The cyclones that repeatedly hit his village deep in Bangladesh’s south did not just bring waist-high water that washed everything away, they forced Shayma Kanta Mistri to make a choice about his future.
The salt waters from the Bay of Bengal had flooded in and destroyed his paddy fields. Mistri had to adapt or leave.
There are signs all over Shyamnagar that people refuse to accept that climate change will make them move. This is the area in Bangladesh most at risk from the climate crisis. It is located in the south-west of Satkhira district. RiceFields have been made into ponds by landowners who realize that their land will not recover quickly and have taken up farming crab and shrimp. People are fighting back against the destruction of their land by global heating to save their lives and to avoid becoming like thousands of others forced to flee for overcrowded cities.
“We faced so many cyclones – Sidr, Aila, Bulbul, Amphan – and they brought waters that came up to here on the street,” said Mistri, holding his hand at waist level. “When the waters left it was like a desert, all the plants and trees were dying from the salt and there was no clear water to drink either. These conditions could only be surviving for a few people who had the money.
“We could not live from farming any longer. We had to think about other ways to make our living.”
Mistri had originally planned to start a shrimp farm, but was encouraged by Practical ActionShushilan and a local charity, helped smallholder farmers to move into crab farming. This was because there was a low start-up fee and crabs were less susceptible to white spots syndrome, a virus that infects shrimp farms. Now he can make an average of 2,000 taka (£17.60) per day by selling 100kg of soft-shell crabs from 2kg of crablets that he buys from local fishermen. He was previously a nurseryman, raising the crablets, and selling the junior crabs to larger crab farms. But he learned the delicate and valuable technique of harvesting the crab when it sheds its hard shell.
“Now I’m more comfortable. We have a more secure income and both of my children are in school – my son has almost graduated from college,” said Mistri.
The quick turnaround also means he can make a profit throughout the year. This helps to offset the losses from storms that can leave rice growers without an income for months due to crop damage and the time it takes prepare the land.
The weather has been severe for Satkhira and the South-West, with many major cyclones causing permanent damage to the land and displacing millions. During last year’s cyclone Amphan winds hit 151kmphThe UN stated that a quarter of Satkhira was flooded. was the worst-hit district.
According to a 2016 studyAccording to the University of Jessore, now Jashore, two-thirds of south-western Bangladeshi migrants moved because they couldn’t farm anymore. Many of them moved to cities where they worked as day laborers, while others did seasonal agricultural work. People who were able stay were those who were able, in large part, to diversify, especially as shrimp and crab farmers.
Practical Action’s field coordinator, AJM Shafiqul Islam, said the charity’s work is about ensuring people are offered the most suitable solution and support to help build their resilience to the climate crisis.
“Since cyclone Sidr [in 2007]The people of this region have struggled with salt in their soils, but these methods are changing lives. Shayma used to have very little, but now he has a chicken farm and crabs that he bought with the income. He no longer has to travel to sell his labour,” said Islam.
“This works for the farmers who have limited income. It allows them to work with the land change and hopefully will prevent them from migrating. They will be able to live sustainably.”
The threat to Shyamnagar’s people is evident on Gabura, an island encircled by two rivers of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, which is frequently inundated during cyclonesIt is losing its coast to erosion. Many people live in unstable homes on stilts.
Those who remain are reliant on catching crabs or collecting honey from the forest but their income is curtailed by government limits to protect the forest’s resources.
Islam says Practical Action’s work is also about bringing balance. “These farmers look to wild sources like the river or the Sunderbans, which is vulnerable environmentally and needs to be protected. The government is also establishing crab hatcheries but someone has to raise them, so these crab nurseries for smallholder farmers can be the intermediaries,” said Islam.
The balance also applies to other methods that are being encouraged here, like teaching farmers how extra vegetables can be grown in the mud walkways that run between plots.
Archana Boyda (24), provides compost to farmers in her community using dung from her cows and earthworms that she was given by the charity. Boyda keeps six tins of her compost outside her house.
She had been living in a leaking, mud-filled hut and was then destroyed by a fallen tree during Cyclone Amphan. Boyda and her husband had been saving the 3000 taka per month she earned. They have now built a wooden house on a raised platform above floodwaters.
“Amphan had a really big effect on us, the house was destroyed and we had nowhere to go so we just tried to cover the gaps with sheets. This house is still not finished but it is so much better and our life is becoming more secure, step by step,” she said.