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Bangladesh: fighting climate change with potatoes and pumpkins

Rabeya by Zahangir Alam - CARE
Rabeya is using the income generated from her new crops to pay for her daughter’s education. © Zahangir Alam/CARE

In many people’s minds, Bangladesh is synonymous with natural disasters: from cyclones to flooding, river erosion, droughts or earthquakes, the country is regularly battered by a wide range of hazards – and with climate change, these are set to increase in both frequency and intensity.  These events often have an enormous impact on agricultural activities, which are key sources of livelihoods for more than 60% of the country’s total population.

In order to better prepare communities affected by these recurring events, the European Commission has been funding projects designed to increase the resilience of those most exposed. Amongst the initiatives, a project implemented by CARE in a particularly vulnerable area demonstrates how beneficial these often very simple actions can be in improving the livelihoods of vulnerable families.

By Viivi Erkkila, Climate Change Media and Communications Coordinator, CARE International, @CAREGlobal

Life is not easy in Kurigram, one of Bangladesh’s poorest districts, located in the north west of the country. The levels of food insecurity in the area are amongst the highest nationally, and climate change is having direct impact on its four million inhabitants. With temperatures rising, the recurrent floods, tropical cyclones and droughts that intensify the vicious cycle of hunger and poverty are becoming ever more frequent.

Rabeya, a 31 year-old mother of two who lives in a small village named Malvanga, recalls how she and her husband were once reliant on rice farming to make a living. But that was before the floods began damaging their crops year after year. “Everything was destroyed. We had very little to eat, often just one meal a day,” she says. “When I was little, the floods came only once a year, but now they come at least twice a year.”
Today, Rabeya has started another activity: she grows potatoes and pumpkins, which she sells in the local market. “I’m trying to raise money for my daughter,” says the 31-year-old mother of two. Her daughter, Dilruba, is 13 years old and will soon finish grade 7 at a local school. “She is really bright. She wants to become a doctor. I don’t want her to get married too early, as I want her to finish school and have a better life.”

This transition was made possible thanks to a project implemented by CARE, in partnership with the Commission's European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department, which has been supporting vulnerable women in order to help them become more resilient to the escalating climatic disasters. Thanks to the initiative, Rabeya is now part of a livelihood group established with the support of the local authorities and members of her village committee. Under this programme, women from her hometown have learnt about tools and methods on how to prepare for both expected and unexpected climate shocks. This is where Rabeya got the idea of growing potatoes and pumpkins rather than rice. Being root crops, they are considered to be less vulnerable to climate change compared to grain crops. Under the project, she also received agricultural equipment, such as seeds and fertilizers.

Thanks to the EU-funded initiative, Rabeya recently cultivated more than 1000 kilogrammes of potatoes. Along with the pumpkins she also grew, the crops yielded her an income of 20000 BDT (approximately €220) - and she of course set aside some of the harvest to feed her own family, thereby saving on her food purchases. These savings will not only enable her to make sure her children can secure an education for the year to come, but also provide a welcome financial safety in case of future natural disasters affecting the family.