Wheat farming in Southern Bangladesh.

Cropping Bangladesh’s rabi season

Bangladesh consumes more than twice the wheat it grows, and importing the shortfall is eating into its foreign currency reserves – but researchers have identified potential for large increases in production.

  • 16 December 2010 | Updated 11 January 2012


Bangladesh consumes around four million tonnes annually, a figure that is increasing at three per cent every year.

However, production is below two million tonnes and in decline.

That leaves an annual shortfall of around two million tonnes, linking food security risks to a serious foreign currency reserve deficit.

But new research could potentially add another million tonnes in annual crop production.

Farming in the dry

The new crops could be grown in the south, where an estimated 800 000 ha of land has until now remained underutilised in the rabi (dry) season.

Farmers in southern Bangladesh have faced issues due to:

  • limited irrigation infrastructure
  • long duration local kharif rice varieties and lack of new varieties
  • hotter temperatures than the north (averages 3ºC) with a shorter potential season
  • some saline soils
  • weeds in the rabi season (an issue for mungbean)
  • lack of farmer expertise and limited extension experience. 
    Half that shortfall might be met by growing crops in southern Bangladesh, where an estimated 800 000 ha of land has until now remained uncultivated in the dry – rabi – season.

But these constraints are being overcome.

CSIRO modelling for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research suggests wheat and mungbean can be grown with low-risk, long-term economic feasibility, particularly if surface flood water, stored from the karif season, is sufficient for an in-crop irrigation – potentially as much as a million tonnes of new wheat every year.

Putting findings into practice

CSIRO researchers are putting these findings into practice in southern Bangladesh.

They aim to improve the livelihoods of farmers in the region by introducing crops, such as wheat, onto currently fallow lands during the post-Rabi season (after the wet season in Kharif).

Key steps will be to:

  • identify areas where rabi–season cropping is feasible
  • develop agronomic practices for the south region especially for efficient use of water and fertilisers
  • encourage farmer uptake of emergent cropping practices.

They have demonstrated six modern wheat varieties at more than 200 farms across seven districts of the south (Barisal, Bhola, Noakhali, Jhalakathi, Barguna, Pirojpur and Patuakhali), generally in clusters of six farms - with the above varieties under irrigation and dry land.

Component research has been conducted at the same sites, which aims to develop management practices adapted to the environmental constraints and packaged for farmers.

Find out more about CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship.