The Khulna district of Bangladesh, is a region situated in the largest Delta of the World: the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta. This is a region of high fertility and widespread agricultural practices. With its tropical climate and increasingly intensive agricultural development the region is sensitive to climate and weather change. And in a relatively underdeveloped country, there are increasing opportunities for using climate information to reduce agricultural risks. This is tackled in the WaterApps project through the research of Uthpal Kumar, a Bangladeshi researcher connected to both Wageningen University and Khulna University. This combination gives him access to a wide range of scientific knowledge while also giving him the opportunity to go into the field.
How to tailor climate information for farmers in Khulna, Bangladesh? That is the main question Uthpal Kumar tries to answer in his research. His challenge is not only to research the application of scientific forecasts, but also to understand how this valuable information can be included in farmers’ agricultural practices and decision-making.
Uthpal Kumar at one of his field visits
When Kumar started his research in 2017, local farmers and extension agents (governmental advisors) were barely using weather forecasts. “Not even the forecasts that are provided through BMD Weather App by the Bangladeshi Meteorological Department. They were only using emergency forecasts for extreme weather like cyclones and storms. When I told them that in Netherlands we even decide when to leave the office based on a weather forecasting app (https://www.buienalarm.nl/), they were very confused. They did not know it was possible to predict the weather like that.” But now, already after less than two years, a lot has changed.
“We first focused on the local extension agents, teaching them how to find and interpret forecasts and teaching them how to teach the farmers to use them.” With the extension officers, Kumar tries to focus on putting a sustainable information sharing platform in place. “The extension officers already work with the farmers and give them advice on farming practices, by teaching them how to use the forecast information we ensure that the forecasts will still be used after the project is finished”
Until recently, most farmers in Khulna got their weather and climatic information from looking at the sky and the lunar calendar. “The lunar calendar gives insight into changing seasons. Bangladesh has six seasons of two months and after years of farming the farmers know exactly which seasons are dry or wet or hot or cold.” Says Kumar. This was sufficient when the farmers were just producing rice in low quantities but with the diversification of crops and the intensification of agriculture, investments and risks become higher which makes more reliable and precise forecast information a necessity.
Kumar mainly uses Facebook groups to share the forecast information with the farmers and extension officers. “Sometimes people ask me what is the innovation in this initiative. Then I say, previously these people were only sharing their personal pictures, for example from wedding ceremonies, though Facebook, and now they use this simple tool to share information that can save crops, farm assets and livestock. You don’t need complex tools, you can use something simple to do great and big things.” By using the power of the already widely used mobile phone Kumar now quickly reaches many people. And his efforts are paying off. “You can really see that the farmers are using the forecasts more and more, they are very motivated. One of the farmers has now started her own Facebook group in which she shares the forecasts with her villagers.” The extension officers are also enthusiastic “One of the extension officers now shares agricultural advice also in the Facebook group”.
Stakeholder involvement in the WaterApps project
He also sees changes on a country level, not only with the changes in agricultural practices and intensification but also in the education levels and the spreading of technology. Literacy rates have increased from 47% in 2007 to 73% in 2017 with young generation at a literacy rate of 92%. “The education and the fact that mobile phones are now available in many households (above 80% according to field survey) make it easier for people to read and accept the forecasts. Before people were more trusting on the Gods for the weather”.
The farmers are currently more interested in short term forecasts, “This they can use to make short-term tactical decisions such as bringing their harvest today or tomorrow”. However Kumar also shares seasonal forecasts. These can be used for long-term strategic decisions which the extension officers can include in their advice on what crop variety to use and when to sow.
“Now we still see that the farmers sometimes forget to check the forecasts, because it is not yet a part of their habits, but this is something that needs to grow”. Kumar wants to continue his research to tailor climate information to the needs of the farmers and wants to make sure they can be used consistently. His efforts may help generations of farmers in Khulna to use climate and weather data.
Unesco Institute for Statistics, UIS (2018) Bangladesh, literacy rate http://uis.unesco.org/country/BD date accessed 24/03/2019
Deltares. (2009). Towards sustainable development of deltas, estuaries and coastal zones Description of eight selected deltas. Retrieved from http://edepot.wur.nl/322988