FARUKPARA, Bangladesh, April 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
- For a long time, slash and burn agriculture was a way of life
for Funghkal Bawn.
Like other farmers from the ethnic Bawn community, in the
Chittagong Hill Tract area of Bangladesh, he used to clear a new
strip of land every season on the slopes near his village of
Farukpara. On it he grew a single crop such as paddy rice,
pineapple, ginger or turmeric.
But two years ago, a flash flood triggered by torrential
rains damaged his entire crop of rice, leaving him short of food
and money to buy new seeds.
The setback forced Bawn to rethink his traditional method of
farming and find a more sustainable way to grow crops, to hedge
against the growing likelihood of extreme weather.
Now Bawn sows a mixture of traditional crops and other
plants on the hill slopes, to minimise his losses if any natural
disaster hits his crop land again.
Other farmers are following his lead to help improve their
resilience against the worsening impacts of climate change.
“I started mixed cultivation of crops, including pineapple,
ginger, mango and coffee together,” Bawn told the Thomson
He sows and harvests the crops at different times. If one is
damaged by floods or erratic rainfall, there is a chance that
another will survive, and he will be able to sell that one
instead, he explained.
Ten of the 22 families in Farukpara’s Bawn community are now
practising similar mixed cultivation.
Zarmoy Bawn, one of Fungkhal’s neighbours, said that along
with traditional crops he has planted coffee saplings on his
land. He hopes that once the trees start fruiting, he will be
able to earn more money selling the cash crop.
Another farmer, Nu Ang Bawn, intends to plant coffee and
mango saplings on her hill slopes from next season.
“Now I sow only ginger and pineapple on my land. But I want
to start mixed crops cultivation from next season to get more
benefit from farming,” she added.
MORE HEAVY RAIN
Weather services and climate experts say the frequency of
heavy rain is increasing in South Asia, including Bangladesh,
while lighter rainfall is becoming less common.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), situated in Bangladesh’s
south-east and bordering India and Myanmar, are the country’s
only largely hilly region, with slopes prone to problems in
A 2014 study by the Bangladesh University of Engineering and
Technology found that rainfall has been increasing in recent
decades, both during and before the annual monsoon. In 2007, the
Chittagong region received 480 mm (19 inches) of rain in a
single day, leading to flooding and landslides that killed more
than 100 people.
Malik Fida A. Khan, deputy executive director of the
Dhaka-based Center for Environmental and Geographic Information
Services, a think-tank, said that as the rainfall pattern shifts
in South Asia as a result of climate change, the hill tract area
can expect monsoons to bring more intense rain over shorter
This could lead to massive soil erosion and flash floods, he
Reducing the use of traditional shifting cultivation – which
can lead to the removal of trees or plants that help hold soil
and trap water on slopes – could help reduce risks, and not just
in the hills, he said.
“As a result of soil erosion due to shifting cultivation,
the streams, rivers and tributaries are rapidly silted up,
resulting in flash floods in the CHT region,” said Abdul Mannan,
a programme officer for the Arannayk Foundation, a joint
initiative of the Bangladeshi and U.S. governments that works on
forest conservation and biodiversity in Bangladesh.
Mohammad Qudrat-E-Ghana, a director of Bangladesh’s
Department of Agriculture Extension (Horticulture), said there
is great potential for growing fruit and other new crops to
replace shifting cultivation in the hill tracts.
The agriculture department has opened 15 fruit tree centres
in three hill districts, distributing high-quality saplings to
farmers to encourage them to change their farming practices, cut
soil erosion and slow land degradation.
He said about 60 percent of farmers living in the hill areas
had already started making changes in how they grow crops.
(Reporting by Rafiqul Islam; editing by James Baer and Laurie
Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)