Aman cultivation fell short of a fourth of the target fixed by the government until this week, more than two weeks after the best time for planting the rice crop ended.
This year, the government targeted cultivating aman on 56.59 lakh hectares, of which 72 per cent were achieved until Tuesday, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension.
After battling prolonged drought, acute power shortages affecting artificial irrigation, and flash floods, farmers failed to live up to expectations.
This is not the first year that weather has affected aman cultivation.
Meteorologists and climate researchers said that observing the weather patterns of the past several years, they traced a clear change in the weather pattern, particularly regarding rainfall, triggering drought and flash floods in the aman season.
The sowing of aman, the second-most important crop, according to the DAE, begins in July and is supposed to be completed in the month.
‘I cultivated aman in one-third of what I had initially planned—three bighas,’ said Azizar Rahman, a farmer of Gangachara in Rangpur.
Azizar could not afford the irrigation needed for sowing aman in July when the weather department recorded a 56 per cent rainfall deficit across Bangladesh compared with the month’s normal time average rainfall.
According to the divisional DAE office in Rangpur, 1,258mm of rain was recorded against the normal average of 5,796mm.
Hundreds of aman farmers in the chars in the north, popularly dubbed the rice basket of Bangladesh, were forced to irrigate their fields with lifted ground water artificially.
The need for irrigation appeared to be yet another blow to the farmers, who were financially hard-pressed after a 50 per cent increase in the price of oil in the past year and a fertiliser price increase of Tk 5 per kg this year.
Frequent energy price hikes also put farmers in a vulnerable situation, bringing in the worst inflation in 12 years.
‘We are living in a real vulnerable situation, especially for not getting a legitimate price after going through all these troubles,’ said Rais Uddin, a farmer in Kushtia Sadar.
Aman is Bangladesh’s second-most important rice variety, accounting for 30 per cent of the rice annually consumed and grown during the monsoon.
Aman is also a relief crop for farmers because it used to grow with almost no irrigation and little investment.
‘We must forget that aman is a rain-fed crop and grow it with artificial irrigation from now on,’ said Shahjahan Kabir, director general, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute.
Aman needs to be planted when it should, he said, also advising farmers to plant flood-tolerant varieties to avoid losses from flash floods.
‘Our flood-tolerant varieties can survive 21 days under water,’ he said.
But there are areas in Bangladesh where water entered because of flash floods and is showing no sign of receding, particularly in low-lying char areas.
‘My entire three bighas have been under water for 15 days,’ said Azizar Rahman, fearing the complete loss of his crop.
Azizar borrowed Tk 40,000 at high interest for cultivating aman.
In the Rangpur division, according to the local office, over 7,000 hectares of aman fields were under water.
In the first week of August, flash floods damaged crops, mainly aman, on tens of thousands of hectares in northern and south-eastern Bangladesh, including 50,000 hectares in Chattogram division.
The flash flood was triggered by erratic rainfall, which broke historical records in places in the country.
‘Cultivation of aman has become really difficult, and its cost has increased by 20 per cent,’ said Fazlul Karim, who teaches agronomy at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.
Unless the government came forward to help farmers, he said, the situation could get out of hand concerning food security.
In 2019-20, a flood in August destroyed aman crops in more than half of Bangladesh or 37 districts and the government estimated the loss to be Tk 1,323 crore.
Aman cultivation was affected in 2016–17 due to frequent floods. In 2007–8, cyclone Sidr caused aman production to drop by three million tonnes.
‘The weather has gotten really erratic, revealing a change in the pattern of rainfall, indicating a seasonal shift,’ said meteorologist Bazlur Rashid.
In Rajshahi, farmers struggled over the past few days to keep their aman plant alive as load shedding restricted artificial irrigation, which takes seven to eight hours to water a crop field of a bigha.
Farmers in the Rajshahi region complained about six to seven hours of power cuts every day.
‘I cultivated aman in less than half of what I had initially planned, and they are dying in front of my eyes due to lack of irrigation,’ said Abdus Samad, a farmer of Balanagar, Bagmara.
After a brief dry spell since flash floods in early August, the weather is getting wet again with chances of rain.
The Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre has not ruled out a possibility of a late monsoon flood in October, just when aman crop would mature.
Last year, boro output was 1.3 million tonnes less than the target due to flooding.
The production of aush, the third popular rice variety, dropped by 0.7 million tonnes last year due to inclement weather.
Bangladesh’s annual rice demand is about four crore tonnes, mostly met with boro.