Bayer, together with International Finance Corporation and Netafim launched the Better Life Farming Alliance in 2018
Climate change has been a contentious topic at the global stage since the beginning of the century. While there has been a divide in terms of countries and governments in their approach towards climate change, the magnitude of impacts of climate change continues to grow, affecting almost every sector in our daily life.
Significant national and international discussions are currently ongoing regarding the planning, financing, and implementation of adaptation approaches. With governments being locked in stalemates in trying to reach a conclusion to address the topic, the onus is gradually shifting toward the private sector to formulate initiatives that can reverse the impact of climate change.
Bangladesh being an agrarian society a huge chunk of the population lives in rural areas and is somewhat dependent on an agri-based economy. 60% of overall agricultural output comes from the crops sub-sector and the rise of population, so pressure on agricultural land and climate change are considered as key factors of the fall in agricultural growth.
Furthermore, climate change impacts on agricultural production are becoming salient due to the impacts of slow-onset events such as the sea-level rise and agricultural droughts. However, Bangladesh has made effective and sustainable gains in agriculture mainly through government policy support and the enterprising role and contribution of its farmers. Given the risks and vulnerabilities across all industry sectors and the significance of expected climate change impacts on businesses, the private sector will have a significant role to play in implementing adaptation to climate change. However, companies’ vulnerabilities, adaptive capacities and incentives for action will be influenced by the markets and regulatory contexts they operate in.
In this article, we take a closer look at one such private-sector organization and its actions to tackle climate change in Bangladesh — Bayer, the German multinational is a mammoth in the health care and agriculture sector with a history spanning more than 150 years with the vision “Health for all, Hunger for none".
Bayer CropScience is a global subsidiary of Bayer that is committed to improving the food system not only for farmers, but also for the consumers and the environment. With expertise in science, the subsidiary is embarking on a responsible journey from the farm to the fork, to ensure inclusive development of the agricultural sector. The organization is present in Bangladesh since 2002 as a joint venture between the parent company and Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation.
The main focus of the Bangladesh operation has been on improving the productivity and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. The approach is to have farmers at the centre of our thinking since they will need to adapt the most. This area of action is important as it provides the potential for an additional stream of income for farmers based on how they produce food, rather than the volume produced.
Bayer, together with International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Netafim (manufacturer of irrigation equipment) has launched the Better Life Farming Alliance (BLFA) in 2018, which was introduced in Bangladesh from November 2020 to improve the income of smallholder farmers through sustainable agricultural practices. The BLFA plans to address the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture by improving the efficiency of available resources such as water, fertilizer and energy.
Managing Director of Bayer CropScience in Bangladesh, Zahidul Islam informs, in Bangladesh, BLFA includes partners such as Bayer with its expertise in seeds, crop protection, and agronomy; IFC, the development finance institution for impact assessment and ACI as the local partner to create awareness about precision irrigation, balanced crop nutrition and soil health.
It aims to support smallholder farmers to increase crop yields and farm incomes through sustainable agriculture and agri-entrepreneurship. Referring to the 2016-17 Labour Force Survey by BBS the total of 22.7 million people involved in agriculture, that is around 50% of the agricultural labour force is rural women. An integral aspect of Better Life Farming (BLF) is its agri-entrepreneurship model, which operates via “Better Life Farming Centers”.
These centres are run by local rural agri-entrepreneurs that also include female farmers. Bayer is focusing on creating female agri-entrepreneurs to empower rural women. They also facilitate economic opportunities for smallholders by enabling knowledge and technology transfer on good agricultural practices and deliver services such as market linkages, access to agri-inputs and crop advisory.
The centres help in addressing pressing problems in Bangladeshi agriculture such as erratic weather, disease and pest incidence, increasing salinity, ensuring food security and enabling better farmer incomes. Each BLF centre covers a group of 500 farmers from five to six nearby villages and serves as a mini-collection centre from where off-takers can collect agricultural produce.
Additionally, BLFA plans to support Bangladesh government to promote crop diversification and enhance crop yields by implementing sustainable climate-smart agriculture practices. For example, during the wet season, the BLFA is seeking to increase hybridization in rice farming and promoting improved varieties that combine high yield attributes with submergence tolerance capacity.
Also, it has launched Bacterial Leaf Blight (BLB) resistance variety and is a pioneer in biotic and abiotic stress tolerant traits in hybrid rice in Bangladesh. In 2020, Bayer Bangladesh distributed 300 metric tonnes of climate-smart hybrid rice seeds to 100,000 smallholder farmers during the dry and wet season. To enable capacity building for farmers from “seed to harvest”, Bayer Bangladesh collaborated with renowned NGO BRAC and conducted 250+ training programs in 125 rural locations covering 15,000 beneficiaries across the country. These training programs helped the smallholder farmers adapt climate-smart agriculture practices through sustainable rice farming.
Islam said partnerships and collaboration is an integral part of Bayer’s approach towards strengthening the country’s agriculture sector. As an example, Bayer Bangladesh is planning to enter into new partnerships with key organisations under the Government of Bangladesh and Agriculture Universities for technical collaboration on promoting Good Agriculture Practices involving high-yielding hybrid seeds, safe and optimum use of pesticides and other agricultural inputs for agriculture commercialization to achieve sustainable farming.
Islam added that the company is making a difference and contributing to tackle climate change at the local level in both mitigation and adaptation perspectives and creating a better life for the smallholder farmers in Bangladesh. While the initiatives to enhance high yielding, disease and saline tolerant crop production and support smallholder farmers through training and advisory services contribute to adaptation, Bayer can enhance their efforts in several ways.
Firstly, they can consider piloting the drip irrigation system in the country which can simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emission and address water security as rice crop production is water-intensive and contribute to methane gas emission. It will align well with mitigation strategies proposed by the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) and the country’s updated (interim) Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC 2020) which aspires to reduce emissions from the Agriculture sector.
Secondly, the company can strengthen its engagement with academia and universities to advance existing research and knowledge generation through the collection and analysis of useable information and database on climate-sensitive crops and smallholder farming management that can consequently lead to the development and implementation of climate-resilient plans and policies.
Finally, lack of access to financial resources and appropriate technologies are the key barriers for smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change. Bayer, being one of the leading private sector organization, can work with government and development agencies to provide incentives for the smallholders to overcome the socio-economic drawbacks, adapt and become resilient to pave the way for agricultural prosperity in Bangladesh.
Fatema Akhter is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as a Junior Research Officer, her research interest lies in Child-centric adaptation & gender-based development. Fatema can be reached at [email protected]
Noor-E-Elahi is working in the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) as a Research Officer, he is affiliated with Policy Support Program and Private Sector Program. Noor-E-Elahi can be reached at [email protected]
Dr Ali Mohammad Rezaie is the Research Coordinator at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development. Dr Rezaie can be reached at [email protected]