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Adaptive cropping systems in Charlands will increase food production and farm income in Bangladesh

Scientists have tested and identified improved and climate smart crop varieties and cropping patterns for the Charlands of Bangladesh. These improved crop varieties and cropping patterns, based on several socioeconomic and environmental factors and suitability testing, will not only increase the overall crop production of Bangladesh, but also increase the agricultural and farm income, and improve the livelihoods of the people residing in those areas. 

The findings of the research were disseminated in a webinar titled “Rural livelihood, agricultural intensification, and climate change adaptation in the charlands of Bangladesh.” The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) have jointly implemented the Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research Program supported research project titled “Climate Change Adaptation of Rural Households in Charlands of Bangladesh. The project was funded by the National Academy of Science (NAS) and the USAID. 

The pilot project was carried out in the period between 2018 to 2021 at Char Ganai, Kaunia under Rangpur district and Char Saula, Bauphal under Patuakhali district. The main research activities were to understand the socio economic situation and livelihoods of the inhabitants, analyze climate risks and vulnerabilities, and evaluate improved and climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices in the Charlands.

In the case of char Ganai, a total of sixteen crop types or varieties of four types of improved cropping patterns were tested under a pilot production program to  maximize productivity using the existing resources of about 250  farmers in three years. 

In the case of char Saula, researchers evaluated a total of eighteen types of crops or varieties and two improved cropping systems under a pilot production program to increase total productivity using the existing resources of 265 farmers in three years. 

According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, Bangladesh is the seventh most climate change vulnerable country. The Charlands (river islands) is one of the six climate hotspot regions in Bangladesh. The Charlands are the newly formed riverine land mass formed by the gradual deposition of sand, silt, and clay from the four big rivers, the Padma, the Meghna, the Jamuna and the Brahmaputra and their 500 plus tributaries over time. 

The  total area of these Charlands is 830,000 ha, two and a half times bigger than the area of Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. Interestingly, 60%-90% of this area is cultivable. Currently more than eight million people live in the Charlands of Bangladesh.  Agriculture, including livestock and fish farming constitute the main source of livelihood for the residents.

Bangladesh’s population is growing at two million per year, and the current arable land is decreasing at 0.45% per year, posing a risk to the food security of Bangladesh. While the expansion of crop production on the mainland is limited, the Charlands present a ripe opportunity for maximizing crop production through development and promotion of appropriate, improved, and climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices. This has the potential to increase Bangladesh’s agricultural production, build resilience against climate change, provide livelihoods to rural communities, and ensure food security, all critical to achieving the SDGs.

Md. Sayedul Islam, Honorable Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture said, “The Government has given high priority for agricultural development of unfavorable environments to improve food security, climate resilience and rural livelihoods. In this regard, the Ministry of Agriculture and development partners have been investing for agriculture development of the climate hotspot regions including Charlands. Many organizations are promoting improved agricultural technologies and strengthening the agriculture value chains in Charlands. But more needs to be done to unlock the agricultural potential of Charlands.”

More than 50 participants representing different stakeholders, including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, members of research and extension organizations, agricultural universities, NGOs, development partners, partner organizations, and media attended the webinar. Md. Sayedul Islam, Honorable Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was the Chief Guest at the workshop. Dr. Shaikh Mohammad Bokhtiar, Executive Chairman, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC) chaired the webinar, whereas Dr. Debasish Sarker, Director General of the BARI and Dr. Md. Shahjahan Kabir, Director General, BRRI were present as special guests. Kevin Fath, Agriculture Development Officer, USAID, was the Guest of Honor.