Floating farms in southwest BD

BSS, Dhaka :
People living in the coastal areas of Bangladesh are no stranger to natural catastrophes. They have faced mega-cyclones, huge floods, heavy siltation and creeping salinity. And all of them contribute to making large tracts of land increasingly water- logged.
This was observed during a recent visit to the region that included Jessore, Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat to see how people in the area are coping with the changes effected by climate change.
Out of necessity, the people living there have developed innovative techniques of making the best under the circumstances. They have built “dhaps”-what Professor Sohrab Ali, a prominent biologist, calls “hydroponics” or aquatic agriculture.
The impact of climate change is increasingly felt in Bangladesh. For instance, the monsoon is shorter now, yet rainfall levels are the same, reported eminent meteorologist, Mir Fakhrul Qayyum. This indicates that rain is falling in torrential bursts now rather than steadily over a certain period of time, he added.
And that spells disaster for agriculture, as crops fail because of the erratic rainfall, or are washed away by flash floods, he concluded.
Bangladesh is also battered by fierce tropical storms, because of its location, straddling the Tropic of Cancer. And these are increasing in frequency. The killer cyclones of 1970, 1985, 1991 and 2007 – just to name a few-have killed well over 650,000 people. Cyclone Sidr (2007) affected an estimated 10 million people.
The cumulative effect of the hard rains and storms, coupled with rising sea levels and glacial melt in the Himalayas, is unpredictable and often result in severe flooding. Flooding is the norm in Bangladesh. This, after all, is a nation built on the low-lying floodplains of two of the largest rivers of the world – the Ganges and Brahmaputra – – that have converged here to create the world’s biggest delta. But it is also the most densely populated country in the world.
Consequently, when the floodwaters swirl in the great central delta and rise higher than usual or unexpectedly, the risk to the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on it, rises too. Crops disappear, the shoals (chars) that many live on, shrink through erosion, and the land left is ever more waterlogged when the floods retreat.
Looking for ways to stay afloat, wetland farmers are turning to a little known local tradition: vegetable gardens that ride the rising waters. It is a solution that ideally fits the challenge. It is made of materials that are widely available. They create floating plots that are made mainly from the “pest-like” weed, water hyacinth. The problem becomes an asset.
“The ingenious construction is remarkable. The mats rise and fall on the river surface as floods ebb and flow, they simply ride out any inundation no matter how prolonged,” SM Alauddin, head of research, Practical Action, a UK based NGO, which supports such programmes told BSS.
He said these mobile farms are also simple for farmers to put together. First, bamboo frames are placed over mats of hyacinth. More plants are packed in, and the whole is topped with soil, cow dung and old, rotting hyacinth – a technique that can be used again.
The farms are planted with rice and vegetables which provide household food as well as cash, the researcher said. The advantages of hydroponics are many. Crops never wash away. The platforms are made of free, locally abundant materials optimally used. They do not pollute, and can be recycled. And they keep households supplied with subsistence and marketable products throughout the year.
Even more important is that it is a replicable technique. Water hyacinth is found around the world. It is cheap, effective and recyclable. It is the best possible response to climate change.