Adapt and Thrive
Uttam Deb outlines the importance of food security when dealing with climate change
Bangladesh is recognised around the world as one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Alarmingly for an agro-based country such as ourselves, our agriculture sector stands to be hardest hit by climate change.
In this article, I would like to elaborate on the linkages between climate change and food security, and the need for an adaptation strategy for the agriculture sector. I will put forward some suggestions that might be useful for an adaptation strategy geared towards ensuring Bangladesh's food security.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, which persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Thus, climate change includes change in distribution of weather parameters such as rainfall, temperature, wind speed, cloud coverage, etc.
On the other hand, food security is defined as "access by all people at all times to enough food needed for an active and healthy life. Its essential elements are the availability of food and the ability to acquire it" (Reutlinger, 1985).
It is important to view food security from both national and individual angles. At the national level, food security means availability of sufficient food stocks to meet domestic demand in the country until such time as stocks can be replenished from harvests or imports. At the individual level, it means that all members of society have access to the food they need, either from their own production, from the market, and/or from the government's transfer mechanisms.
Bangladesh has so far made tremendous progress in food production and food security. Production of all food items (on a per capita basis) has increased substantially between 2008 and 2009, compared to the time between 1970 and 1971.
Production of food grains (rice and wheat) has increased by more than three times (from 9.99 million tons in 1972-73 to 32.17 million tons in 2008-09). During this period, potato production increased by seven times (from 0.75 million tons to 5.27 million tons), production of vegetables increased by four times (from 0.67 million tons to 2.69 million tons), although the production of pulses decreased.
Milk production has increased by five times (from about 0.49 million tons to 2.29 million tons) while meat production increased by four and a half times (from 0.24 million tons to 1.08 million tons). Egg production has increased by four times (from 1.185 billion pieces to 4.696 billion pieces) and fish production has increased by 3.3 times (from 0.82 million tons to 2.70 million tons).
Increased production, along with liberalised imports, has increased both per capita availability as well as consumption of food items. Availability of pulses and oilseed remained more or less constant. Per capita per day availability of energy has increased from 2,069 kilocalories in 1991-92 to 2,580 kilocalories in 2005-06.
During the same period, availability of proteins per capita per day has increased from 53.6 gm to 72.4 gm. In case of fat, availability has increased from 40.7 gm to 47.1 gm per capita per day.
Despite our progress in food production, availability and consumption, food insecurity is widespread in Bangladesh. According to a recent study by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations and World Food Program (FAO/WFP, 2008), nearly 45 per cent of Bangladesh's 145 million population is food-insecure (less than 2,122 kcals/person /day), and nearly one-fourth of the population (23.9 per cent) is severely food-insecure (consuming less than 1,805 kcals/person/day).
Studies have shown that the food security situation worsens during and after natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, tidal surge, etc. Economic shocks such as soaring prices also negatively affect the food security situation in the country.
Per capita consumption of the poor and well-off increased both in rural and urban areas. Though per capita consumption has increased, there are significant differences in terms of the access to food between the poor and well off households.
According to poverty monitoring surveys, poor households consume about 25 per cent less food in terms of quantity and about 20 per cent less in terms of calories, compared to the well off households at the national level.
This is really a major concern. Pragmatic policy intervention is a must to ensure economic access to food for all, particularly for the poor people of the country.
Climate Change: Predictions for Bangladesh Agriculture
Production of crops and other agricultural commodities depends to a large extent on the climatic conditions. Therefore, changes in climatic conditions will surely affect food production situation in the country.
It is predicted that a number of changes will be observed in Bangladesh due to the climate change. Rainfall pattern will change, while frequency and severity of floods, cyclones, drought, storm surges and heat waves will increase. Crop growing seasons will change in different regions of the country. Changes will also occur in water quality and quantity such as salinisation. Sea level will rise and, therefore, intrusion of salt-water will be prominent.
According to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Climate Change 2007), following changes have been observed in climate trends, variability and extreme events:
-In Bangladesh, average temperature has registered an increasing trend of about 1°C in May and 0.5°C in November during the 14 year period from 1985 to 1998.2. The annual mean rainfall exhibits increasing trends in Bangladesh. Decadal rain anomalies are above long term averages since 1960s.
-Serious and recurring floods have taken place during 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2004. Cyclones originating from the Bay of Bengal have been noted to decrease since 1970 but the intensity has increased.
-Frequency of monsoon depressions and cyclones formation in Bay of Bengal has increased.
-Water shortages has been attributed to rapid urbanization and industrialization, population growth and inefficient water use, which are aggravated by changing climate and its adverse impacts on demand, supply and water quality.
-Salt water from the Bay of Bengal is reported to have penetrated 100 km or more inland along tributary channels during the dry season. The precipitation decline and droughts has resulted in the drying up of wetlands and severe degradation of ecosystems (Department for Environment, GoB, 2007).
A recent study conducted by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) titled "Changes in General Climatic Characteristics in Bangladesh" validated some of the predictions. The study has analysed annual and seasonal patterns of climatic parameters such as temperature and rainfall during 1971 to 2008 in different ecological zones of the country.
The study analysed data by splitting them into two segments (1971 to 2000 and 2001 to 2008), and compared the patterns of the climatic variables. Regarding rainfall, the study revealed a downward tendency in the drought prone ecological zone and variably increasing trends in the flood prone and tidal surge prone ecological zones. Regarding onset and withdrawal of monsoon, deviation from normal condition has been observed. Overall temperature, in terms of both maximum and minimum temperature, showed an upward trend across the country.
Another study by the CPD on "Climate Change and Rice Production in Bangladesh" has estimated the impacts of climate change (drought, inundation, salinity) on rice production in Bangladesh by 2030 in different rice growing seasons (Aus, Aman and Boro).
The study revealed that in a "normal year" by 2030, rice production (with the existing techno logies and production practices) is likely to be reduced by 12.19 lakh tons (about 4.2 per cent of current annual rice production) due to the impact of climate change (drought, inundation and salinity).
Other studies have indicated loss in crop production as a result of climate change. Decrease in crop production will negatively affect the availability and consumption of food items. Poor and climate refugees will be the worst victims of climate change.
Implications for Adaptation Strategy
Bangladesh will require enormous efforts to adapt with the changes in climatic condition. In this context, IPCC has rightly observed that adaptation to climate change in Asian countries depends on the affordability of adaptive measures, access to technology, and bio-physical constraints such as the availability of land and water resource, soil characteristics, genetic diversity for crop breeding (e.g. crucial development of heat-resistant rice cultivars), and topography.
To mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, we must develop an adaptation strategy. Strengthening research for development of drought, flood and saline tolerant varieties of other crops will be needed to facilitate adaptation in future. More investment and dependence on biotechnology, GIS, remote sensing and ICT would be needed for technology generation and dissemination. Long-term weather forecasting along with crop production and crop husbandry recommendations will be needed.
We have to formulate policies for adaptation to climate change with clearly defined risks at the ecological zone and village level. To reduce risks, climate risk reduction action plan has to be developed which will be able to respond to the need. Piloting of activities and projects will be needed to ensure that those can actually be implemented. For successful implementation of adaptation strategy and delivery of projects, monitoring, evaluation and feedback should be an integral part of the strategy.
Different crop production zones have to be established in the country. Since northern drought prone areas are likely to face more droughts, a pragmatic strategy will be needed to transform that region into a non-rice crop-growing zone particularly in the dry season.
In the winter, cultivation of crops that require no or little water like chickpea, lentil, maize, etc should be promoted as part of adaptation strategy. Water efficient and drought tolerant high value horticultural crops (mango, jujube, guava, custard apple, sweet tamarind, etc) should be promoted throughout the year.
During the rainy season, development and promotion of drought tolerant rice varieties will be required. Bihar state of India has already developed drought tolerant rice varieties. In the southern region, cultivation of Boro rice using surface water should be promoted.
Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) has developed several salt-tolerant rice varieties such as BR 10, BR 23, BRRI Dhan 41 and BRRI 47. However, with the changed climatic condition, we will require new varieties since salinity level will be increased further in future.
To face the challenges of prolonged submergence, we shall need submergence tolerant varieties. BRRI has been conducting research on submergence tolerance varieties (Swarna Sub2). This type of research should be continued and encouraged.
In the coastal belt, Malaysian dwarf coconut trees can be experimented and promoted to minimize risk of damage by cyclone. Development of eco-specific adaptive knowledge (including indigenous knowledge) to cope with climate variability will be needed to enhance adaptive capacity. Partnership with international agricultural research and development organisations and Saarc countries for agricultural research and development will be required.
Bangladesh in the past has successfully faced many challenges. Hopefully, our leaders will be able to strengthen our capacity at all levels (national, district, upazilla, village and household) to face the challenges of adapting our agriculture and ensure food security through formulation and implementation of an adaptation strategy.
Dr. Uttam Deb, is Head, Research Division, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).