Vast rice fields in 10 northern and western Bangladesh districts which endured waves of hot wind for about three hours during a rainless nor’wester Sunday afternoon are turning white with their panicles and leaves scorched, according to farmers and government offices.
An overall estimate of the areas or farmers affected was still not available as government teams were busy assessing the potential loss, particularly to the rice fields during the flowering stage.
A Bangladesh Rice Research Institute team that visited Netrokona on Tuesday confirmed that rice production in Bangladesh was never exposed to heat stress of this scale in the last decade or even more.
‘Farmers recall their experience in the afternoon with dread, they felt like standing in the mouth of an oven parboiling rice,’ Sajjadur Rahman, the principal physiologist at the BRRI, told New Age over the phone.
‘And the hot wind came like waves, one after another, especially between 7:30pm and 9:00pm,’ he said.
The nor’wester was packed with the scalding hot wind but was devoid of any rain and was spread over a vast area in Gopalganj, Narail, Rajshahi, Kushtia, Sherpur, Jamalpur, Netrokona, Mymensingh, Kishoreganj and Sunamganj after 6:00pm, according to preliminary reports received by the BRRI and the Department of Agricultural Extension.
‘I cannot remember having experienced something like this in my life,’ said Jalal Uddin, a middle-aged farmer of Trishal, Mymensingh, adding that 84 decimal of his rice field got burnt.
The DAE office in Mymensingh primarily estimated that 2,630 hectares of rice fields spread across all upazilas were affected by the hot wind.
Kishoreganj however emerged as the worst affected initially with 25,000 hectares of rice field out of a total of 1,66,950 hectares getting burnt in the hot wind.
About 50,000 hectares of rice fields cultivated in the district were at the flowering stage with about 30 per cent of the overall rice fields already flowered. The rest of the rice fields are about to be flowered.
Abdul Wadud, upazila agriculture officer, Karimganj, Kishoreganj, estimated that 32 per cent or 3,240 hectares of rice fields involving approximately 10,000 farmers were affected in the rainless nor’wester.
‘Fields that looked green even on Saturday turned white, looking like a corpse,’ said Wadud, adding that farmers were expecting the harvest within a month.
Bangladesh Agricultural University’s crop botany professor Alamgir Hossain said that high temperature could suck water out of rice plants during the flowering stage while rendering pollen sterile.
‘Continuous heavy wind can also cause pollen to fall off and thus affecting the production,’ he said.
BRRI officials visiting affected areas said that there were areas where leaves of rice plants turned grey and crisp with water completely dried out of them.
‘The loss seems negligible considering the total rice acreage of 48 lakh hectares,’ said DAE director general Md Asadullah.
‘But this is a great loss for thousands of individual farmers,’ he said, adding that the loss assessment was still ongoing.
Bangladesh has been exceptionally dry with nearly 90 per cent less rain than usual on an average every month since December. The daily maximum temperature exceeded 35°C in the 3rd week of March, crossing 38°C at places as a heatwave seared through many parts of the country as March ended and April began.
On Sunday, the nor’wester, however, did accompany a splash of rain in some parts of Bangladesh, particularly in the central region, with the country’s highest rainfall recorded at 18mm
After a brief fall, the daily maximum temperature is rising again with the country’s highest temperature recorded at Rajshahi at 36°C on Tuesday.
Bangladesh Meteorological Department warned that the daily maximum temperature may further increase over the next few days with Bangladesh remaining mostly dry.