residues. This environmentally friendly traditional cultivation technique utilizes the natural resources of wetlands to grow vegetables and other crops almost all year round, providing numerous social, economic, agricultural, and ecological benefits to the local population. It helps the farmers to cope with the situation.

Sunflower oil production is recently introduced as a quality-based oilseed crop and is gaining popularity among local farmers because of its easy extraction method. Sunflower is categorised as a low to medium drought sensitive crop. The cultivation of sunflower may be suitable in the coastal environment because of its high yield and wide adaptability. In 16 districts of Bangladesh, sunflower oil is being harvested, and the average production is about 1.2t/ha, which is relatively encouraging.

Shrimp farming is a relatively new form of agriculture introduced in Bangladesh on a commercial scale. Shrimp can cultivation is possible in both brackish and freshwater. Currently, shrimp fish cultivation is widespread throughout the coastal region and Bangladesh produces more than 2.5 % of the global production of shrimp and has become the seventh largest exporter of shrimp to the Japanese and USA markets.

Rainwater harvesting is a method of inducing, collecting, storing, and conserving local surface runoff for agricultural production. Farmers in water-scarce areas face difficulties in agricultural output due to unavailability of water at the right time and in the right amount. It is expected that the use of rainwater will save farmers’ money as well as increase production. Rainwater harvesting can be effectively used by farmers to overcome the hardships of nature. The method of rainwater harvesting for agriculture is standard as a result of the irregular nature of rain in many countries and is widely practised in areas where there is an irregularity in seasonal rains. Rainwater harvesting technology help store water in the rainy seasons, for usage, during the drought period.

Agriculture is the most vulnerable sector as its productivity depends on climatic factors like temperature, rainfall, light intensity, radiation and sunshine duration, which are predicted to become increasingly erratic. The number of climate change induced disasters has and will continue to increase over the coming years. Therefore, climate finance mechanisms have the potential to continue to strengthen the links between financial institutions and smallholder farmers by addressing some of the critical financial-sector constraints on agriculture.

Agriculture and climate change: A dangerous synergy


The underlying interesting question for each field is to understand the common point of interaction between climate and agriculture commodities production to develop a coherent regulation in both fields

Agriculture is one of those hybrid activities that suffer greatly from the impacts of climate change but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through its various practices and crop production. However, it’s a vital sector for our food security and presents also many mitigation opportunities with the advancement of crop production technologies.

There is no doubt that science is playing a major role in monitoring and combating climate change, however other instruments are equally important to successful climate change impact management such as law, control instruments or market-based tools, the latest being often used in agriculture.

Likewise, climate change law is still in its formative years, agricultural law is a relatively new legal field of development that appeared in recent years with concern overproduction, food security and consumer well being. As such it’s a law that governs the whole food supply chain, which means issues affecting farming such as use and regulation of fertilizer, pesticides, land use, patents for new seeds but also marketing and sales of the products.

However, the focus remains the agricultural production which can be defined as the best use of available resources to grow crops in the most efficient ways. Thus, focus on growing plants and raising livestock, it is bound to meet the question of climate change impact and climate change law, from both adaptation and mitigation approaches.

Therefore, the underlying interesting question for each field is to understand the common point of interaction between climate and agriculture commodities production to develop a coherent regulation in both fields.

It is indeed essential to understand how climate impacts; changing rainfall patterns, weather patterns, emerging patterns for pest behaviour, weather borne diseases, droughts effect on soil quality and the capacity of growing crops to adapt to those drastic new environmental conditions.

More than ever, food security is bound to the future risk that climate change poses and an appropriate legal response will be necessary, alongside technology development, to ensure food for today and tomorrow.

Indeed, food security relies on four pillars: the first three one considers the availability of food, access to available food (from an economic point of view) and third one access to nutritious food (quality of consumed food for the overall health of a person).

The overarching pillar allowing those three other pillars of food security to exist and develop is linked to sustainability: in other words, our capacity to still produce agriculture commodities and the pressing question of knowing how much food we will need and understanding if we will be able to respond to this need within the new planetary conditions.

Thus, climate impacts threaten the sustainability of the foundation of our food security system by affecting our ability to continue agricultural activities. The decline in global and local food supplies will affect the livelihood of many and put the most vulnerable again at greater risk of malnutrition.

Understanding and being able to manage the risk that we see today and predict the future risk that climate change will bring to our food system and consumption patterns should be at the heart of current science and legal agricultural research and development. Indeed, reducing the uncertainty that climate change poses to crop production by improving access to climate services, information, innovation and understanding farmers decision-making when it comes to their crop care will be important for a successful adaptation and mitigation in the near foreseeable future.