Journal Articles 1987-present (with abstract where available)

Earlier articles are listed in Publications (Full)

Articles by HB as sole author, unless otherwise indicated.


Listed by subject.

Articles listed latest first within subjects.

1. Agriculture

2. Arsenic

3. Climate change

4. Disaster management

5. Soils


1. Agriculture

2013 Lead in rice. Agriculture for Development 20: 20

Analysis of lead contents of rice samples from 15 coutries showed high contents in some samples from Bangladesh, China, Ghana, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Mining and processing of heavy metals is the likely source in China, but the source elsewhere is uncertain and needs investigation.


2013 Cadmium in rice. Agriculture for Development 18: 17

Some of the several hundred water, soil and rice samples from Bangladesh collected for arsenic analysis also have high cadmium contents, the origin of which is not yet known. Investigations are planned.


2013 A. Kassam & H. Brammer. Combining sustainable agricultural production with economic and environmental benefits. Geog. J. 179.1: 11-18 (with subsequent response to comments: Geog. J. 179.2: 183-185)

Two paradigm shifts in agriculture are taking place that provide important benefits to farmers and to the environment. Conservation Agriculture involves minimising soil disturbance by avoiding tillage operations; maintaining a continuous soil cover of plants and mulch; and cultivating diverse plant species. Together, these practices protect soils against erosion and desiccation; increase soil organic matter contents that in turn increase soil moisture and nutrient-supplying capacities; reduce farmers’ costs of cultivation; reduce chemical pollution of rivers and groundwater from run-off and leaching of fertilisers; and increase carbon sequestration. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) involves growing rice in an aerated soil instead of in flooded paddies. Single young seedlings are planted at regular wide spacing, and the soils kept moist but not wet throughout the growing period. Combined with placement of plant nutrients, this practice increases crop yields; reduces costs of land preparation and seed, fertiliser and water use; and reduces methane emissions.


2012 Farming complexity in Bangladesh. Agriculture for Development 16: 8-9

Attention is drawn to two early studies in Bangladesh of multiple and flexible crop rotations practised by a farmer with fragmented holdings and of farmers’ sensitivity to market prices. More such studies are needed today in different countries and environments to better understand farmers’ local knowledge and sensitivity to market forces as a basis for planning pragmatic, area-specific, agricultural improvement programmes. Farmer Field Schools would provide  an ideal base for such studies.


2011 Harnessing farmers’ local knowledge to promote precision agriculture. Agriculture for Development 14: 11-16

A recent FAO report promotes precision agriculture, but it does not describe how suporting technical knowledge will be obtained and promoted, especially since soils organisations in many countries have been closed. The diversity and complexity of soil patterns in Bangladesh and Ghana are illustrated. Such paterns are familiar to local farmers but often not to planners, researchers and extension agents. It is proposed that Farmer Field Schools could provide a practical basis to help farmers to increase crop production on their individual fields by using fertilisers and irrigation water more efficiently.


2. Arsenic

2012 Arsenic in rice grown in low-arsenic environments in Bangladesh. M.R. Islam, Hugh Brammer (and six others). Water Qual Exposure & Health 4.4: 197-208

It has previously been reported that rice grown in regions of Bangladesh with low-arsenic (As) concentrations in irrigation water can have relatively high concentrations of As within their grains. This study aims to determine how widespread this issue is, and determine the seasonal variation in grain As in these regions. Levels of As were measured in shallow tube well (STW) water, soils, and rice grains collected during the Boro (dry) and Aman (wet) seasons from six Upazilas (sub-districts) of Bangladesh where As levels in groundwater were known to be low. In all the Upazilas, the As concentrations in STW water were <50 μg L−1. The As levels in soil samples collected from the Upazilas ranged between 0.2–4.0 mgkg−1 in the samples collected during the Boro season, and 0.4–5.7 mg kg−1 in the samples collected in the Aman season. Levels of As in both Boro and Aman rice grain varied widely: in Boro 0.02–0.45 mg kg−1, and in Aman 0.01–0.29 mg kg−1. Additionally, a household survey of dietary habits was also conducted in one Upazila by estimating As ingestion by 15 head female members. On average, the women consumed 3.1 L of water, 1.1 kg of cooked rice, and 42 g dry weight of curry per day. The total As ingestion rates ranged from 31.1–129.3 μg day−1 (mean 63.5 μg kg−1). These findings indicate that the major route of As ingestion in low groundwater-As areas of Bangladesh is rice, followed by curry and then water.


2012 Soil complexity and arsenic mitigation Agriculture for Development 17: 31-35

Natural soil complexity within floodplain toposequences can be increased where arsenic-contaminated groundwater is used for irrigation because of different rates of arsenic accumulation due to local variations in water quality and in the amounts of water applied, different iron + arsenic precipitation rates with aeration in distribution channels and fields, and differences in relief and soils between physiographic regions. Implementation of possible mitigation measures is presently constrained by limited information on the extent of soil and crop contamination and by lack of relevant research.


2009 Mitigation of arsenic contamination in irrigated paddy soils in South and South-east Asia. Environment International 35: 856-863

It has recently become apparent that arsenic-contaminated groundwater used for irrigation in several countries of South and South-east Asia is adding arsenic to soils and rice, thus posing a serious threat to sustainable agricultural production and to health and livelihoods of affected people in those countries. This paper describes the many environmental, agricultural and social factors that determine practical mitigation strategies and research needs, and describes possible mitigation measures that need to be tested. These measures include providing alternative irrigation sources, various agronomic measures, use of soil amendments, growing hyperaccumulator plants, removing contaminated soil and using alternative cooking methods.


2009 (with P. Ravenscroft) Arsenic in groundwater: a threat to sustainable agriculture in South and South-east Asia. Environment International 35: 647-654

The problem of arsenic pollution of groundwater used for domestic water supplies is now well recognised in Bangladesh, India and some other countries of South and South-east Asia. However, it has recently become apparent that arsenic-polluted water used for irrigation is adding sufficient arsenic to soils and rice to pose serious threats to sustainable agricultural production in those countries and to the health and livelihoods of affected people. This paper reviews the nature of those threats, taking into account the natural sources of arsenic pollution, areas affected, factors influencing arsenic uptake by soils and plants, toxicity levels and the dietary risk to people consuming arsenic-contaminated rice.


2008 Threat of arsenic to agriculture in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Economic & Political Weekly, (India) XLIII.47: 79-84

Arsenic-polluted water used for irrigation in certain areas of India, Bangladesh and Nepal is posing a health hazard for people eating food from the crops irrigated. The accumulation of arsenic in the soil is a threat to sustainable agriculture in the areas affected. These problems are not yet widely recognised. Urgent action is required to address them. The most important need is to assess the scale of the problem so that appropriate interventions can be planned.


3. Climate change

(In press) Bangladesh’s dynamic coastal regions and sea-level rise. Climate Risk Management.

The physical geography of Bangladesh’s coastal area is more diverse and dynamic than is generally recognised. Failure to recognise this has led to serious misconceptions about the potential impacts of a rising sea-level on Bangladesh with global warming. This situation has been aggravated by accounts giving incorrect information on current rates of coastal erosion and land subsidence. This paper describes physical conditions within individual physiographic regions in Bangladesh’s coastal area based on ground-surveyed information, and it reviews possible area-specific mitigation measures to counter predicted rates of sea-level rise in the 21st century. Two important conclusions are drawn: the adoption of appropriate measures based on knowledge of the physical geography of potentially-affected areas could significantly reduce the currently-predicted displacement of many millions of people; and the impacts of a slowly-rising sea-level are currently much less than those generated by rapidly increasing population pressure on Bangladesh’s available land and water resources and by exposure to existing environmental hazards, and the latter problems need priority attention.


2010 Climate change and development in Bangladesh. Agriculture for Development 10: 7-12

Climate change in Bangladesh is taking place much more slowly than are changes in the country's development needs created by its large and increasing population, rapid urbanisation and continuing exposure to natural disasters, and the latter needs deserve priority attention by government and donors.


1990 (with R. Brinkman). The influence of a changing climate on soil properties. Proc. Commission V, Int. Soil Sci. Congress, Kyoto, Japan


4. Disaster management

2010  After the Bangladesh Flood Action Plan: Looking to the future. Environmental Hazards 9: 118-130

The main objectives of the Bangladesh Flood Action Plan (FAP), to protect the country from river floods, were not achieved, for several political, economic and institutional reasons. Demographic and economic changes in the following 20 years have increased Bangladesh’s exposure to damaging floods. The country’s newly-elected government is committed to providing flood protection and surface-water irrigation as a measure to achieve national foodgrain self-sufficiency. Therefore, the feasibility and affordability of comprehensive flood and water management systems needs to be re-examined. The technical assessment must take into account the finding that severe floods in Bangladesh are caused mainly by heavy rainfall within Bangladesh as well as the increased flood and cyclone risks associated with global warming. An institutional assessment should examine practical means to overcome governance constraints and to increase local responsibility for managing flood protection and irrigation projects. If such projects cannot be provided, alternative measures must be sought to provide security for lives, livelihoods and economic production. These could include ‘flood proofing’ urban and rural settlements, development of improved crop varieties and more efficient use of irrigation and fertilisers. Measures to expand other sectors of the national economy would also be needed to generate the exports and incomes required to purchase increased food imports.


1996  Bangladesh's braided Brahmaputra. Geog. Rev., vol. 10, No 2, November 1996: 2-7

The Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh is strongly braided. Shifting channels constantly form and erode alluvial land. Despite this instability, the active floodplain supports almost 1 million people, and the rate of population growth in some parts is greater than the national average. Why should this be so? This article examines the apparent geographical anomaly, looking first at the physical environment, then at how the constantly-changing environment affects the lives and livelihoods of the people living on it. Finally, it looks at options for providing more secure living conditions for people occupying the braided river belt and the adjoining floodplains.


1996  Can Bangladesh be protected from floods? Geog. Rev., vol.9, No 4, March 1996: 21-27

Most of Bangladesh’s 120 million people live on floodplains which are seasonally flooded. Periodically these areas are ravaged by severe floods which cause enormous damage and distress. Traditionally, the way of life has been well adapted to this environment, but increasing population pressure is pushing people on to more hazardous land and into towns, and the population is projected to double by 2030. Can these people be protected against floods, or must they continue to ‘live with the floods’? This article examines the geographical complexities of seasonal flooding, floods and flood mitigation in Bangladesh.


1993  Protecting Bangladesh. Tiempo, April 1993: 7-10


1992 (with J.I.M. Dempster) Flood Action Plan - Bangladesh. Outlook on Agriculture, Vol. 21, No 4: pp 301-305


1990  Floods in Bangladesh.

Part I: Geographical background to the 1987 and 1988 floods; Geog. J., vol.156, March 1990: 12-22

The disastrous floods in Bangladesh in 1987 and 1988 captured world-wide attention. That country is particularly prone to natural disasters which constantly undermine government and international efforts to improve social and economic conditions. The floodplains which occupy 80 percent of Bangladesh have diverse characteristics and are affected by flash floods, river floods and rainwater floods to different extents. The 1987 floods were predominantly rainwater floods caused by exceptionally heavy monsoon rainfall over northern parts of the country. The 1988 floods were mainly river floods caused by heavy monsoon rainfall over a wide area of the Ganges and Brahmaputra river catchments (more than 90 percent of which lie outside Bangladesh). In both years, breaching or cutting of embankments aggravated flooding. Despite considerable crop damage, there were compensatory increases in production in areas not affected by the floods and in the following season.


Part II. Flood mitigation and environmental aspects. Geog. J., vol.156, July, 1990: 156-165

The destruction and suffering caused by the Bangladesh flood disasters in 1987 and 1988 (described in Part I, GJ, March 1990) stimulated major Aid donors to examine possible ways to help the Government of Bangladesh find a lasting solution to the country’s chronic flood disaster problem. A UNDP-funded flood policy study recommended the preparation of a National Flood Master Plan under which the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers would be embanked to provide controlled flooding on adjoining floodplain areas. Studies of river morphology, river training techniques, mathematical modelling, and land and water management with controlled flooding will be taken up under a IBRD-coordinated Flood Action Plan. Alternatives to the embankment strategy considered by a USAID-funded team include upstream water storage in the Himalayas, basin storage on the floodplains and draw-down of groundwater beneath floodplains to absorb excess monsoon rainfall and run-off. A UNDP-funded Agriculture Sector Review advocated continued priority for small-scale irrigation development to increase crop production rapidly in the safer dry season. There is no evidence that environmental degradation in the Himalayas or a ‘greenhouse’ induced rise in sea level have aggravated floods in Bangladesh.


1987  Drought in Bangladesh: lessons for planners and administrators. Disasters, vol. 11, No 1: pp 21-29

The 1978−1979 drought in Bangladesh affected three crop seasons, reducing rice production by an estimated two million tons. Rainfall deficiency varied regionally and locally, and drought effects varied with soils, crops and management. Farmers used new practices such as irrigation of crops normally grown rainfed, cultivation of famine millets, and − when rain eventually fell – transplanting crops that normally are direct seeded (including replanting to fill gaps in drought-affected fields). Crop rotations also were adjusted to compensate for crop losses or late planting and to take advantage of reduced flood-levels or changed market prices. The various and location-specific responses by farmers provide useful lessons for planners and administrators in a disaster-prone country: production plans and programmes must be flexible; relevant environmental factors, crop areas sown and crop condition must be closely monitored and the implications promptly assessed; and the farmers’ repertoire of disaster-mitigating practices should be recorded so as to provide a basis for more pragmatic research, extension and development programmes. A method for monitoring and assessing rainfall is described.


5. Soils (See also Agriculture and Arsenic)

(Awaiting referees' comments)  (With F.O. Nachtergaele) Implications of soil complexity for environmental monitoring. Environmental Science & Policy

International proposals for national soil and environmental monitoring and accounting presently lack adequate awareness of soil diversity and complexity that need to be considered in sampling and reporting. This paper provides examples of the diversity and complexity of soil and environmental conditions in Bangladesh and Ghana, including differences between physiographic regions, within soil toposequences, between and within neighbouring fields, and in areas of shifting cultivation. Large numbers of sites would need to be sampled and monitored in order to provide the information needed for the national environmental accounting envisaged. Detailed studies are needed in countries with relevant soil monitoring capacities to determine the scale of sampling required and the feasibility of conducting national monitoring. Alternative measures need to be considered and tested.



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