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Drought blights rain-fed rice farming

Rice-security concern stems from scarce monsoon in April-July period of Aus, Aman cultivation

YASIR WARDAD | July 26, 2023 00:00:00

Scanty rainfall in Bangladesh during this monsoon severely affects both Aman and Aus farming, foreboding a fall in the rain-fed staple production at a time of global food-security concern.

The Aman variety of rice contributes 38 per cent and Aus 7.0-8.0 per cent to the country's total annual rice output.

The subtropical country witnessed lower rainfall by 66 per cent in April, 44 per cent in May, 16 per cent in June and nearly 50 per cent in July (until July 24) at the prime of the rainy season, according to Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) data.

Aus-planting period is April-May and harvest is July-September while Aman cultivation takes place in June-to mid-September and harvest is done in November-to mid-January period.

The droughts in April and May caused a decline in Aus farming as only 0.105 million hectares of paddies could be brought under cultivation against a target of 1.39 million hectares, an official at the field-service wing under the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) has said.

He mentions that "acreage and production of Aus has been declining gradually over the last half decade amid rising intensity of droughts and floods".

Meanwhile, 8.0 per cent of the harvest of Aus has so far been completed to add to the nation's granary.

And Aman seedbeds have been prepared on 0.28 million hectares this year against a little higher target of 0.304 million hectares.

Above 12 per cent of transplanting of Aman seedlings had been completed until July 25 and the work would continue until September 15, said the DAE official.

Experts attribute the erratic weather patterns of excessive rain somewhere and droughts somewhere else across the planet by turns to impact of global climate change, affecting normal course of life and economic activity.

Meteorologist Dr Sadequl Alam says greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere are condensing and the temperatures are increasing both on land and ocean, in a phenomenon of global warming.

"As we enter the El Nino phase, dry weather might continue for several more years. Thus, the intensity and duration of heatwaves in Bangladesh might continue to increase," he says in his prediction.

El Niño is a global climate phenomenon that warms the surface waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It affects the atmosphere's ionosphere and surrounding climate.

The opposite is La Nina that brings rain and resultant flooding.

He says the average rainfall in April and May was 134mm and 284mm respectively--66.4-percent and 44.1-percent lesser than the averages of last 30 years respectively.

"Adaptation to such weather remains the key option," says the meteorologist.

Farmers in Dinajpur, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barishal, and Dhaka are spending Tk 7,000-9,000 per hectare as irrigation cost for low rainfall in June and July during the peak seeding and planting period.

Fahim Hossain Chowdhury, a farmer at Mohanpur under Birganj in Dinajpur, said he planted Aman on his 2.32 hectares of land (11.5 bighas in the northern area).

He has already spent Tk 9,000 for the land to irrigate with deep tube-well that runs on costly fuels.

He said many farmers are also making contract with solar irrigation operators at Tk 3000-3500 per bigha (50 decimals in his locality|) for watering.

He said production cost would increase by 20-25 per cent amid additional irrigation charges, a rise in fertiliser prices by 70-80 per cent in a year, surge in transportation and labourers charges.

Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labour Federation (BAFLF) secretary Golam Sarwar said above 60 per cent of farmers had adopted supplementary water for Aman in the last half decades, thus raising cost production that adds up to price rises.

"But the country's 20 per cent of farming areas, dedicated to Aman farming, have no irrigation facility and are totally rain-fed," says the trade-union leader in the farm sector.

He said production might have dropped notably in those areas.

Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation should facilitate irrigation in those areas to maintain sound production growth in the Aman season.

Farm economist Prof Gazi M Jalil says drought has become intense in recent years under an impact of global warming.

"Temperature has been making records after record in recent times," he says, when droughts are igniting wildfires in different western and Pacific countries.

The government should enact policies to cope with the changing climate as both droughts and floods would increase which severely could affect the summer crops, he suggests.

"Supplementary irrigation like that of Boro season, varietal development of crops to sustain in odd weather are two key options to combat the apocalypse," the farm economist says.

Meanwhile, there have been worries raised about global food security in the wake of declared end to grain deal in export through amid the Ukraine war and India's reported embargo on rice export.

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