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On a climate service training mission with Uthpal Kumar

Written by: Miss (Ms) Joreen Merks
Published: Monday, September 23, 2019
Thumbnail On a climate service training mission with Uthpal Kumar

On 21 September, I joined Uthpal Kumar (Wageningen University and Khulna University PhD candidate) on his climate service training for farmers in Khulna, Bangladesh. Every week he visits two villages where he shares the weather forecasts of the following week and discussed the forecast of the previous week and its effect on the famers’ decisions.

The day started with a field visit to the plot of one of the farmers. This farmer is particularly interested in innovation and uses combined farming methods. He has ponds with fish with large nets suspended above the water. Across those nets he grows hanging vegetables that are rooted in the walking path next to the pond and braid through nets. The vegetables, like cucumber, bottle gourd and bitter gourd dangle below the net above the water. No grain of soil is left unused, with beans, okra, papaya and brinjal/aubergine growing on the walking path between the ponds and rice paddies. This method of farming ensures an income even if one crop fails, not to mention that it is very efficient way to use the land.

Innovative farmer with bitter gourd  and other crops suspended on nets and growing over the fish ponds

The farmer also showed us his rice fields, and specifically how his rice was looking larger and healthier than his neighbor’s rice. He told us that this was because he planted one week earlier than that neighbor, a decision he based on the weather information from the WaterApps project. Because he knew the rain would come earlier he could decide to plant his rice earlier. It is clear the farmer is very proud of his participation in the project and the effects he sees on his farm.

The innovative farmer proudly shows his fast growing rice field

When we arrived at the venue of the first workshop, a small community building, there were already people waiting to get started. As I do not speak Bangla, it is hard for me to follow the specifics, but the atmosphere and interactions are as clear as in any language. Uthpal sits down in the middle of a group of thirty farmers, male and female, and starts asking them questions about last week’s forecast. How reliable did they think it was? And how did this influence their decisions? He also goes into the specifics for rain, wind, clouds and temperature. It turns out there was heavy rain on a day without a rain forecast, this caused the seedlings of one of the farmers to flush away. Another farmer shares “my mother scolded me because it was not supposed to rain and then it did rain”. However, he says he will still use the forecast regardless of his mother’s opinion. The farmers are aware that the forecast is never 100% reliable and still see the value in it. This is probably largely due to the efforts of Uthpal, the agricultural extension officers and other trainings given in the villages.

Climate services workshop where Uthpal Kumar asks feedback on the weather forecast

In the second part of the training the farmers sit together and come up with a strategy for the next week based on the new forecast and their planned agricultural activities. Because of the big group, not all of the participants are very actively involved. Although they are all looking at the forecasts on their tablets and smart phones. Even the child brought by his mother keeps swiping through the forecast images “we are investing in the new generation” says Uthpal with a smile on his face. This signifies his easy manner with the farmers. Quickly switching between jokes and serious business, keeping everyone engaged and making sure it is an activity people want to take part in.

Training the youngest generation in climate services

At the end of the workshop there is a big cloudburst, real monsoon rains pouring down on the small community building. Making a deafening noise on the corrugated roof and keeping us inside for a little while longer. At this time officials of the department of agricultural extension came to talk about the danger of thunder and motivate people to plant local herbal trees to enhance environmental diversity and health. They flew in all the way from Dhaka for this initiative. The heavy rain and thunder underpinned their message although the noise made their words a little hard to hear.

After the rain went down a little we were off to the second training on a road weaving through stretches of rice paddie fields with farmer homes as the only islands in the otherwise submerged lands. This training followed the same principles as the first training. Although, in the second village some of the farmers do not have access to internet so they rely on weekly paper print-outs from Uthpal or their neighbors who do have internet to get the forecasts. Instead of in a community building it took place in the house of one of the farmers, who is a retired professor of agriculture. His wife is one of the oldest participants of the WaterApps programs but that does not make her less enthusiastic. She single handedly made a small group of young men actively participate in the training.

Young and old, male and female participate in the climate service workshop

The second group contained some of the most motivated farmers I have seen. A few teach the forecasts to small groups of farmers in their villages and one of the women walks five kilometres to attend the class. She is a single mother who started tending a small plot at her house and has now expanded her farming area, is keeping poultry and joins and gives trainings related to agriculture. Another woman said “my son asked if he can give me a new name, he wants to call me Forecast because he says ‘all you ever talk about is forecasts’”. These women who find the energy to participate in the trainings with such gusto, after doing all their duties of running the household, cooking and feeding everyone, are truly inspiring.

Women and men actively joke and participate to develop a farming strategy based on the new forecast

Workshop group gathers together to present their developed farming strategy for the coming week