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KURIGRAM, Bangladesh: Last year, Hafizur Rahman’s entire rice crop drowned in floodwaters that followed heavy rain in northern Bangladesh.

The loss forced the 30-year-old farmer from Kurigram district to look for daily labouring work, hoping to scrape together enough money for seed to plant a new 8-acre (3-hectare) rice crop this year.

“I invested all my money in this crop,” he said. “If I can manage some money, I’ll again farm rice on my land. If I don’t, I’ll migrate to the capital and start work as a rickshaw puller,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As climate change fuels extreme weather, including worsening floods and droughts, more farmers like Rahman are seeing their crops devastated, driving growing migration to already overcrowded cities like Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

But Bangladesh’s first state-backed farm insurance scheme, launched last year and with 20,000 farmers now onboard, could help stem that flow, by giving farmers the resources they need to restart production after big losses.

When farmers sign up to the subsidised programme, they pay 25% of the cost of seasonal insurance and get up to 10,000 taka ($120) if crops are damaged by a climate event, said Abdul Karim, manager at the finance ministry’s Sadharan Bima Corporation (SBC), which provides the policies.

Implemented with funding and support from aid charity Oxfam Bangladesh and the Asian Development Bank, the first phase of the programme - which focuses on the flood-prone northeastern region - will cost the government 210 million taka, he added.

With insurance to help them bounce back from floods and drought, fewer farmers will be forced to find new ways to make a living, said Ainun Nishat, climate expert and professor at BRAC University in Dhaka.

Keeping more people in farming will help Bangladesh feed its citizens, he said, in a country where about a quarter of people struggle to get enough food, according to the World Food Programme.

That will also ease pressure on urban areas, whose population has boomed from 48 million to nearly 65 million over the past decade, in large part due to rural inhabitants moving to Dhaka and other cities after leaving farming, Nishat said.

“The agricultural sector suffered the most last year due to abnormal weather conditions,” he added, noting that almost half of Bangladeshis work in farming.

“Now, farmers can be protected through agricultural insurance. It will help (them) to be more self-sufficient.”

The Bangladesh government’s move into agricultural insurance comes at a time when a growing number of farmers are seeking financial protection against severe weather.

When Cyclone Amphan hit the country in May 2020, battering farms in Sunamganj, a wetland ecosystem in the northeast, more than 300 farmers in the area had already signed up for private insurance through Oxfam.

The charity had covered the premiums in full, and by July that year the farmers had received their payments.

“After Amphan, my crop was totally damaged,” said rice farmer Rokon Uddin, who suffered losses worth 4,000 taka. “But because of the insurance policy, I received 6,000 taka and started to crop my land again. The insurance was really helpful.”

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