May 13, 2022

“The adaptation plan must take into account the evolution of social affairs and the production system”

The Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services recently unveiled a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to deal with climate change. The Business Standard sat down with Gawher Nayeem Wahra, Member Secretary of the Foundation for Disaster Forum, to talk about how Bangladesh is adapting to climate change

April 18, 2022, 10:50 a.m.

Last modification: April 18, 2022, 12:31 p.m.

Due to rapid climate change, flash floods and sea level rise are increasingly affecting the country. Photo: Mumit M

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Due to rapid climate change, flash floods and sea level rise are increasingly affecting the country. Photo: Mumit M

Due to the rapid climate change, more and more parts of the country are turning into areas affected by flash floods and sea level rise. Several studies published in recent times reveal how climate change is causing huge losses in Bangladesh in economic terms. The state-run Center for Environmental and Geographic Information Services recently unveiled a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) with a required budget of $84 billion over the next 27 years to address losses.

The PAN estimates that annual economic losses due to climate change amount to 0.5 to 1% of GDP. And the amount would also drop to 2 by 2050. Obviously, the first shock waves will affect agricultural professionals. How do they adapt to changes?

The Business Standard spoke to Gawher Nayeem Wahra, member secretary of the Foundation for Disaster Forum, to find out 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 properly implemented. The kinds of research and advice needed to implement the plans have not been done. Research lacks people’s engagement.

For an adaptation plan, you have to talk to people, especially climate victims. How could they adapt to the changes? Policy makers need to know.

Climate change is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for hundreds of years and people have adapted with slow changes. However, the concern is that the climate has changed rapidly in recent years.

We can try to adapt to rapid climate change, using science-based solutions. But there is no research to help climate victims find an effective solution. We don’t know clearly what kind of adversities will come in the future. We continue to do things according to the old cyclical schedule. It also rains in winter now. Although it is useful for growing mango, it is detrimental to growing potatoes.

Given the changes in seasonal patterns, traditional farming has become a challenge. Farmers therefore need to learn science-based solutions to adapt to changes and minimize economic losses. There should be action-oriented research.

Additionally, we need to keep in mind some issues that are not directly related to climate change. For example, farmers used to get two-thirds of the harvest while the lessee of the land got the rest. It was called Tebhaga. Tebhaga is no longer practiced.

Now landowners collect the lease money in advance. If floods or calamities damage the harvest, only the farmers suffer the consequences. Ironically, they cannot benefit from incentives or support because they do not own the land and they can only register as farmers if they own land.

Gawhern Nayeem Wahra. Illustration: TBS

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Gawhern Nayeem Wahra.  Illustration: TBS

Gawhern Nayeem Wahra. Illustration: TBS

In this case, how can the victim adapt to the calamities? They try to get a quick return. They try to minimize the risk factors by applying an excess of fertilizers and pesticides which are toxic. Through this practice, the earth, a living entity, loses its economic life.

The government is implementing a development plan that includes concrete infrastructure. What impact does this have on agriculture? We are losing cropland and topsoil. This type of development plan does not correspond to climate adaptation.

The idea of ​​adaptation suggests that farmers establish a connection with the land and then control the farming process. When there is no guarantee of a land lease for the coming season, how can they bind themselves to the land?

Climate adaptation plans need to consider these types of issues, including the rapid changes within our production system. Otherwise, no plan will be effective.

Do you think policy makers should consider local practices when planning climate change adaptation and mitigation solutions?

People are quick to adopt local solutions over imported ideas. However, local best practices have not accumulated here. It should be. In addition, local ideas should be updated regularly.

Practices native to some regions may not work in other places. Thus, research on local knowledge should be done with regular follow-ups. Unfortunately, this has not been underlined either at the local level or at the political level.

There is a flood forecasting mechanism in the country. But farmers, who are among the worst victims of climate change, stand to gain little from the technology. Do you think the government should fix this problem?

The available flood forecasting system is correct. But farmers need an alert mechanism.

What types of warnings? Precipitation forecast; designated officers will warn farmers not to start growing particular crops that cannot tolerate standing water. Or officers will warn farmers to harvest crops and store them in safe places within a stipulated time. Or farmers receive proper advice before choosing crop varieties for the next season.

Flood zones have already been identified. Farmers should be given advice on growing flood resistant crop varieties.

The neighboring government of West Bengal is implementing this type of warning system with available technologies and manpower. This helps their farmers minimize risk factors. We also have the necessary manpower and technologies. There are agricultural officers at each Upazila level. They have the knowledge to guide farmers during critical times. The government should use them in disaster warning mechanisms, because the sole use of flood forecasting will not help farmers minimize their losses.

A senior insurance company official said he did not feel interested in making agri-insurance popular due to poor weather forecasts. What are your thoughts?

Is there a risk-free industry? Insurance companies can first consider their business opportunities. The question is who will pay the premiums for agricultural insurance? Farmers who have rented cultivated land will not be able to pay the premium because they are not owners. On the other hand, landowners will not pay because they are not farming. They take the lease money up front. Thus, they will not worry about crop damage.

After each disaster, the government provides relief. A significant amount of money is spent in the name of aid. If the aid were to be converted into an insurance premium for a few years, the farmers concerned would no longer need the aid. The management of agro-insurance is possible with the government fund.