Empowering Bangladesh’s mung bean farmers to overcome climate risk–induced loss and damage

A leap forward with real-time interactive voice-response weather advisories.

Coastal Bangladesh, part of a low-lying deltaic region, is one of the most climate risk–prone regions of the world. Climate change, variability, and extreme weather threaten the agricultural systems supporting the livelihoods of more than 30 million smallholder farmers. Difficult-to-predict extreme weather events can cause extensive crop loss and damage, pushing farmers into a poverty trap. Nevertheless, they strive for resilience, and in Bangladesh’s central coast, farmers increasingly grow mung bean after the rice harvest, selling it in emerging markets at favorable prices. However, mung bean is highly vulnerable to heavy rainfall events during harvesting, which can result in waterlogging, rotting of pods, and even complete loss of crop quality and quantity.

In south-central Bangladesh, TAFSSA is bundling climate service advisories with innovations in mobile phone-based interactive voice response (IVR) services to transform mung bean farming. This service provides free, timely automated weather forecast–based harvesting advisories as voice calls in Bangla, safeguarding mung bean farmers against extreme rainfall events. In climate risk–prone Bangladesh, the service supported 10,472 farmers in
2023 to take action and save their crops from weather-induced loss and damage. The service is inclusive, as it is accessible to farmers with or without smartphones or the ability to read.

TAFSSA’s mung bean climate-advisory IVR service provides a beacon of change in Bangladesh’s climate risk-prone coastal belt. Through high- resolution weather forecasts and automated advisory voice calls, farmers receive crucial weather updates, enabling them to make informed decisions, protect mung bean from yield losses, and secure livelihoods against extreme climate-induced risks.

As the mainstay of livelihoods for poorer segments of Bangladesh’s society, the agricultural sector faces an ongoing battle with weather variability.  Mung bean is an increasingly popular and profitable crop in the country’s climate-risk coastal zone. Popular varieties are indeterminant and flower and produce pods multiple times over several weeks. Mung bean is extremely vulnerable to significant yield losses due to untimely heavy rainfall during its maturation phase, when precipitation can result in waterlogging, pod rot, and even complete loss of crops. To respond to this urgent challenge, TAFSSA is catalyzing collaborations with the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD), DAE, Asian Mega-Deltas, CSISA, and M-World to bundle innovations in weather forecasting with an IVR service to advise farmers on how to avoid climate-induced loss and damage.

Integrating high-frequency and hyper-local weather forecasts, this service delivers location-specific rainfall risk alerts and harvesting advisories as voice calls directly to farmers’ mobile phones. IVR allows farmers to take timely action by expediting pod picking, which tends to be performed by women, or arranging field drainage. In 2023, the system empowered 10,472 farmers to avert loss and damage. In addition to safeguarding local food security by enhancing the supply of protein-rich mung bean, the IVR service also helps to avoid profit losses for smallholder farmers in the coastal zone.

More than 1 million IVR calls have been sent so far. A typical advisory might state, “Greetings, dear mung bean farmer (sister or brother), and welcome to ‘Mungdhal Sheba!’ According to the BMD, there is a possibility of light rain in your location tomorrow. Heavy rain is likely to occur the day after tomorrow. After that, very heavy rainfall may occur during one of the next three days. Heavy or excessive rainfall can damage your mung bean crop. If your mung bean field is close to mature or mature, you may want to harvest without delay. If you placed harvested mung bean out in the sun to dry, consider moving it to a dry place as soon as possible.” After the prerecorded message, IVR recipients have the option to choose from a menu with additional voice advisories on mung bean agronomy, nutrition, and marketing, all at the push of a button.

This IVR-based climate service has not only mitigated the risk of weather-induced crop damage but also fostered a sense of security and empowerment among farmers in coastal Bangladesh. Once at the mercy of the weather, farmers now find themselves equipped with science-based knowledge to confront challenges head-on.

The interactive voice response climate service for mung bean has been a game-changer for us. Knowing when the rain will come allows us to plan better and protect our hard work. Before this service, we were farming in the dark, guessing what the sky might bring. Now, we farm with the confidence that comes from being informed and prepared.

Rahima, mung bean farmer, Amtali, Barguna, Bangladesh

Header photo: A farmer feeding fish in his pond in Comilla, Bangladesh. Saikat Mandal Tanu/WorldFish.