Post-Sidr agricultural rehabilitation
Mahabub Hossain and Uttam Deb share insights from their consultation with affected farmers
Tropical cyclone, Sidr that hit Bangladesh on November 15, 2007 devastated vast areas in the south-western coast. The cyclone severely ravaged four districts -- Barguna, Bagerhat, Patuakhali, and Pirojpur, and badly damaged another eight districts.
According to official estimates nearly two million households with 8.7 million people were affected, 1.5 million houses damaged, 4.1 million trees destroyed, and crops in one million hectares of land were fully or partially lost. The cyclone hit at a time when aman rice, the predominant source of staple food in the area, was about to be harvested. The impact on national and household level food security which was already severely affected by two consecutive floods in August and September is likely to be severe.
Photo: Zaid Amir Islam/ Driknews
The challenge to the nation now is restoration of livelihoods of the affected households. An agricultural rehabilitation program needs to be initiated immediately to generate employment and increase food production, to minimise the effect on rising food prices and household level food insecurity.
The authors visited extensive areas in the four severely affected districts during December 6-8, 2007, to have a visual impression on the damage to crops, and to get an idea of the elements that should feature prominently in the agricultural rehabilitation program.
We travelled through the Madaripur-Barisal-Patuakhali-Barguna-Pirojpur-Bagerhat-Gopalgonj-Bhanga route, and stopped in Kalapara (Patuakhali), Betagi (Barguna), Mathbaria (Pirojpur), and Morelgonj (Bagerhat) to have consultations with a group of 20-30 farmers in each place. The focus group meetings with farmers were organised by local Brac offices. In the meetings, we tried to assess the loss to crops and fisheries, agricultural activities that could be initiated immediately, constraints that they would face in restoring livelihoods, and external support needed to address those constraints.
In addition, we had meetings with rice scientists of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) at the Barisal station. We would like to thank all the farmers, scientists, experts and Brac officials for their help in supporting the field trip. The main observations and insights are as follows.
Loss of agricultural production
Aman rice is the predominant crop grown in the season. Rice plants are still in the field, but most are partially lodged. The high-yielding varieties -- BR11, BR23 and Swarna -- which now covers 10 to 20 percent of the aman land, were about to be harvested at the time of the storm. This crop was completely lodged and submerged with water. In most of the damaged plots, farmers have abandoned the idea of harvesting and have allowed their cattle to feed the lodged plants.
The traditional rice varieties, different kinds of "mota" dhan that cover 80 to 90 percent of the area were just flowering at the time of the storm. The plants partially lodged due to storm, but seemed to have recovered over the last three weeks. The plants are still green and full with rice panicles. From the apparent look, it seems that the harvest should be moderate to good. We were, however, informed that because of the shocks at the time of flowering, there are many unfilled grains, and the crop loss would be 30 to 50 percent, depending on the extent of lodging of the plants. This crop will be harvested within the next one month.
On the basis of the information on the area under traditional and modern rice varieties in the affected districts as reported in the Agricultural Sample Survey conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in 2005, we agree with the DAE's provisional estimate of loss of rice production. Our estimates are reported in Table 1. According to the DAE estimate the loss in rice equivalent will be 535,000 tons in the four severely affected districts, and another 540,000 tons in the eight badly affected districts (mostly in Barisal, Bhola, Jhalkati, and Khulna).
The vegetables were entirely lost, but the area covered was insignificant in relation to rice. Damaged vegetable plants are visible in the embankments around fish ponds.
Photo: Kajol Islam/ Driknews
Small fish ponds were in plenty on both sides of roads and among rice fields. The recent trend was culture fishing in ponds with prawn (galda) and various types of freshwater fish. Farmers made fairly good investment, often financed with micro-credit. The ponds were flooded and the fish escaped to creeks and canals. The water in the ponds has been contaminated with fallen leaves and twigs and has become unfit for fish culture. A few farmers reported that the loss from fish production was substantially higher than from crop production. The extent of loss from fish production was particularly noticeable in the Bagerhat area.
Throughout the southern belt, social forestry has been successfully introduced. Betel leaf plants, bamboo garden, and young tick trees abound within homestead and on road sides. The severe damage to plants, including uprooting of many mature trees, was still highly visible. The damage to housing would have been much more severe without the thick cover of trees around the homestead. The loss on account of social forestry would be substantial. On a positive note, timber and firewood would be source of immediate income for some households, and would provide much needed construction materials for house reconstruction. Transportation of timber, twigs and firewood in rickshaw vans and small trucks was seen as a visible economic activity in the area.
Cattle and poultry birds were also damaged by the cyclone. In these areas, households have reduced dependence on cattle for land preparation and ploughing. Majority of farmers use power tillers for land preparation by renting services from a few well-off households who own them. Livestock are mostly reared by small and marginal farmers for milk and meat. The damage to livestock has been limited to char areas and in the immediate vicinity of rivers where households faced high tidal surge. A few commercial poultry farms in the inland areas were also affected.
Upcoming agricultural activities
Aman is the predominant crop in the area. Only about 25 percent of the rice area is cultivated in the next dry (boro/aus) season. The crops grown in the dry season are pulses (khesari and mung beans), vegetables (potato, radish, spinach, lalsak, bottle gourd, sweet gourd, papaya), and spices (chillies). The high yield boro rice, which now accounts for major portion of the rice harvest in other parts of Bangladesh, is yet to make substantial inroads in the area. Because of late harvest of aman, and salinity of water from March to May the area is deemed unsuitable for the dry season rice crop. Some traditional rice varieties are grown in the aus season.
The 10 to 20 percent of the land that has been completely damaged is now available for raising different non-rice crops. The farmers expressed interest in growing potato, maize, chillies, watermelon, and different vegetables. A few farmers had experience of growing hybrid maize last year. They are highly impressed with high yield and profitability of maize, and wanted to go for it on a large scale this year. The main constraint is the availability of seeds, and working capital.
Photo: Debashish Shom/DrikNews
Most of the land currently occupied with traditional aman will not be free for dry season cultivation till the middle of February. The soil is heavy and moist, and is mostly suitable for rice. Farmers reported that there is scope to grow late boro/early aus rice in large areas of Pirojpur, Barguna and Patuakhali districts, and in limited areas in Bagerhat. The popular notion that the dry season rice that needs irrigation cannot be grown in the areas was not borne out from the discussion with farmers. They reported that enough surface water is available in numerous creeks and canals particularly during high tides, which could be pumped to the fields. The water remains fresh particularly in areas inside the polders. The farmers expressed interest in going for HYV rice cultivation after the harvesting of aman, if they get support for irrigation, tillage, seeds and fertilisers.
The main factors behind the limited expansion of the high-yielding rice varieties were predominance of marginal and small farmers who cannot afford to invest in the input-intensive varieties, and prevalence of a share cropping tenancy system under which one-half to two-thirds of the harvest had to be shared with the land owner. Almost a quarter of the households in the area do not own cultivated land, and another two-thirds operate farms of less than one hectare. The average farm size is only about 0.5 hectare. Only about 30 percent of the households had access to credit, and two-thirds of the loans are used for trading activities. Loans are hardly available for crop cultivation.
Tenancy cultivation is widely prevalent in the area. Farmers reported that almost half of the land cultivated is rented from the tenancy market. The land is rented mostly from absentee landowners who are indifferent to adoption of improved technologies. Recently however, the crop sharing tenancy is giving way to fixed-rent tenancy with one year contract. A system of land leasing with several year contracts with annual payment of a fixed amount of paddy is also gaining ground. Under this system, cultivation of new varieties that require heavy investment on fertiliser and irrigation would not be problem, provided farmers have access to loans.
Employment creation for landless
Households with no cultivated land comprise 20 to 30 percent of rural households in the area, but a substantial portion of them are engaged in non-crop activities such as fishing, transport operations, and petty trading. Only 10 to 15 percent of the households in Patuakhali and Barguna and 25 percent of the households in Pirojpur and Bagerhat are agricultural labour households. Farmers reported that the agricultural labour market has become tight, and the wage rate has been rising fast along with rice prices. The current wage rate is Tk 150 per day's work, which has increased from about Tk 100 from last year. Because of the relief operation, they are worried about the availability of labour for rice harvesting which will start soon. Availability of employment for the wage labour households should not be a serious concern for the next four to six weeks. If agricultural rehabilitation program could be organised on a significant scale, addition employment could be generated for this group of households for a longer period. There is also scope for generation of employment against "cash for work" program in the repair and maintenance of damaged roads and dams, reconstruction of damaged houses. It is also possible to create employment opportunities for men and women by providing support for making fishing net, promoting handicrafts based on fallen bamboos, and trees.
Photo: MUNEM WASIF/DrikNews
In case of large scale expansion of rice and successful rehabilitation of agriculture, major constraints identified are lack of and high cost of tillage equipment (power tillers), limited or non-availability of irrigation facilities (power pumps), inadequate supply of quality seeds of newly introduced crops such maize and HYV rice, and lack of credit to finance working capital needs of input-intensive crops. Farmers as well as scientists have mentioned that growing HYV rice in the dry season (early aus season) in a large area of these districts is technically feasible but non-availability of irrigation facility is limiting constraint. Although power tiller is available, the supply is inadequate and rental charge is beyond the reach of the marginal and small farmers. Farmers will also need technical knowledge of crop and pest management of new crops such as maize and HYV rice, which cannot be easily accessed from the government extension officials.
Recommendations for agricultural rehabilitation program
In order for an agricultural rehabilitation program to be successful in the area, a package program should be planned rather than only supply of seeds and fertilisers. The package should include supply of seed, tillage equipment, low lift pump for irrigation, supply of fertiliser, and agricultural loans for purchased inputs. Irrigation facilities are almost absent, and there is inadequate supply of tillage equipment. Timely tillage has become a critical constrain in view of huge loss of livestock. Power pumps and power tillers in adequate numbers have to be made available within a short period of time, and arrangements should be made to provide their services to small and marginal farmers on easy terms. Availability of chemical fertilisers was not raised as an issue by farmers except in Bagerhat. Presumably, the demand for fertiliser is not high in the area because farmers grow mostly traditional varieties and low fertiliser-intensive non-rice crops such as pulses. If the agricultural rehabilitation program is planned for a large area, the supply of adequate quantity of fertiliser should be ensured.
A critical support needed is the supply of agricultural credit on convenient terms. The cash requirement for crop cultivation, including the cost of fuel for tillage and irrigation, is estimated at Tk 4,000 tper bigha (0.33 acre) for HYV rice and hybrid maize. For a farm household targeting two bighas of land (half of the average size of farm) for dry season farming, the demand for loan should be about Tk 8,000. Farmers reported that the normal micro-credit that requires for weekly repayment was not suitable for the crop loan. They prefer seasonal crop loans, which may be recovered in one or two instalments after the harvest of crops. Loan requirement for fish farmers is high. They ask for a loan of Tk 20,000 to 50,000 for fish cultivation in one bigha of pond. They can repay the loan over a period of two years, in monthly instalments, after a four to six months grace period.
Photo: munem Wasif/DrikNews
Sidr has had a huge toll on the farmers' livelihoods and on food security at the national level. Farmers have their own plans of how to restore their livelihoods around intensification of agricultural production in the incoming dry season. They need assistance for the supply of critical inputs, such as quality seeds and tillage and irrigation services, and timely availability of fertilisers in effectively implementing their plans. We believe that the government, private sector business enterprises, and NGOs should provide the support to farmers in their endeavour to stand on their feet, and at the same time enable the nation to maintain food security. We hope that with integrated effort of all stakeholders Bangladesh will successfully overcome the challenges posed by Sidr, and move forward.
Dr. Mahabub Hossain is Executive Director, Brac, and Dr. Uttam Deb is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).