May East: Education helping tackle climate change in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has experienced frequent extreme weather phenomena over the past decade. Picture: AP
Bangladesh has experienced frequent extreme weather phenomena over the past decade. Picture: AP
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A HOLYROOD-FUNDED project has made a difference to villagers, writes May East

Sustainability educators, community leaders, permaculture growers, climate change academics, ecovillage practitioners, environmental journalists and national government representatives gathered recently in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka to discuss how to address the impact of climate change in the Southeastern coastal areas of Bangladesh.

The Conference Building Capacity and Empowering Communities focused on the lessons learned from a project – lead by Bangladesh Association for Sustainable Development, Gaia Education and CIFAL Scotland- addressing the vulnerabilities caused by climate change in the Khulna and Bagerhat districts of the Delta. Funded by the Scottish Government, the three-year project – recently extended for a further year – has been working in 42 villages to strengthen their agro-ecological productivity while empowering women to improve their livelihoods.

Bangladesh is considered one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world; it has experienced frequent extreme weather phenomena over the past decade, particularly in the coastal areas where typhoons, flooding and storm surges are having a devastating impact.

Last September the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universal and transformative development strategy. The 2030 Agenda commits every nation to ‘achieving sustainable development in its three dimensions- economic, social and environmental- in a balanced and integrated manner’. Although there is global commitment to this integrated sustainability agenda, the mechanics of how we achieve this integration has yet to be defined at national levels. The new Global Goals present an unprecedented opportunity for Bangladesh to lead its own development towards middle-income status.

Addressing United Nations General Assembly last year, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated: ‘to deliver on the SDGs, robust global cooperation is critical’. This project demonstrates how this can be done. By bringing sustainability designers, agro-ecologists and villagers together in partnership, we were able to better understand their predicament and transform it through critical reflection and regenerative action. By initially working with community leaders in ecovillage and permaculture design we were able to impact almost 5,000 residents in 42 target villages of the region. These leaders have gone on to apply their learning through small-scale integrated farming in their homestead gardens and community self reliance projects like fisheries, composting, horticulture and vermiculture. The project has also raised awareness on climate adaptation techniques and adapted homes to ensure villagers are less vulnerable to the constant threat of tidal floods and cyclones.

Organic agricultural practices have generated significantly higher yields compared to previous years using agrochemicals, a benefit which has enabled the villagers not only to secure their own needs but also to sell in local markets, enhancing their livelihoods and strengthening the community resilience. The first organic shop in the whole Delta was recently opened in Banishanta market to channel the excess produce of the communities. In the opening day the community group in charge of the shop was delighted to count 515 Takas at the end of a busy market day.

The most powerful part of the Dhaka conference was the testimonies from the villagers who demonstrated how the project had given their communities a solid foundation for a robust, diverse and flexible food system.

• May East, Chief Executive Gaia Education