ice is our nationaloccupation,” says ricefarmer Altaf Boyati. “Myfather and grandfathercultivated rice. As a farmer, I am alsocultivating rice.”Mr. Boyati lives in thesouthwestern coastal zone ofBangladesh, where farmland has morethan its fair share of water and salinitychallenges and where poverty remainsa chronic problem. But now, Mr. Boyati
and other local farmers are geing
help to catch up with the rest of thecountry, where agricultural gains havecontributed to declining poverty. Aspart of the Ganges Basin DevelopmentChallenge of the CGIAR ChallengeProgram on Water and Food (CPWF),fresh approaches to improving watermanagement and the use of high-yielding rice varieties, combined withaquaculture, will give farmers more
eective options to increase foodproduction and protability.
Steps out o poverty
Bangladesh is one of the mostdensely populated and poorestcountries in the world. According tothe World Bank, about one in threeBangladeshis is poor—slightly morein rural areas.The good news is that, over thelast decade, the percentage of peopleliving in poverty has declined. Threeagricultural factors have contributedto this. First, the adoption of high-yielding rice varieties for both therainy and dry seasons; second,private investment in groundwaterpumping to irrigate rice during thedry season; and third, greater use ofinputs, especially fertilizer.With higher yield potential fromnew rice varieties and the ability togrow irrigated rice during the dryseason (
rice), farmers can moreconsistently—and with lower risk—produce more rice. More rice meansmore to eat, more to sell, and thusmore income for rice farmers. And,with more rice on sale in markets,rice prices are more likely to stay
aordable for even the poorest
consumers.Unfortunately, farmers in thesouthwestern coastal zone have
missed out on the benets these
agricultural changes have delivered.A recent survey of 1,200 ruralhouseholds across the coastal zonefound that about 80% of the peoplewere living below the poverty lineof US$1.25/day, compared with thenational average of 40%.Here, farmers grow traditional,tall, low-yielding rice varieties duringthe rainy season, followed by a non-irrigated, low-yielding legume orfallow during the dry season. In mostof the coastal zone, high-yieldingvarieties are not grown becausethe water is often too deep duringthe rainy season due to poor watermanagement.
Water—whether too much, too lile,
or too salty—is a major constraint toimproved agricultural production inthe southwestern zone.Bangladesh is one of the mostwater-abundant countries in theworld. It has an annual rainfall of1,500 to 3,000 mm yet it has severalwater challenges, according to AditiMukherji, a water expert formerlywith the International WaterManagement Institute.“For one, much of coastalBangladesh is a part of an active delta
and highly inuenced by tidal surges
and salinity intrusion,” she said. “So,in nonrainy months, availability offresh water is scarce and management
A combination o water, fsh, rice, and upland crop management research is underway tohelp millions o the poorest arming amilies inBangladesh living in the coastal zone, the regionmost vulnerable to the impacts o climate change
Catching up in southwestern
of brackish water is a critical issue.
Second, relatively at terrain, clayey
soils, and high rainfall lead tosevere waterlogging, inundation,and siltation of internal drainagechannels.”
Preventing foods and salt-waterintrusion
In the 1960s and 1970s, in orderto help reduce the devastating
impact of tidal oods and saline
water intrusion on the people ofthe southwestern coastal zone,embankments were built around thelands between the large rivers in theregion to create “polders”—or inlandislands protected by embankmentwalls.Polders have proven their worth
in buering farmers against theonslaught of tidal oods and salinity.
The World Bank stated in its 2010report,
Economics of Adaptation toClimate Change—Bangladesh,
that,over the last 50 years, polders
have contributed to “signicantly
reduced damage and losses fromextreme climatic events over time,especially in terms of deaths and
injuries.” The report also aributes
higher agricultural production,including rice, to the improved watermanagement polders can deliver.However, the reality oftheir
eectiveness is much more
complicated. Out of 123 polders insouthwestern Bangladesh, manyneed to be repaired and upgradedto cope with the situation, let alonethe predicted worsening conditions brought about by climate change.Internal canals, which are importantfor both drainage and storage ofwater in the wet and dry seasons,are often silted up. And, the sluicegates connecting the canals to thesurrounding rivers are often leaky, badly damaged, or missing. Wherethe infrastructure is still functional,competing demands for water alsomean control over what water goesinto and out of the polder is more
than a simple technical maer.
Bangladesh armers woki wit c cito ipov t pouctivity o ti ic . Poto owd. liz hupy (
seated far left
), d. moj mo(
seated with gray shirt
), m. at Boyti (
squatting wearing brown shirt