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Floating gardeners battle climate change in Bangladesh

Caritas promotes alternative farming methods that help villagers make a living in low-lying areas

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Floating gardeners battle climate change in Bangladesh

A farmer checks his floating vegetable garden on a canal near his village home in Barishal district of Bangladesh. The government and NGOs have been promoting alternative farming methods to adapt to climate change. (Photo: Caritas Barishal)

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Ramoni Halder is a landless villager who relies on sharecropping and employment as a farmhand on other villagers’ land for a livelihood in the Agailjhara area of Barishal district in southern Bangladesh.

The 45-year-old Hindu father of two became acquainted with a new model of farming about 12 years ago thanks to Catholic charity Caritas.

During the rainy season from June to September, villages in low-lying coastal areas like Barishal turn into islands, making agriculture near impossible.

Halder learned how to prepare organic floating beds on a canal beside his house with weeds, water hyacinth and paddy stalks. Each bed is about 3 feet thick, 5-6 feet wide and 10-30 feet long. Each year Halder prepares five beds for floating gardening during the rainy season

He has been growing a variety of vegetables including turmeric, bottle gourd, okra and asparagus bean on his floating garden, not only for his family but to earn money by selling in the market.

“Caritas training helped in learning and practicing floating vegetable gardening. I also get seeds of vegetables and lessons about what type of fertilizer I must use. Floating gardening has added extra income for my family,” Halder told UCA News.

“Keeping aside all expenses, I can make a profit of 7,000 taka (US$82) from the floating garden each season.”

Like him, dozens of local farmers have adopted floating gardening over the years an effective, profitable and eco-friendly means of farming.

“Floating gardening is very useful for villagers in Barishal as it gets inundated during the rainy season. It is an easy way of making extra income for poor people by making proper use of canals and ponds near their houses,” Francis Bepari, regional director of Caritas Barishal, told UCA News.

The agency launched its floating gardening project for 2018-20 with funding from Caritas Australia and Catholic Relief Services USA, which benefited some 3,000 people, he said.

“The project has reached the end of its term, but we feel it is still useful and necessary. Floating gardening can help more people gain food security, earn money and become self-reliant with little help,” Bepari added.

In southwest Bangladesh, Caritas Khulna has introduced another innovative farming method called “bag gardening” to overcome challenges posed by increasing intrusion of saline water from rivers connected with the Bay of Bengal.

Hafiza Begum, 36, a Muslim mother of five from Khulna district, has been growing vegetables on 40 large sacks on the banks of the River Rupsha for the past three years.

The sacks are filled with soil and fertilizer and prepared like small plots of agricultural land to plant and raise crops.

“I cultivate various types of vegetables, which we eat and also sell in the market. Sometimes we give away vegetables to our neighbors freely,” Begum told UCA News.

Her husband used to be a jute mill worker in Khulna but lost his job when the government decided to shut down all state-run jute mills recently.

“I thank Caritas for its training in bag gardening techniques as well as providing sacks, seeds and fertilizer. It has helped our family greatly to survive, even in the time of a coronavirus pandemic,” she added.

About 3,500 people have benefited from the bag gardening project under Caritas Khulna.

Alternative farming is the only way out in coastal villages, said Daud Jibon Das, Caritas Khulna regional director.

“Due to rising seawater levels and increased intrusion of saline water, agricultural land loses productivity. Alternative and innovative methods like bag gardening are very useful for people to adapt to climate change impacts and to grow crops. We will continue to encourage people to adopt such methods,” Das told UCA News.

Low-lying Bangladesh, located on the world’s river delta system that empties into the Bay of Bengal, is considered one of most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts caused by global warming and the melting of polar icebergs.

With more frequent natural disasters like flooding, rising sea levels and intrusion of saline water, the government has been encouraging various forms of adaptive and alternative farming.

Since 2013, the government has allocated over $1.6 million for innovative farming projects like floating gardens and bag gardening in up to 50 locations across the country, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

“It is near impossible to grow crops normally in coastal areas due to salinity problems. New methods like floating gardens and bag gardening as well as kitchen gardening are a great relief for people in the area. The government has been promoting them for years,” Enamul Islam, a government agriculture officer in Satkhira district, told UCA News.

“The government is making efforts to encourage adaptive farming and collaborating with NGOs to help farmers with training, seeds and fertilizer.”

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