Bangladesh is one of the world’s top rice producers, producing over 38 million tons annually. Rice cultivation in Bangladesh varies according to seasonal changes in the water supply. There are typically three rice-growing seasons that follow the periods of the monsoons. The most popular season is the aman which is planted with direct seeding in March and April, transplanted between July and August and harvested from November through December.
Rising temperatures have made the climate and weather conditions abnormal and unstable, negatively affecting crop growth. Flooding, especially flash flooding, has also become a common phenomenon in Bangladesh as farmers cannot estimate the time and duration of these floods, which can impact the growth of the rice. Tidal floods have the worst effects as saline waters can create water logging in the land and make the soil unsuitable for plantation and crop cultivation. The country has leaned heavily on high-yielding rice cultivation to ensure higher production, even though they have over 1000 indigenous varieties. As a result, many varieties have gone extinct, and the high-yielding rice cannot withstand changes influenced by climate change.
One farmer in Bangladesh who lives in the worst salinity-hit area is finding a solution to the flood problem. Sirajul Island has been collecting and preserving seeds of indigenous salinity-tolerant paddy breeds. He has already collected 218 different varieties. Many of the varieties he has collected were nearly out of use as most farmers have leaned towards producing high-yielding varieties. Once Sirajul has collected a certain kind of seed, he will cultivate it on a small piece of land. If satisfied with the result, he will recommend it to other farmers.
Sirajul’s efforts to find climate-resilient rice varieties is not the only one. His efforts are the result of the Bangladesh Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge. This farmer-led rice breeding initiative was created to empower farmers through capacity building and give them the confidence to solve seed-related problems. The organization has collected 653 indigenous rice varieties from farmers nationwide. These varieties have been regrown during different seasons to keep them alive.
Although the widespread cultivation of high-yielding, pest-resistant crop varieties that have been developed scientifically has significantly contributed to the world’s food production, it has led to the disappearance of the traditional types from agroecosystems. Programs like the Bangladesh Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge are important to help continue the production of food for the livelihood of people in Bangladesh, especially as the impacts of climate change continue to worsen. It also gives farmers the power to fight back against monocultures and government organizations and create awareness about protecting local varieties.