Atharai: The Resilient Community

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Atharai is one of the remote villages of Tala Upazila in the district of Satkhira in Bangladesh. It is vulnerable to climate challenges such as water-logging, salinity, floods, storm surges, cyclones, dense fog, and droughts. There are about 200 households in Atharai and the socio-economic make-up of these households is approximately 5% wealthy, 15% middle-income, 50% poor, and 30% extremely poor. 80% of these households are Muslim, while 20% are Hindu. Almost 90% of the households depend primarily on agriculture, and 10% on other activities, such as cow rearing and small businesses.

In this region, agriculture has been struggling to cope with the challenges posed by climate change. For the last 10 years, Atharai village has been submerged under stagnant water from July to December (7 months each year). Sitting for so long underwater, the land’s soil salinity increases and nutrient content falls. Boro rice, one of the major cereal crops, is cultivated once a year during the summer. Poorly adapted to the changing environmental conditions, the Boro rice harvest is now failing to produce the yields that farmers have seen in the past. Rice requires large volumes of water for irrigation, which is usually purchased at great expense, resulting in higher production costs. Even though the government and a number of NGOs have worked to address climate challenges, they have not yet been successful in reducing the effects of climate vulnerabilities. The poor and extremely poor farmers of Atharai village are exploring alternative options to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change.

CARE Bangladesh launched Phase II of the Pathways to Secure and Resilient Livelihoods project in December 2015 in the village of Atharai. The purpose of this project is to build “more resilient households”. Pathways has trained individuals in the communities and formed 3 occupational groups (rice, dairy and wage). These groups consist of 136 poor and extremely poor women farmers. The Pathways program implemented a Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (CVCA) at the outset. The CVCA has helped communities identify the root causes of water-logging and salinity, including other climatic hazards, as well as the impact on seasonal crops and their life cycle. At first, the farmers were doubtful of the credibility of the Pathways program; however, after comparing the program to those of other development organizations, they concluded that Pathways was a better alternative. Apart from the CVCA, Pathways has facilitated a number of technical sessions on sustainable, productive, equitable, and resilient (climate-smart) agricultural practices for cereal and vegetable crops and dairy farming. In addition, technical sessions on gender were taught to FFBS farmers to sensitize men to gender inequalities.

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Based on the CVCA findings, the community developed a Climate Adaptation and Action Plan (CAAP) and established demonstration plots that helped them identify BRRI Dhan 63 and SL-8 as the best adaptive rice crops for the summer season. These crops give 7.89 to 8.33 metric tons per hectare yield (0.99 to 1.04 times higher than the one used previously). Farmers shared the results with their community, and prepared a plan to distribute the seeds among neighboring farmers for the next crop season. The locally elected body, Union Parishad (chairmen, members and local elites), was impressed with the results and committed to provide the necessary support to ensure that farmers continue to see the benefits already introduced by the Pathways program.

As part of the CAAP, 30 farmers utilized sack bags on elevated land to cultivate vine crops during late summer. This kept the plants out of reach of the flood waters and prevented crop death from waterlogging. Waterlogging usually occurs every year from June to December and destroys all standing crops, both in the homestead and in the fields. 136 (100%) of targeted farmers of Atharai village used bottle drip irrigation on their pit crops (sweet gourd, ash gourd, pointed gourd, ridge gourd, bitter gourd, snake gourd, and bottle gourd) during the summer when rain is scarce.

This practice permitted farmers to produce twice as much as the previous year. In this way, Pathways has promoted successful adaptive technologies which have contributed to individual and collective resilience. Farmers’ Field and Business School (FFBS) members of the Atharai village implemented two new trials to address waterlogging challenges during the monsoon in Satkhira district. The first one is “deep water rice cultivation” of a local Aman rice that can grow in stagnant water up to a depth of 5 feet. The other is planting water chestnut. Many farmers of Atarai and neighboring villages gather at the FFBS to learn about new adaptive techniques and crop varieties. These initiatives are building the resilience of Atharai villagers and neighboring farmers to climate challenges.

The Atharai FFBS initiated a Village Saving and Loan Association (VSLA) that consists of 30 FFBS members. Each VSLA member saved BDT 258 which collectively equals BDT 7,740. The VSLA group also created an emergency fund that consists of 10% of the savings. The VSLA group of the Atari village loaned BDT 1000 to one of its members with a minimum interest rate. Loans will be available to other members over time. The VSLA is a self-managed savings group, and it helps farmers to build resilience through giving them greater financial security. The Pathways Program arranged and facilitated a technical session for couples that helped sensitize men to gender issues. Now, FFBS farmers know that involving women in family decision-making and increasing their mobility is very important. The Atharai FFBS established professional relationships with the Union Parishad, the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), the private sector, the Department of Livestock (DL), and the Meteorological Department and research institutes. Union Parishad is planning to include the CVCA findings in their annual planning process, specifically in the budget planning. DAE and DL provided technical support and information to FFBS members and facilitated the process to ensure access to financial support for potential dairy owners from the bank.

The Atharai FFBS included new actions to pilot in their CAAP. For example, they identified the best adaptive crops, such as BINA Dhan 7, 16 and 17 for high land Aman rice. They also shared the effectiveness of dry seed bed, AWD and of pheromone traps. All the initiatives described above are examples of the work that Pathways has contributed towards building resilience in the village of Atharai over the last year.