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Farmer Dilip Chandra Tarafdar is busy cultivating ‘Charulata’ paddy in his paddy exhibition plot. Photo taken from Chandipur village in Shyamnagar upazila of Satkhira district. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Montu - Photo: 2024

Bangladesh Farmers Are Protecting Paddy Cultivation from Climate Risks

By Rafiqul Islam Montu

SHYAMNAGAR (SATKHIRA), Bangladesh | 11 February 2024 (IDN) — The new variety of paddy is ‘Charulata’. This paddy is salinity tolerant, can withstand normal winds, and yields well without fertilisers and pesticides. It is effortless to save seeds from this paddy. Due to these reasons, ‘Charulata’ paddy spreads quickly from one farmer to another. Many people are now planting this paddy. This rice seed has been extended to many more farmers in the last season. The yield has also been good.

Dilip Chandra Tarafdar, 45, a farmer from Chandipur village in Shyamnagar upazila (or administrative division) of Satkhira district on the southwest coast of Bangladesh, has developed this disaster-tolerant rice variety: Charulata monsoon season paddy. Planting of this paddy starts from the last week of June, and the yield of this paddy comes in November-December.

Tarafdar himself has faced many crises while planting paddy. The top of the paddy would dry out due to excess salinity in this area. The disaster caused extensive damage to the paddy. As a result, the expected yield was not obtained. There were losses in paddy cultivation every year. Subsequently, he took the initiative to deal with this crisis. He invented a new disaster-tolerant variety of rice through the cross-breeding method of two local varieties of paddy.

Why is it necessary to invent new varieties of rice? Tarafdar said: “At one time, our ancestors used to plant paddy in the fields. Then, they would go to cut the paddy after ripening. In the meanwhile, they had no other work in the paddy field. But we face many problems after planting paddy—problems with rising water, problems with strong winds. There is an infestation of insects. We have developed a new method of cross-breeding to bring back the disaster-tolerant varieties of paddy planted by our ancestors. I am getting the expected result.”

What is the difference between this newly invented rice and the conventional variety? “This rice can survive in waterlogging and salt water. The tip of this rice is very hard. As a result, this rice can withstand strong winds. Shyamnagar is a disaster-prone area. So, this paddy is quite suitable for this area. The yield of this paddy is up to 840 kg per 33 decimal lands. In contrast, the yield of conventional varieties of paddy in the same amount of land is not more than 400 kg. That is why this paddy is becoming popular among the farmers,” Tarafdar added.

Agricultural planting at disaster risk

Like Dilip Chandra Tarafdar, farmers in this region face multiple obstacles with paddy cultivation. Groundwater in the area is saline. Therefore, paddy cannot be cultivated in the Boro season (dry). In the ‘Aman’ season (monsoon), they incur losses by planting conventional varieties of paddy. He faced various problems in cultivating that paddy. Seeds bought from the market do not germinate well. Paddy fields often do not yield well, even with adequate fertilisers and pesticides. After two or three years of cultivation, the quality of seeds stored at home is not good.

Enamul Haque, Shyamnagar Upazila Agriculture Officer, said: “Farmers in this disaster-prone area have done a great job in preserving local rice seeds and inventing rice varieties. Their work is helping to sustain agriculture in the face of disasters. Several varieties of rice invented by the farmers have been sent to the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. It takes at least ten years to get results from there.”

Farmers in Shyamnagar and other upazilas on the southwest coast of Bangladesh say that natural disasters are a big problem for them regarding paddy cultivation. Due to frequent cyclones and increasing salinity, many farmers have moved away from farming. After Cyclone Ayla in 2009, salinity in the land increased. As a result, many farmers need help cultivating the land. Cyclone Sidr in 2007 and Cyclone Amphan in 2020 have caused severe damage to crops in the area. But at one time, the land in this area was very good with different types of crops, including paddy.

The land types of Koyra, Dakop and Paikgachha in Khulna district and Asashuni and Shyamnagar in Satkhira have changed. According to a study by the international organisation Practical Action, in two decades from 1995 to 2015, the agricultural land of these five upazilas has decreased by 78 thousand 17 acres. The land for saltwater-based shrimp farming has increased by 1 lakh 13 thousand 69 acres.

According to the World Bank’s ‘River Salinity and Climate Change Evidence from Coastal Bangladesh’, by 2050, river water in ten out of 148 upazilas in 19 districts of the region will be affected by excessive salinity. These are Shyamnagar, Asashuni and Kaliganj of Satkhira district, Batiaghata, Dakop, Dumuria, Koyra, Paikgachha of Khulna district, Mongla of Bagerhat district and Kalapara upazila of Patuakhali district.

Climate expert Dr. Ainun Nishat, a member of the research team of the World Bank, said: “The river water in this region is gradually becoming salty. Saltwater intrusion and flooding are causing havoc. People will migrate if the land is not made cultivable. The land use of this region should be changed now. Developing salinity tolerant varieties and their rapid access to farmers and extension of improved technologies.”

According to the data of the Soil Resources Research Institute (SRDI), nearly 89 per cent of the arable land in Khulna is saline land. Besides, there is a severe shortage of irrigation water during the dry season due to the severity of salt water, resulting in some of the coastal areas remaining uncultivated. Due to increased salinity, coastal area inhabitants are forced to move away from agriculture.

Farmers have taken the initiative to save paddy seeds to protect paddy cultivation from climate change and natural calamities. They are inventing different rice varieties through breeding methods as per their requirement.

Farmers have become ‘rice scientists’ for their own needs

Hayabatpur is a village very close to Shyamnagar Upazila Sadar. Sheikh Sirajul Islam, a farmer from this village, has set up a rice research centre in his house. Here, different varieties of rice are developed through cross-breeding. They are trying to make a variety of ‘Dhanshi’ suitable for cultivation by cross-breeding with other rice. Earlier, he had produced two more varieties of paddy called ‘Sohag-4’ and ‘Seba’ paddy.

Local varieties have been set up at the office of Bangladesh Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge or BARCIK, a non-government research organisation in Shyamnagar. The organisation provides technical assistance to farmers storing rice seeds and developing rice varieties. BARCIK says farmers have developed 35 varieties of rice. Most of it is still in the field-testing phase. About 200 varieties of local rice seeds have been preserved. A “seed bank” has been set up to help farmers.

Sushant Mandal, 38, a farmer from Deula village in Shyamnagar upazila, said: “At one time, there was a good yield of paddy in this area. We have saved most of the farmer’s annual food from agricultural cultivation.” [IDN-InDepthNews]

Photo: Farmer Dilip Chandra Tarafdar is busy cultivating ‘Charulata’ paddy in his paddy exhibition plot. The photo was taken from Chandipur village in Shyamnagar upazila of Satkhira district. Credit: Rafiqul Islam Montu

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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