Bangladesh’s partnership with IRRI goes back more than 45 years. IRRI's first outreach program in Bangladesh was in 1965 -- when a set of 303 rice varieties, which constituted the Institute's first international rice testing program, was evaluated at Savar Farm, a government-run dairy enterprise. This was with support from the Ford Foundation. The following year, the first widely distributed high-yielding semidwarf rice variety, IR8, was introduced into the country.
IRRI’s work in Bangladesh is currently supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), USAID, Australian Aid, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the European Union.
In 1970, donors such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, and the Rockefeller Foundation supported IRRI’s initiatives to help Bangladesh in its efforts to overcome rice insufficiency. These efforts were focused on improving cultivation practices in various cropping patterns; managing water, nutrients, rodents, and insect pests; and farm mechanization, among others.
In the last few decades, great efforts in rice research and farming innovations were made to boost rice productivity in Bangladesh. Rice yield subsequently rose to 4.3 tons per hectare in 2012 from 1.7 tons per hectare in 1970. Higher production also created jobs, particularly in the rural areas. This success is largely a result of genetic improvement in the form of high-yielding, climate change-ready, and short- duration rice varieties. In many cases, short-duration varieties have allowed Bangladeshi farmers to include a third crop such as mustard, maize, or wheat, into their cropping schedule. Irrigation, fertilizer, and mechanization also contributed to the increases. There are currently about 600,000 two-wheel tractors in Bangladesh. The country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), and many others, together with the IRRI-Bangladesh Office, supported the development and diffusion of these technologies.
Despite the success in rice production, the country still faces many challenges in the agricultural sector because of forecast climate change impacts, scarce and degraded natural resources for production, and a continuously growing population. Temperature increase, erratic rainfall, uncertain weather, and extreme climate events such as frequent cyclones, prolonged flooding, and sea-level rise are already felt in Bangladesh.
By collaborating on a wide scope of research including developing better rice varieties, strengthening rice-based farming systems, and improving crop cultivation practices, Bangladesh raised its level of rice production and minimized the intensity of food insecurity during major floods and monsoons.
Coping with climate change
IRRI works with national partners in Bangladesh to adapt their rice-based cropping systems to climate change, build the capacity of farming households, and help enable policymakers deliver more effective climate adaptation programs. IRRI is also involved in another project that aims to develop and disseminate agricultural technologies for poor farmers in stress-prone rice areas. It also tries to reduce the environmental footprint of rice farming by developing and promoting green super rice varietiesthat yield high with less water, fertilizer and pesticides.
Breeding hardy rice varieties
IRRI is developing better rice varieties that can tolerate flooding, drought, and salinity through the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. IRRI supports the dissemination of these varieties to millions of farmers in flood-prone, drought-prone, and saline soil-affected areas through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia project in Bangladesh (CSISA-BD). With support from several partners, IRRI is developing new hybrid rice varieties, and in another project tries to generate widely accessible databases on crop improvement and track the diffusion of rice varieties.
Developing sustainable rice production systems
IRRI is involved in several projects that aim to increase the productivity, profitability, and resilience of rice-farming systems while ensuring environmental sustainability. It does this by working with local farmers and collaborators that include national agricultural research and extension systems in Bangladesh, nongovernment organizations, the private sector, and international partners.
Using socioeconomic data to reduce poverty
IRRI is growing in its understanding of poverty dynamics and development pathways to help implement poverty alleviation strategies more effectively. It is collecting long-term socioeconomic data to better link and strengthen research, policy, and capacity building activities.
IRRI continuously provides training and capacity building activities to support Bangladesh. By collaborating on a wide scope of research, including development of better rice varieties, strengthening of rice-based farming systems, and improvement of crop cultivation practices, Bangladesh continues to raise its level of rice production and minimize the intensity of food insecurity during major flooding and monsoons.
Conservation of genetic diversity
As of 2011, Bangladesh had contributed about 5,800 types of rice to IRRI's International Rice Genebank, where these are conserved and used for developing better varieties.d used for developing better varieties.
Breeding of improved rice
Since its adoption of IR8, IRRI's first major high-yielding variety, Bangladesh has adopted 73 high-yielding varieties that include 2 submergence-tolerant varieties, 2 drought-tolerant varieties, 4 salinity-tolerant varieties, 4 hybrids by BRRI, 5 high-yielding varieties by the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture, and 1 each by two Bangladesh universities. High-yielding varieties are said to account for nearly 80% of total rice production.
Increased water use efficiency
The system of alternate wetting and drying (AWD) introduced to farmers a practical way of cutting water use by as much as 15-30% without compromising production.
From 1966 to 2012, IRRI hosted 291 Bangladesh scholars, including 122 PhDs and 84 MScs. IRRI also supported 4 interns and 81 on-the-job trainees.
The staple food of about 160 million people in Bangladesh, rice, in a true sense, is more than just an everyday food item. For many Bangladeshis, it signifies both life and culture. It is deeply ingrained in Bangladesh culture and even the words 'food' and 'rice' are synonymous in Bengali.
Over the last thousand years, rice has been the dominant crop in Bangladesh and it currently accounts for 77% of agricultural land use. There are about 13 million farm families, who grow different types of rice, which includes traditional, modern, or hybrid rice varieties. Over 11.7 million hectares of land in Bangladesh is dedicated to rice production. It provides about 70% of direct human calorie intake, making it the most important food crop in Bangladesh.
The country is also said to have among the highest per capita consumption of rice (about 170 kg annually), and its food security and economy largely depend on good harvests year after year.
Growth of rice production
Bangladesh is the world’s sixth largest rice producer. In the last three to four decades, great efforts in rice research and farming innovations were made to boost rice production. It has also increased to about 48 million tons in 2009 from about 17 million tons in 1970. Scientists, extension agents, and farmers worked hard to achieve this success. However, challenges still lie ahead as Bangladesh becomes more densely populated, and there are still millions, who cannot eat adequately in a day. In some years and in some seasons, the level of food security and hunger rises due to crop loss, low rice yield caused by natural disasters, market failure, socioeconomic factors, and institutional weakness.
The continuous growth in agriculture and rice had been mainly possible because of scientific research and innovation, development of new rice varieties (high-yielding, short duration, stress-tolerant rice) and better farm management (with seeds from high-yielding varieties, irrigation, fertilizer, and pest management), which is supported by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, IRRI-Bangladesh Office, and others. Success can also be traced to the innovative and hardworking farmers, who played a leading role in agricultural development of the country. The appropriate public policy and programmes, participation of the private sectors, nongovernment organizations, media, and the agricultural extension officers also had a key role behind this success. IRRI-Bangladesh is proud to be associated with the development of almost all high-yielding rice varieties in the country since the release of IRRI-developed IR8. IRRI has subsequently helped in the growth of BRRI, and since its establishment in 1970, BRRI has also worked closely with IRRI.
There are several major rice-growing ecosystems in Bangladesh, these include: upland (direct-seeded pre-monsoon 'Aus' season); irrigated land (mainly dry 'Boro' season); rainfed lowland (mainly monsoon 'Aman' season); medium deepwater rice-growing areas (50-100 cm) and deepwater (>100 cm); and tidal saline and tidal non-saline areas. Aman season rice accounts for nearly 51% of total land area, followed by Boro and Aus season rice, which account for 40% and 9%, respectively. About 60% of the country’s rice area is irrigated, and farmers commonly cultivate modern varieties with associated inputs like fertilizers and pesticides for better farm management and good yield. However, non-irrigated rice is also important to many farming families, particularly those who operate in unfavorable environments.
Challenges and future direction
Despite the success in rice production, the country still faces many challenges in the agricultural sector due to forecast climate change impacts and a continuously growing population. Effects like temperature rise, erratic rainfall, uncertain weather as well as extreme climatic events like frequent cyclones, prolonged flood, sea-level rise and others, are already being felt in Bangladesh.
This poses a major threat to food security of the millions of impoverished people, particularly those that are living in zones most vulnerable to climate change. In many irrigated areas, groundwater recharge is falling behind the rate of extraction for irrigation especially in the dry season. In the northwestern part of the country, farmers are already suffering from water scarcity and infertile soils due to low organic matter. In this context, the challenges facing scientific communities are to help maintain an increase in food production and ensure food security in the midst of a growing population, limited natural resources, declining arable land, and adverse climatic conditions.
DR. PAUL FOX
IRRI Representative to Bangladesh
House No. 09, Road 2/2,
Chairman Bari, Banani
Telefax: +880 2 9898011 or 9886608
Fax: +880 2 9899676
The Bangladesh Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA-BD) aims to develop the productivity of rice-based farming systems by testing and disseminating new agricultural production technology and linking farmers with new marketing opportunities.
A combination of water, fish, rice, and crop management research is underway to help millions of Bangladeshi farmers.
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