Understanding the Demands for Climate Services of Coastal Farming Communities of Bangladesh

Saleh Ahmed one of our Visiting Researchers shares his Experience.

Understanding the Demands for Climate Services in Coastal Farming Communities of Bangladesh

By-Saleh Ahmed

Anomalies in weather and climate patterns are increasingly evident in many parts of the world, and the people of Bangladesh are experiencing those first hand. While the entire country is exposed to various climate stresses, the densely populated coastal region along the Bay of Bengal constitute a vulnerability “frontline.” I was very much intrigued by this region’s development and adaptation challenges, particularly among farming communities. So starting from 2015, I made sequential travels in the region to get better insights on local development as well as adaptation needs, challenges, opportunities and barriers. In doing that I interacted with local farmers, other villagers, local government representatives, government extension agents, NGO workers, civil societies, government bureaucrats as well as policy makers.

Crop Harvesting

Based on those invaluable insights, I designed a research project, which is part of my current doctoral dissertation research at the University of Arizona, asking the demands for climate services in farm-related decision making in coastal Bangladesh. In the region, a large share of local people predominantly rely on farming and fishing for their livelihoods.

Any change in expected weather and climate patterns can result in serious implications on individual as well as country’s overall food security and likely to affect local and national efforts to reduce poverty as well as global development targets such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). In this context, climate services, which involve the production, translation, transfer, and use of climate information, can be increasingly important for reducing risks and improving resilience.

My trainings on vulnerability, adaptation and resilience at the University of Arizona helped me to craft my research using the theoretical framework of social vulnerability to climate change. This theory argues that peoples’ vulnerability to climate impacts is as much defined by socio-economic conditions as by exposure to natural stressors.

Water Logging

As a doctoral student, I am researching whether and how climate services influence farm-related adaptation decisions and influence achieving greater community resilience. I was extremely privileged to be a Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh, and as part of that I worked with a local NGO named ADAMS in Kalapara Upazila, which is under Patuakhali district. This is one of the southern-most and low-lying coastal districts in the country.

I spent time in that region starting from September, 2017 to December, 2017 and gained deeper insights on farmers adaptation needs, choices, opportunities and barriers, and researched on at what point and in what context climate services can make meaningful contribution into the process of resilient livelihoods. In doing that, I interviewed 250 farmers from various backgrounds: Hindu, Muslim, Rakhaine, and female-headed Households.

Discussing with Local Small-scale Female Farmers

Despite unequal socio-economic status and priorities, local farmers function in a much localized social space, but their livelihoods are impacted by various exogenous factors. Many of their decisions and activities are linked to their individual and collective belief systems. However, they are very rational in their own decision-making processes, which are often influenced by their socio-economic conditions and available opportunities or constraints.

Also, farmers’ vulnerability varies across seasons. The person who is vulnerable in summer (due to the lack of farming opportunities or irrigation) might not be vulnerable in monsoon (because of his/her opportunities to catch fish).

Discussing with Local Farmers about their Farm-related Challenges

Depending on livelihoods, their information needs also varies. During my field research, I was very much intrigued with the thoughts that even though information can be useful to farm-related decision-making, what if a farmer receive information who does not own land. In most cases, if someone does not own land and rent other’s lands for farming, might be the reason for limited decision-making power over his/her produced crops and cultivated lands, since he/she is already in “contract” with the land owner/s. There are lot of other insights that I received from the field, which inspired me to think about the “system-level” perspective addressing any localized [climate] challenges, because a system-level thinking can help us to understand and consider local and regional contexts, including interactions, processes, synergies, and trade-offs between various sub-components (e.g. social, economic, political) at multiple levels (e.g. local, national, global) that are critical for resilient livelihoods.

End of my fieldwork, I got an exciting opportunity to present the preliminary findings at the Gobeshona Conference 2018, which is becoming the flagship climate change and adaptation  conference in the country. This time colleagues from other parts of the Global South participated in this event. ICCCAD was instrumental in all through my works, starting from planning phase to the field data collection (a huge thanks to Amal Chandra Das of ADAMS in addition to many others from ICCCAD and ADAMS) as well as presenting at Gobeshona Conference.

With our last respondent of 250 farmers, Amal and Saleh Ahmed

For me, my association with ICCCAD as a Visiting Researcher during my stay in Bangladesh in 2017 as well as a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona are among some of the most creative engagements that I have ever had, which are not only intellectually stimulating, but also professionally transformative. While I left my field sites, I told Amal and many others that this maybe the end of beginning, but there will be much more in coming days and months or even years on researching resilience and development in the region and beyond, since research-informed decision-making will be increasingly important in our unpredictable future.

Acknowledgements: Author likes to acknowledge farmers and villagers in Kalapara Upazila (Patuakhali, Bangladesh) for their valuable insights on their living climate realities. Without the support from author’s doctoral committee, which includes Dr. Saleemul Huq also, this research would never be possible. Author also like to acknowledge research funding supports from the University of Arizona & Columbia University International Research and Application Project (IRAP), Institute of the Environment (The University of Arizona) through Carson Scholar Program (Agnese Nelms Haury Fellow), Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), Confluence center for Creative Inquiry (The University of Arizona), and American Philosophical Society.

About The Author:

Saleh Ahmed

The author  Saleh Ahmed, is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Arizona (USA). He is pursing Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Arid Lands Resource Sciences with a minor in Global Change. His research focuses on climate-society interactions, climate services for resilient livelihoods, and international development.  E-mail: ahmeds@email.arizona.edu