A drought-like situation is taking a toll on agriculture in northern Bangladesh, delaying rice planting and destroying crops such as jute and vegetables.
A severe scarcity of rain coupled with high temperatures and prolonged heatwaves left water bodies almost dry and crop fields cracked, leading to the situation.
The situation is not common, particularly during the monsoon, from June to September, when 80 per cent of the country’s annual rains occur.
‘We are waiting for the rain to process our crop,’ said Babor Ali, a farmer from the Belpukur area under Puthia upazila in Rajshahi, who cut his jute stalks about a week ago but could not find a place to rot them for fibre extraction.
After harvesting and tie-up, jute stalks are submerged in flowing water for around 20 days for decomposition to extract the fibre.
In Rajshahi, jute stalks were drying in fields while the cultivation of aman rice, the country’s second-largest staple crop, was affected due to water scarcity.
According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, Rajshahi recorded 61 per cent less rain than usual in the 30 days of July, when 366 millimetres of rain were expected.
Farmers are already late in planting aman and forced to use underground water through diesel-run pumps, suffering a spike in their expenditures.
They fear they will lose yield this year.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, jute has been cultivated this year on 76,885 hectares of land in Rajshahi, Natore, Chapainawabganj, and Naogaon districts.
Farmers in Bagmara upazila of Rajshahi made temporary water bodies using irrigation water through shallow machines for processing raw jute.
Farmers fear jute fibre quality will fall.
Monirul Islam, a farmer in the Bagmara municipality area, who cultivated jute on his two bigha of land, said that a large portion of the crop dried up in the fields due to heatwaves and drought.
‘We are trying to save what is still left to be saved by making artificial water bodies, which costs a lot of money,’ he said.
Monirul said that despite the drought-like situation affecting jute fibre production, the price remained lower than the previous year.
‘It will be disastrous for us if the price does not go up as production will not be as high as previous years but the labour cost has increased,’ he added.
Low rainfall is also affecting aman cultivation in Rajshahi, as farmers delayed planting aman, which is planted after jute is harvested.
Farmers said that they rely on rainwater to produce aman, which they normally transplant between July 1 and July 30.
Julfiquer Ali, a farmer of Dampura village under Niamatpur upazila in Naogaon, said that he had prepared his seedbed to transplant aman on 10 bighas of land within July.
The seedlings have grown fully, but the land cannot be prepared in time for transplanting them in this drought-like environment, he said.
After waiting for rain, the farmer finally transplanted the seedlings onto five bighas of land with irrigated water, increasing his production cost.
Another farmer, Ashraful Islam, of Togorail village under Rosulpur union in the upazila, said that there had been no rain in the area since July 15.
He said that he had to depend on water pumps to prepare the land for transplanting aman seedlings, which cost him an additional Tk 1,000 per bigha.
Billal Hossain, a farmer of Biroil village under Sherpur upazila in Bogura, said that his expenses would go up by Tk 2,000 per bigha for operating the diesel pump as he had to irrigate the paddy fields twice a week to keep the transplanted seedlings alive.
Frequent load-shedding affecting irrigation also hampers aman cultivation as farmers in the region use groundwater for cultivation.
Until Sunday, aman seedlings had been transplanted on about 39.5 per cent of the land, against the government’s target of 4,05,009 hectares in the region, according to the Rajshahi divisional office of the Department of Agricultural Extension.
Md Israil, a Barind Multipurpose Development Authority deep tube-well operator at Dampura village under Niamatpur upazila in Naogaon, said that it used to cost a farmer Tk 150–200 to irrigate one bigha of land earlier.
‘But, due to frequent load-shedding, irrigation costs have doubled,’ he added.
Md Shamsul Wadud, additional director at the Rajshahi divisional DAE office, however, told New Age that there was still time for planting aman as farmers could transplant rice through August.
In Kushtia, farmers were afraid that they would suffer huge losses this year because of the drought-like situation, leaving their canals and ponds dry.
In the district, jute stalks were seen lying on the ground and drying. Some of these crops were harvested two weeks ago.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension in Kushtia, jute was cultivated on 41,700 acres this year.
Jute grower Rabiul Islam of Bhadalia village under Sadar upazila said that usually, they cut jute earlier to save them from flooding.
‘But the situation is completely different this season,’ he said.
Kushtia agriculture extension officer Hayath Mahmud said that they trained and advised farmers to rot jute using the ribbon method.
In the method, ribbons are stripped mechanically from jute plant stems, coiled, and allowed to rot under water.
Rangpur received the lowest amount of rainfall in 30 years.
Aman cultivation reached only 26 per cent of the target, while 63 per cent of jute growers could not grow their crop due to lack of rain.
Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, a non-government organisation involved in climate research, said that vast swathes of land in India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, where the monsoon brings heavy rain, are now dry and hot because of scarce rain.
‘This is an extreme event linked to climate change,’ he said.
‘Farmers are going crazy, and a food crisis may be imminent, he said.