On June 5 every year, nature empathy around the globe celebrates World Environment Day, encourages awareness, and observes its protection. Since 1974, led by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), it has been held annually in an effort to address pressing environmental issues, with participation from over 143 countries. The world needs to take urgent action on pressing issues like this year's motto "Only One Earth" and its focus on living sustainably in harmony with nature.
According to Germanwatch's 2021 Global Climate Risk Index (CRI), Bangladesh ranks seventh on the list of countries most vulnerable to climate devastation. In the last five years, people have seen five times more flooding than usual. Rural communities that depend on natural resources for their livelihoods face the worst. It is estimated that by 2050, one in seven Bangladeshi citizens will be displaced. Looking even further down the road, Scientific American describes how "Climate Change in Bangladesh has started what may become the largest mass migration in human history." As we know, the economy of Bangladesh is fundamentally based on agriculture, with two thirds of the population engaged in or indirectly dependent on agricultural activities. The effects of climate change are intensifying food insecurity and the instability of people's livelihoods. Growing crops in the normal way is no longer possible in many places across Bangladesh. Salinity intrusion experienced by the coastal area is having serious implications for the quality of the soil in areas that were traditionally used for food crop production. It is also affecting the fishing sector vividly due to increased aquatic salinity caused by sea level rise, particularly in the southwest and coastal regions. According to a recent FAO report titled "Asia-Pacific Food Security and Nutrition Review-2021", a total of 52 million people in Bangladesh, or 31.9 percent of the total population, suffer from moderate to severe food insecurity due to climate change.
Therefore, vulnerability among rural people and their livelihoods is increasing, creating a difficult situation for crop production, fisheries, and overall agricultural production due to climate change. Recognizing the urgency of this issue, Bangladesh became one of the most active countries in terms of planning and action on climate change. Looking forward, there is room to improve capacity to address climate change, particularly compared with emerging countries in Asia. Apart from the government-based initiatives, a number of NGOs and youth-led groups are taking actions to tackle climate change, especially focusing on building resilient agricultural ecosystems.
Youthful populations can provide a great opportunity in this regard, as they can help revitalize and improve local economies by integrating agro-ecology which implies the application of ecological concepts and principles of farming. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, agriculture has not been able to establish itself as a profitable and exciting career path. However, young people do not automatically gravitate to farming. Young people do not have enough space and opportunities because the necessary education, capacity-building skills, technical training, and resource mobilization programs are still far away.
Apart from government and non-government organizations, several development agencies are already bringing new vibrancy and potential to agricultural practices around the world. Along with them, WAVE Foundation is running an international exchange fellowship on Youth in Climate Action Promotion (YCAP) supported by the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation in partnership with DHAN Foundation, India. A recent study on community youth groups as part of the YCAP was conducted to assess their overall perspective on climate change. The study gives an impression that most young people are concerned about the adverse effects of climate change. As they mentioned, they are the most affected by this. The study also shows that coastal communities are suffering from food security issues along with some major challenges associated with agriculture. Interaction with community farmers has reflected that farmers are yet to be oriented to resilient agriculture, which is making the situation difficult.
YCAP focuses on creating small-scale farming viable through applying digital intervention and providing smart solutions and other rural off-farm business opportunities to enhance livelihood. This also works to capacitate young people from rural to urban areas to promote smart solutions while bridging the gap between young people and community farmers to build a resilient and smart agriculture ecosystem. It also connects young people from Bangladesh and India (another climate-vulnerable country) to exchange locally adaptive knowledge and replicate models to mitigate existing challenges. Through these activities, community young leaders are learning to master these new technologies and apply them to agriculture to increase productivity and solve challenges due to climate change. Young fellows are facilitating community youth groups to take part in a community-based climate action project (CCAP) between two countries to display their actions while participating in climate action promotion. The whole journey of YCAP is trying to encourage young people with a message that agriculture can be a viable and profitable business opportunity.
While mapping out and leading actions to build a resilient agro-ecology, there are a few recommendations young people from several communities across Bangladesh have put forth for everyone - To move from conventional agriculture to sustainable or climate resilient agriculture, it is important to have initiatives from government support in all areas, starting from policy tables to community fields. It is important to promote agroecology, while developing a common understanding of agroecology at local and national level, investing in agroecological research, developing policies and governance mechanisms that can reinforce communications and alliances to bring farmers, other food producers, and small-scale processes together. Building a bridge between farmers and young people, it is important to explore the high potential of young agro entrepreneurs and fulfill their needs at every stage of the agriculture value chain, i.e., training, incubation, mentoring, start-up, credit support, market linkage and other areas. Above all, strengthening diverse sections of agriculture, agroecology along with trade and agricultural policies are important to support small-scale farmers and provide strategic direction to accelerate information technology, digitalization and innovation.
The writers are currently working as Young Professionals under Norec International Exchange Program at WAVE Foundation.
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