Enhancing climate resilience of aquatic-agriculture systems in Bangladesh

Partners involved: WorldFish

Bangladesh is a country that will be severely affected by climate change

Husking rice, Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by Mike Lusmore, 2012. 

Moshni is typical of many small villages in the vast coastal delta region of Bangladesh where the Bhramaputra and Meghna rivers meet the Bay of Bengal. Its inhabitants depend largely on agriculture and aquaculture for food, nutrition and income. Rice, fish, shrimp and prawns are commonly grown in low-lying areas, with vegetables and livestock are raised on higher ground. In common with many other villages in the region the people of Moshni, and the aquatic-agricultural systems their livelihoods depend on, are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Climate change increases existing stresses
Bangladesh is a country that will be severely affected by climate change, and many of the expected impacts will reinforce existing environmental, socioeconomic and demographic stresses. Increased frequency and extent of flooding associated with sea-level rise, greater monsoon precipitation, increased vulnerability to cyclone and storm surges, increased drought, greater salinity intrusion into major agricultural areas, and wider temperature extremes are all predicted. These challenges are already being faced to varying degrees by people across Bangladesh, but particularly those living in the highly vulnerable coastal region.

Developing climate resilient aquatic-agricultural systems
Research is playing a role in helping the people of Moshni and other villages in the coastal region to develop productive aquatic-agricultural systems with more resilience to climate change. Two recent WorldFish Center projects - the Cyclone Affected Aquaculture Rehabilitation Project (CAARP) and the Greater Harvest and Economic Return through Shrimp (GHERS) of the Poverty Reduction by Increasing the Competitiveness of Enterprises (PRICE) are starting to offer solutions to some of the challenges.

CAARP was initiated in 2007, to help rehabilitate aquaculture following Cyclone Sidr; however, consultations revealed that project households faced frequent climate-related problems. Many of the 94,000 farmers involved with CAARP suffered periodic tidal surges that flooded their ponds and affected livelihoods. Participatory action research identified various strategies to address such problems. Raising pond dykes and nylon net has helped farmers adapt to high water levels, prevent fish escaping during storm surges or floods. Harvests of fish and vegetables carefully planned to coincide with peak market price have generated improved income for poor households. Fish nurseries, though higher risk, offered significant short-term income opportunities for some small and seasonal pond farmers. Reducing the duration of the production cycle, cultivation of fast growing fish species, such as tilapia, silver carp, and silver barb has also helped to reduce risk periods. Sale of such fish at small sizes, acceptable to local markets, has helped provide short duration income generation during less risky seasons.

Since 2008, the GHERS project has been exploring ways for farmers to increase productivity and household income from farming systems facing steadily increasing salinity. The term “gher” refers to a rice field that has been modified for shrimp or prawn production. Improved management systems of shrimp and prawn farming in ways that reduce risk of shrimp disease and improve yields, better connections to seed suppliers and local markets, and diversification of farming of freshwater fish and prawn in the low or zero saline period, and introduction of vegetables on pond dykes, have provided around 26,000 farming households with diversified income sources and systems of farming which are better adapted to increased salinity environments.

Meeting the challenge
WorldFish researchers and their partners have faced various obstacles in implementing these projects, not least of which was the high demand for support following Cyclone Sidr and the large geographic scale and complexities of the multiple challenges confronting communities. In addition, farming households already facing losses to fish and agricultural crops are reluctant to try new techniques or systems. The situation requires sensitive and prolonged dialogue between researchers and farmers. The participatory action research approach appears to be paying off, with lower risk, adoptable systems, generating higher yields, income and some resilience to the challenges of climate change.

Impact assessments have shown that farm productivity has increased across around the 1,500 villages involved in CAARP and GHERS projects, with indications of improved food and nutrition security. Members of GHERS project households, including women and children, are eating more fish, vegetables and fruit. Demand for labour has also increased as a result of the integration and intensification of aquatic-agricultural farming systems. This, in turn, has created opportunities for women to become involved in the production system. The women of Moshni village, particularly those from poorer households, are involved in several aquaculture activities such as weeding, feeding fish and cultivating vegetables on pond dykes. As Banalata Das, a woman fish farmer in the area says “The training that WorldFish has given us has helped us right across the business. With the additional money we are getting from shrimps we were able to buy our land and within a year we had enough money to finish our house.

Moving forward
Many people in this complex and large region remain vulnerable in various ways, but the experiences of Moshni and other villages show that progress can be made in developing aquatic-agriculture systems that provide food and income, and resilience to the various and varied climate change stressors. The emerging CGIAR Programs on Aquatic Agricultural Systems and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security will build on these experiences, seeking to contribute at scale solutions to the development challenges facing the poor in this most vulnerable of regions.