Revived irrigation brings hope and prosperity to climate-vulnerable farmers in Bangladesh

Sustainable Farming Returns After Cyclone Aila Devastation with UNDP and UNCDF Support

July 7, 2024

Smiling in the summer sun, a farmer in Kamarkhola proudly displays his watermelon harvest, a testament to the revived irrigation and agricultural training that have transformed his village's fortunes.

©AB Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

Under the sweltering sun of May, a lush green field lays bare. The farmers working in the fields of Kamarkhola, a small village in the Khulna district, remained unruffled by the heat. After a long time, they are enjoying a good summer yield.

Kamarkhola is surrounded by two mighty rivers, the Dhaki and Bhodra. Once, the people of this village were entirely dependent on agriculture and enjoyed three harvests a year. But everything changed after cyclone Aila struck in 2009. The raging winds shattered their houses and shelters, scattered cattle, damaged their livelihoods and future prospects, and destroyed the canals that irrigated their fields with fresh water.

Empowered through training and grants: A woman farmer from Kamarkhola tends to her ducks, illustrating the successful implementation of the LoGIC project by UNDP and UNCDF, which promotes sustainable livelihoods and community resilience.

©AB Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

Protiva Rani, a farmer, shed light on the circumstances, “Since Aila, we consider the months from January to June as dry period. We wait till monsoon for harvesting. This is the first time after that we have crops in summer”.

She reminisced how more than 200 farmers in nearby villages became unemployed after Aila. “The male members of the families started migrating to bigger cities for work and it made us insecure in our own homes,” said Protiva. 

Based on the needs of the area, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) started working here in 2018, cooperating with the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) through the climate-related project Local Government Initiative on Climate Change (LoGIC) that is funded by the European Union and the governments of Sweden and Denmark.

The project initially focused on providing training to selected beneficiaries in crop cultivation and animal husbandry to increase livelihood opportunities in climate-vulnerable areas and empower people. Yet, results were slow to be realised.

Restored irrigation system at Kamarkhola: A farmer works in the revitalized fields, showcasing the impact of UNDP and UNCDF's efforts in bringing sustainable agriculture back to life.

©AB Rashid/UNDP Bangladesh

“We received training on how to grow watermelon and seasonal vegetables but could not utilise what we learned because of the lack of water required for irrigation,” said Chinmoy Mondol, another farmer working in the field. “We knew restoring canals could help our agriculture,” added Chinmoy. 

The increased participation of the local community, who quickly identified a scheme for improving and rehabilitating the irrigation systems, enabled the local government to respond quickly. It took necessary actions using the income from Performance Based Climate Resilience Grants (PBCRG) to reinstate water bodies for irrigation under the LoGIC project

After the restoration, the farmers could fully apply what they had learned in the training, and productivity flourished.

“The canals were restored by the middle of 2022. We enjoyed rice plantation during the monsoon and grew seasonal vegetables during winter. After two decades, we will be enjoying three crops a year in 2024,” Chinmoy added.

Protiva Rani emphasised the special focus on women in this scheme. “This initiative particularly has helped women in this community. After training, a small grant was provided to the women from every household. We work together in the field and feel ownership of the produces”.

Farmers sell their produce to nearby marketplaces and export it to other parts of the country, with some reporting additional earnings of up to US$600.

This is a testament to how UNDP, UNCDF, and the government of Bangladesh jointly assist the climate-vulnerable communities in Bangladesh to ensure that no one is left behind.

Revitalized by UNDP and partners post-cyclone, Kamarkhola farmers now thrive with revived irrigation, enjoying three harvests yearly since 2024, empowering women and boosting local economy.