POST TIME: 20 November, 2020 06:55:31 PM
Promoting climate resilient irrigation systems
Climate resilience is seen as the capacity of farming communities, farms and households to adapt to the impacts of climate change as these arise. It is the long-term capacity and ability of human (and natural systems) to address the impacts of changing climate, e.g., drought.
Dr. Ranjan Roy

Promoting climate resilient irrigation systems

Bangladesh is the least responsible country for climate change, since this country releases small amount of greenhouse gases, but Bangladeshi people are one of the most vulnerable people to the changing climate. Agriculture is rated as one of the most susceptible sectors to the impacts of climate-related disasters. To combat the current and imminent challenges of climate change, building climate resilient irrigation (water) management is at the core of several policies and strategies, namely, the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.However, in reality, country’s irrigation systems are much away from integrating resilience approach.

Climate resilience is seen as the capacity of farming communities, farms and households to adapt to the impacts of climate change as these arise. The IPCC definition of resilience is “the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity of self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change.” The crux of climate resilience is the long-term capacity and ability of human (and natural systems) to address the impacts of changing climate, e.g., drought.

Agriculture (including crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry) and climate change are inextricably linked. Farming production is directly affected by a changing climate. Key impacts of climate change include more frequent and intense droughts and floods that can damage and at times even destroy crops.

Climate-related disasters have accounted for about 95% of all major disasters in Bangladesh since 1990.For climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts and tropical storms, 25 percent of all damage and losses is on the agriculture sector. Agriculture is the single most affected sector by these disasters, absorbing on average about 84 percent of all the economic impact. The impact of natural hazards and disasters on agriculture and food security call for actions to build resilient irrigation systems (i.e. irrigation communities and irrigation agencies).

Resilience is an evolving concept in irrigation. It is highly contextual and varies greatly from one location to another. Resilient irrigation systems have a couple of dimensions, including technical capacity (understanding of and ability to use appropriate technologies), institutional capacity (the ability to take appropriate decisions and implement them), and capital assets (sustainable build-up of infrastructure and other assets that contribute to climate resilience).

Technologies, including community-based technologies, are integral part of resilient irrigation systems. There is a need to improve irrigation distribution networks (secondary and tertiary canals), despite governments have invested in water sources and main canals (making more water available). Concrete canals are a useful technology for water-efficient irrigation. Research shows rice irrigation uses water very inefficiently. Technologies such as lined or concrete canals for distribution can improve the efficiency of water use.

Investment is needed for increasing the capacity of water reservoirs and using the water from the reservoirs more efficiently. A number of policy documents, including the 7th Five Year Plan (2016-2020) and Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, have underscored the use of surface water for irrigation. However, necessary investment, poor implementation, current capacity and weak governance of irrigation water reservoirs as well as surface irrigation water management remains ineffective, inefficient and inadequate.

Water use efficiency is a topical issue of natural resource management in the context of climate crisis. Irrigation efficiency refers to the amount of rice that can be grown with one cubic metre of water, or the volume of water needed to grow one tonne of rice. Through the respective authorities like the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), governments must place emphasis on techniques that farmers can use to improve water efficiency at field level. Major techniques are (a) broadcast planting (instead of traditional transplanting) uses about 25% less water, and (b) alternate wetting and drying (AWD) -flooding the field, then allowing it to dry, then flooding it again, uses less water than keeping the field flooded all the time.

Other emerging techniques include laser land levelling. If the rice field is not completely level, water will be wasted because the farmer has to apply too much water in one part of the field to have enough water in another part. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) elucidates several benefits (such as better weed control and higher yield) of land levelling besides better use of irrigation. However, no benefit from these techniques will save irrigation water unless the farmer can control the amount of irrigation water applied to the field.

Community-based technologies deserve much attention to building resilient irrigation systems. These technologies work as ‘Community Based Adaptation Measures.’ Ponds, rainwater harvesting, solar pump, and wind pump can be an important part of building climate resilience if they are used for the appropriate purpose.

Evidence shows over the last few years, off-grid solar products, especially solar water pumps for irrigation, have improved to help farmers increase crop yields and income in Bangladesh. Solar energy irrigation project started in Bangladesh in 2010 under the initiative of Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL). So far, IDCOL has approved 1,429 solar irrigation pumps, with 1,186 of them are already operational, and the rest of is under construction. The installed solar-based irrigation pumps provide water on over 106,848 bighas of land rice cultivation. Governments have to invest more in facilitating a conducive policy environment such as enacting a “Solar Energy Policy” to accelerate the development of solar pump-based irrigation systems.

Institutions have unique roles in resilience building. Institutions in irrigation systems are connected to irrigation-related decision making, rights to water, water price, dispute resolution, and access to information. Improved irrigation water use governance is hinge on building robust water institutions (that is, rules and management) as well as good water governance. It is evident that the water crisis is a crisis of governance, which is highly applicable for Bangladesh; since farmers have been increasingly dependent on groundwater for irrigation, although this country is called ‘the land of the rivers.

Institutional capacity building is an essential component of irrigation management. It signifies a process by which an organisation’s functions (for instance, use of appropriate operating rules, improve agricultural practices, and strengthening institutional arrangements) can be improved and enlarged. Experience indicates that research is required on assessing processes, institutions and policy for climate resilient irrigation development, management and resource governance.

Governments investment is required on several capital assets’ development, including strengthening climate resilience irrigation infrastructure. Of late, a study shows governments initiatives on enhancing climate resilience of irrigation infrastructure has been less obvious, despite this country has made significant strides in agricultural production.

In this regard, works are needed on several fronts. For example, the country needs comprehensive assessment of climate risks of irrigation infrastructure and use of current and imminent climate risk information in water resource planning at the different levels ranging from national to local level. Effectively integrating climate risk information into irrigation, water, land, and agricultural policies, strategies, and regulations are a vital step for promoting resilient irrigation systems.

‘Rice security’ is largely meant to ‘food security’ in Bangladesh. Achieving rice security is not possible without irrigation, as irrigated Boro rice provides the bulk of rice. Climate change will have dire consequences for irrigation access, causing more severe drought and flood .A review of the “Integrated Small-Scale Irrigation Policy 2017” through a “Climate Lens” would be a significant steps of building resilient irrigation systems.

In sum, in the light of climate change, ‘creating cohesive, coherent agricultural policy’ is essential for climate-resilient socio-economic development. Otherwise, achieving and maintaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger) and 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) would be very difficult in the near future.

The writer is a Professor in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Information System, Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University, Dhaka-1207. E-mail: [email protected]