Banishanta, Bangladesh: Local weathercasters combat climate change

In the south-western coastal region of Bangladesh, people of Banishanta village have formed a local weather club to make informed decisions in the face of a changing climate. This is the ninth of the ‘Voices from the Frontline (Phase-II)’ stories by ICCCAD and GRP. 

The agriculture sector in the coastal regions of Bangladesh is severely impacted by various climatic events such as cyclones, excessive rainfall, and storms. The farmers from Khulna’s Banishanta village have come together and adopted strategies to adapt to climate change. Despite limited formal education, these farmers have developed a keen understanding of weather patterns and trends, which together with the information provided by local weathercasters helps them make informed decisions about their farming activities. 

Photo Credit: BEDS

Banishanta village located in Dacope upazila of Khulna district, is a highly climate-vulnerable coastal community in Bangladesh. The villagers face significant damage to local agriculture, infrastructure and community livelihoods as a result of the region’s high salinity level and affinity to severe weather events such as cyclones, storm surges, and floods. The villagers depend on agriculture, with many earning their livelihoods through farming and fishing. The unpredictable and extreme weather patterns, however, have made it increasingly difficult for farmers to grow crops and sustain their livelihoods, with them struggling to make informed decisions about planting and harvesting their crops. Although, the local farmers previously used traditional knowledge to predict weather patterns, increased weather variability has reduced its efficacy. As a result, they are facing total crop failure causing them to fall into a cycle of loans and losing resources.  

Photo Credit: BEDS

In response to these challenges, the residents of Banishanta came together to form the ‘Banishanta Weather Club’, an initiative aimed at improving their understanding of the weather and its impacts on their lives. The club works to inform community members about upcoming weather patterns, allowing them to make more informed decisions about their farming activities and reduce the risk of crop loss. The club works to promote conservation and sustainable development in the region through promoting environmentally friendly practices and improving community resilience. Through its focus on weather information and community engagement, the club demonstrates the important role that local communities can play in addressing the challenges of climate change and promoting sustainable development.  

Sanjay Mondol is a 36 year old farmer from the Banojibi community of Banishanta.  Banaojibi is a Bangla word meaning those dependent on the resources of the forests for their livelihoods. The Banaojibi community is largely composed of Sundarbans resource harvesters and marginal farmers. 

Unpredictable weather fluctuations continue causing yearly losses in Sanjay’s production. Without access to weather forecasts, he invested significant resources into his farm, only to suffer from decreased yields and profits, leading to financial difficulties. 

Like Sanjay, smallholder farmers in the Sundarbans region face an increasing frequency of climatic risks, such as floods, river erosion, heavy rainfall, and drought. These climate risks are causing significant loss of farm productivity and income in farmers’ agriculture and fisheries activities. Indeed, the majority of these people lack access to climate information services (CIS).  

Recognizing the challenges, a local NGO called Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS) identified farmers, like Sanjay in the community and introduced them to climate and information services (CIS), under the Delta Research Initiative (DRI) project, funded by the Global Network of Civil Society Organization for Disaster Risk Reduction (GNDR).  

BEDS conducted a training program for the farmers in the Dacope Upazila for 7000 farmers to teach them to use and access digital tools such as smartphone apps and social media platforms to access climate information.  This training enabled Sanjay to access weather pattern predictions and extreme weather forecasts before its arrival. “I can now decide regarding when I will sow seed based on the weather forecasts. I also can create a water irrigation canal on my agricultural lands before heavy rains”, says Sanjay.  

Photo Credit: BEDS

A committee has been formed consisting of farmers and local youth to run the local weather club as well as social media group. The BEDS team regularly monitors their activities and provides technical support for the farmers. 

A Facebook messenger group named Banishanta Climate School has been created where farmers like Sanjay are included. Farmers can tell what the weather will be like on any particular day through the group. This has resulted in significant positive changes in the agriculture of the region. The virtual climate school, which was part of the BEDS training program, has helped farmers to prepare for extreme events such as cyclones and reduced the economic cost of natural and climatic disasters. 

The Banishanta village has now benefitted from the CIS approach, with hundreds of farmers and housewives using weather apps and social media to access timely and reliable information on weather conditions, agro-advisories, and market information.  

The initiative is a perfect example of locally led adaptation because it is driven by participation of local communities and puts them in control of weather monitoring, instead of dependence on external entities. It is clear that the CIS approach empowers communities to take an active role in not only understanding the importance of weather monitoring but also addressing the challenges they face and leads to more effective and sustainable solutions. 

Sanjay adds, “Farmers’ livelihoods have now improved as a result of this effort, and we [have been able to] tackle crop losses. Farmers Weather Club (FWC) members should be trained, and each union should have one so that they may share weather information with the nearby farms through the club. The government and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should step forward and make meteorological information available to all Bangladeshi farmers.”  

“Three-fifths of the population in our country are employed in the agriculture sector. Therefore, we should prioritize weather information services for farmers, which will ultimately increase agricultural production. First and foremost, farmers’ awareness must be raised. FWC should be encouraged, and each union in Bangladesh should have one online social media group and tech equipment like smartphones and internet connectivity”, concludes Sanjay. 

Interviewer’s perspective: 

The Banishanta Weather Club serves as a model for how local communities can take action to adapt to the impact of climate change and build a more sustainable future. Through its focus on weather information and community engagement, the club demonstrates the important role that communities can play in addressing the challenges of climate change and promoting sustainable development. This also shows how crucial it is to efficiently channel resources and information to enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers to climate change and variability, particularly in developing countries where agriculture is a critical source of livelihood. The CIS approach can be scaled out surrounding communities and locally, through farmer-participatory processes and farmer-to-farmer communication. 

About the interviewer 

Sohanur Rahman is the Executive Coordinator of YouthNet for Climate Justice, the largest youth networking organisation in Bangladesh to support coastal communities during humanitarian crises. He advocates globally for youth-based rights, especially in the areas of climate justice, disaster risk reduction, gender equality and human rights. 

About the interviewee 

Sanjay Mondol is a local farmer who lives in Banishanta village under the Dacope sub-district of Khulna district. He is a member of the Banishanta Weather Club which is supported by a local civil society organization, Bangladesh Environments and Development Society (BEDS). As working as local weather forecasters, they disseminated early information to their community and their anticipatory action reduces crop failures.