Shift from Rice Farming to Aquaculture Could Help Bangladesh Adapt to Rising Seas
A shift from rice cultivation to aquaculture might be the adaptation strategy that enables an estimated 200,000 farmers in Bangladesh to stay on their land as sea levels rise, rather than being forced to become climate refugees, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change—but only if they can afford to make the change.
The study focused on farmers who stand to lose up to one-fifth of their crop revenue as the fertile estuary of the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system is overtaken by salty water.
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“Unfortunately, this is likely to be most challenging for those farming families who have the fewest resources to begin with,” said researcher Joyce Chen of the University of Ohio. “My concern is that the most vulnerable people will be the least resilient in the face of climate change, because they have limited resources to adapt their farming practices or move longer distances in search of other employment.”
Epic cyclones and storm surges have killed hundreds of thousands of people across Bangladesh’s low-lying terrain since the 1970s, and the country is now seen as one of the most vulnerable to sea level rise brought about by climate change. For their study, Chen and a colleague “assembled as much data as they could about populations, incomes, soil geography, and changing climate to try to guess what rising sea levels and ever-higher soil salinity will do to the nation over the next 120 years,” Climate News Network reports. “Their calculations found 40% of the country’s croplands at risk, with coastal residents already experiencing frequent flooding.”
And yet, “those who had made the big switch from crops to shrimp and fish farms had actually created more employment.” Building on that experience, Chen and her colleague projected that internal migration in Bangladesh would increase 25% after accounting for changes in employment, but migration to other countries would fall 66%.
“The Bangladesh study offers interesting insights for governments of countries facing similar imminent threats of sea level rise,” she said. “As internal migration patterns are expected to shift in countries vulnerable to sea level rise, ministries of planning may benefit from developing economic strategies that integrate and even leverage the expected additional number of workers coming from vulnerable areas.” But she cautioned that “additional financial support from the international community may be necessary to foster resettlement programs.”