Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013

Celebrating our cultural strength

Photo: Pavel Partha

Photo: Pavel Partha

Beng dake ghono ghono,
Shigro hobe bristi jeno.
(Croaking of frogs is the indicator of rain)

The subaltern people of Bangladesh conceptualise the term ‘climatic change’ as a continuous natural process and an ecological phenomena, and they have always tried adapting themselves along this process.
Khana, the subaltern scientist of Bengal had already discussed the nature of adaptation with ecological and climatic changes in her verses, locally known as, Khanar Vachan. This study of climate discourse generally emphasised on the last 200 years, about which changes were actually created through the luxurious life expectancy of the developed world, and how the third world suffers as an impact.
Bangladesh is facing and trying to fight against the global climate disaster. This piece, based on the eco-feminist perspectives, describes the male-dominant developmental calamities, which is also guilty for both the recent global warming and for describing the recent corporate business in the name of “climate adaptation” and the peoples’ position against the dominant “climate-hegemony.”
Academic and institutionalised knowledge has discussed historical climatic and environmental changes through the archeological, paleontological and other sources of evidence. But rural subaltern people of Bangladesh have over the years inherited this knowledge through their connections with ecology.
Nowadays, it is realised that in the climate change discourse peoples’ knowledge needs to be incorporated with the mainstream climate study. Policymakers have also realised that bottom-up approach is far more effective than top-down approaches which help adapt a self-sustaining developmental framework in regards to climate-adaptation strategies.
But the ‘dominant’ knowledge system does not recognise the information and experiences of the subalterns’ as ‘science.’ We know that this dominant concept is related with the history and discrimination within the so-called power politics. Even today, there is no significant documentation of a subaltern perception and knowledge on climate calendar and the changes in the climate resource library of our democratic state.
People of the Haor area have identified and described the changes in the season, nature and pattern of natural calamity. On the one hand, these areas had consisted of flood-tolerant rice varieties, and on the other, in southern areas of Bangladesh, there also grew saline-tolerate rice varieties — both long before the so-called “green revolution.”
After the introduction of High yielding varieties (HYV) with the help of IRRI and BRRI, these climate and disaster tolerant local varieties and native genetic resources disappeared. But now, as the concept of “climate change and adaptation” has suddenly focused in its development paradigm, different multinational agribusiness companies have come to the fore and declared their ability to produce all kinds of saline, flood, temperatures tolerant varieties.
Within the dominant discourse of climate change, “climate adaptation” has often been described as “mandatory labour and law” of the subalterns. And the ‘adaptation practice’ or ‘process’ or ‘fund’ or ‘policy’ of everything is also undeniable controlled and pressured by the neo-liberal corporate world. The mega seed-giant company Syngenta likes to sell “climate-ready seeds and crops” in the name of “climate-adaptation,” but in actuality they have no duties in protecting the ‘seed-justice’ of local farmers.
People of the North Pole live with luxurious consumerism, which negatively impacts the poor of the global south. This discriminative consumerism is born from the belly of a neo-liberal economy, which is also creating the ‘mega adaptation business’ agenda through ‘climate change.’ They have also created a policy so that the poor countries are bound to be acquainted with this corporate business as a so-called adaptive measurement.
International Development Research Centre of Canada, The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Buffett foundation, African Agricultural technology foundation, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have donated, invested money and engaged the National agricultural research organisations to invent different types of agricultural climatic adaptive variety.

Photo: Mamun Sultan Nur

Photo: Mamun Sultan Nur

Bill & Melinda Gates foundation invested $19.8 million to IRRI and Africa rice centre to invent climate resistant variety. In Bangladesh, this foundation has also worked with Brac to for an agricultural recovery after aila hit the South-Western parts of Bangladesh through hybrid and HYV seeds.
When people of poor countries are searching the way to save the ecology and genetic resources, corporate companies are trying to expand their business and they have labelled it as the peoples’ adaptation to agriculture and alleviation of negative impact or disaster. This means that people have to be adaptive with the criteria set up by the corporate companies.
All kinds of development initiatives, whatever it is considered — adaptation, alleviation, empowerment or ownership –, are imposed by policymakers rather than encompassing people’s voices, perceptions and knowledge. The continuous croaking of a frog means rain will come soon. According to Khana, the croaking of frog is the sign of upcoming rainfall. The presence of a frog and its croaking sound in certain ecology is the indicator of its weather pattern. The existence of different types of frog species indicates the different situation of the ecology, according to the inhabitants of Lawachhara Khasi village, situated at Moulvibazar. Of the different types of frog, a species with green colour have disappeared whose existence had once proved the actual humidity of the forest. The lost of this specific species causes difficulty to the farmers living in the forest periphery.
In addition, people of different parts had for a long time arranged a “marriage ceremony between frogs” as a way of praying for rain. They believed that they would be able to hear the news of an upcoming rainfall through the continuous croaking of frogs. After all, rainwater is the main source of irrigation in paddy cultivation in Bangladesh.
Ironically, frogs have been disappearing drastically in the country. At the same time, the schedule of rainy season is changing too. And this change in ecology is the proof of changing climate in the wetland areas, according to the people living there. The relationship between a frog and rainfall indicates the conception and base of ecological thought and practices of the rural people of Bangladesh. However, the corporate economy has intervened and created an ecological imbalance in various ways. Frog bears a big role in reducing insecticides from the agriculture field; by eating them. Moreover, some frog species are also a source of food for some indigenous communities.
The incident of disappearing frog from the ecosystem also made an unsupportive impact to their food sovereignty. The neo-liberal economy has removed frogs from the ecosystem by capturing them for corporate food business. Those capturing frog have been exporting them to the developed countries to meet their food demands. Subsequently, some of the corporate giants including Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer Crop Science and BASF have also introduced pesticides in the local market to “protect” the harvest from the insects.
Today’s changing climate comes as a result of from these “frogs diminishing activities” by developing nations. Dipak Kumar Das (1999) stated a statistics in his book Poribesh songkote biponno pakhi that 2,770 metric tones of frog legs have been exported to the US, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany annually between the year of 1986 and 1998 for human food consumption from the natural ecosystem — 60 frog legs weigh one kilo. To make 2,770 metric tones of frog feet, around 4 crore and 10 lacs of frog have already killed in India alone. A frog can kill around one hundred insects daily as its own source of food.
Can anybody imagine how much pesticide is being used to kill insects in the agricultural field in absence of frogs for strengthening the ‘green-revolution’ agenda?
Above all, the subaltern people of Bangladesh are aware about the necessity of frog in their ecosystem. In 1979, the temperature of Bangladesh had risen up to an unusual 43 degree Celsius — many people and livestock died because of it. The inhabitants of Gaibandha districts made their movement against the frog hunter as they thought that in absence of the frog’s croaking, there would be no rainfall.
People of vulnerable nations, including Bangladesh, think that the developed countries should change their lifestyle as it is responsible for this changing situation. On the other hand, we who are habituate to live a life that does not emit carbon seem to suffer most.
At the same time we know how to adapt with the given situation, but in order to continue our adaptation with this climate disaster developed nations must stop their affluent carbon-based lifestyle; otherwise our resistance to vulnerability will go to them someday through a natural process.
Rural people of this geographic area were always responsive in saving their ecology, they even sacrificed lives for it — this is the core of climate discourse of the subalterns. Hajong people sacrificed their lives to protect the elephants in Susang Durgapur, Netrakona. Indigenous Mandi martyr Piren Snal was killed by the state as he wanted to save the Sal forest with their customary rights on forest, Utpal Nokrek sacrificed his life and protected unethical Eco-park project of forest department, and so on.
The subalterns here have always tried and still try to clarify their knowledge, stances and responses to climate change, ecological relationship and protection of nature and lives through their own reaction, through their own ways and voices.

The writer is Researcher of Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation.
E-mail: animistbangla@gmail.com