Farmers in Bangladesh’s coastal region say a changing coastline, erratic rainfall, high temperatures and rising sea levels as a result of climate change pose a threat to the livelihoods of millions.
“I sowed lentils in 2022, but I was not able to harvest the crop as incessant rain wreaked havoc on my field during the chaitra [last] month of the Bengali calendar, which is the peak season of lentil cultivation,” says Makhen Rakhine, a 35-year-old Indigenous farmer in the coastal sub-district of Rangabali, part of Patuakhali district in south-central Bangladesh.
Makhen Rakhine hoped to make a good return on the crop she sows on an acre of leased land. But rains during the dry season in March and April 2023 wreaked havoc on her finances. In the past, Patuakhali district did not experience rains during the dry season.
But in recent years, rains are far more frequent, leaving farmers with heavy losses. Not only are they forced to change cropping patterns because of climatic variability, they say cyclones, salinity and tidal surges together deal a heavy blow to production.
A plague of rain and pests
In an interview with The Third Pole, Makhen Rakhine expresses worries about pests, which “are becoming more aggressive nowadays as their attacks damage crops”. Even pesticides have a limited effect, she tells The Third Pole.
Makhen Rakhine says farmers already battling financial hardships due to erratic weather patterns now have to spend more to produce crops due to the need to control pests and use greater amounts of fertiliser.
Salma Begum, a 40-year-old farmer from Rangabali, highlights a similar issue. Salma Begum’s rice and lentil crops planted with a farmers’ cooperative 2022 were damaged by pests and rains.
Farmers were forced to sow Aman [the country’s second most sown rice variety] two times this year, [as the] first time, the rice seedlings were damaged due to excessive rainfall. Pulse and watermelon cultivation gets hit hard during the dry season due to the lack of available fresh water.
Mahmud Hasan, chairman, Maududi Union
A 2022 study revealed that extreme temperatures and erratic rainfall resulted in increased pest attacks on rice crops. Furthermore, excessive salinity in the soil has forced farmers to increase the amount of fertiliser they use in paddy fields every year, resulting in the organic matter content in their fields deteriorating.
Mahmud Hasan, chairman of the local council for Maududi Union, a grassroots administrative unit in Rangabali, said the coastal region is now witnessing overall excessive rainfall during the monsoon and excessive drought during the dry season. The rainfall occurring in the dry season damages crops, but does not linger. In the coastal areas, a drought-like situation is created during the dry season due to the lack of fresh water.
“Farmers were forced to sow Aman [the country’s second most sown rice variety] two times this year, [as the] first time, the rice seedlings were damaged due to excessive rainfall. Pulse and watermelon cultivation gets hit hard during the dry season due to the lack of available fresh water,” he says.
During the winter, Hasan says, fresh groundwater levels drop drastically due to low rainfall, and that is why farmers are compelled to spend more money installing artificial water sources to irrigate their fields.
Growing climate disasters
Climate disasters are common in the coastal region of Bangladesh, which is prone to cyclones, floods and tidal surges, and saltwater intrusion. Almost every year, tropical cyclones and floods affect millions of coastal people, leading to loss of lives and massive damage to property.