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Effects of Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels on Agriculture

Agriculture is the living source mostly of the people / Photo by Getty Images

 

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in many countries and is the main cultural activity and a source of living for a lot of people. As the backbone of the country, agriculture also ensures food security. For farmers to gain profits through increased crop growth, there have to be favorable climatic conditions. Crop production is positively influenced by good rainfall and average temperatures.

Poor Climate Conditions in Bangladesh

However, this has not been the case in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a climate-vulnerable country located between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal; the country is very prone to natural disasters. The climatic change has posed a significant challenge to the farmers in this country due to the flooding, high temperatures, irregular rainfall, river erosion, and the salty soil and tropical storms. Attaining food self-sufficiency and ensuring food for all is adopted in the vision 2021 in Bangladesh.

Estimates from a recent study have shown that climate change has led to extreme weather events and rising sea levels. As a result, salty sea water is flooding into the farms as glaciers melt into the oceans thus limiting the amount of cultivatable land. The growth of rice and other crops is hindered by salty water. Study co-lead author Joyce Chen of the Ohio State University says that it is becoming difficult for most of the coastal residents to maintain their agricultural livelihoods and that is why most of the farmers are being forced to shift from growing rice to raising shrimp and other seafood. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Migration Drivers

Shifting from one agricultural activity to another is not as easy as it sounds. For example, some of the farming families in Bangladesh have very few resources to venture into seafood farming. Chen and her co-author, Valerie Mueller of Arizona State University and the International Food Policy Research Institute came together and collected various socioeconomic, population, geographic and climate change models that enabled them to create models that could be used to estimate the number of farmers who shifted due to rising water in the coastal farmlands leading to soil salinity. 

From the study, it was found out that soil salinity leads to loss of farming potential. It is one of the main reasons why farmers continued and will continue shifting. For instance, moderate soil contamination is expected to lead to approximately twenty-one percent loss in crop revenue each year.  In the next twelve decades, the coastal communities that accommodate billions of people will be replaced with seawater. It means that forty percent of Bangladesh’s agricultural fields are in great danger.

Since most of the farmers residing in the coastal areas are already experiencing frequent flooding, they are left with no option but to convert some of their operations to aquaculture and farming shrimp and fish that do well in salty water.

 

Climate change causes extreme weather events and rising sea levels / Photo by Maxpixel.net

 

Competing Interests

Apart from the expensive costs involved in shifting from rice to seafood, the activity also presents a significant challenge to the residents who want to decrease the encroaching seawater. Remember that the seafood farmers need the water to maintain their livelihoods. These are two competing interests which are quite difficult to maintain.

If these conditions continue, Bangladesh will be at risk of losing its coastal land. According to statistics, it is estimated that the farming lands will disappear at a rate of ten to eighteen millimeters per year. The people with limited or no resources to adapt their farming practices will be forced to move to other regions in search of other forms of employment.

Reduction in External Migration

On the other hand, the increasing soil acidity and the frequency of catastrophic storms will benefit the Bangladesh residents in some way. From the study, it is clear that as soil salinity increases, internal migration will increase by twenty-five percent. However, migration to regions and countries abroad will decrease by approximately sixty percent because with aquaculture; there will be a lot of jobs that will keep the Bangladesh residents busy in the country.

The agricultural sector is the major contributor of income and employment for most countries such as Bangladesh. It means that this sector is directly related to the poverty or the resources in a country. Therefore, every government needs to put priority to agriculture.

Call for Policymakers

It is clear that climate change will lead to a lot of populations shifts which need to be planned for as early as possible by policymakers. Governments of the countries that are facing similar threats of sea level rise should learn from the Bangladesh study. They should prepare for the internal migration patterns by developing economic strategies that integrate and leverage the additional number of workers that will be expected to come from the vulnerable areas. In addition to that, the countries that neighbor areas that are vulnerable to sea level rises should start thinking about policies that could accommodate international migrants. Mueller also says that international community should go a step further and provide financial support that would foster resettlement programs.

 

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