Floating farms and food security

Mohammad Shahadat Hossain travelled to the remarkable floating gardens in Barishal, Bangladesh. This historic farming system might be one of the best adaptation techniques in agriculture in flood-prone areas.

Gagan is a small village in Pirojpur district of southern Bangladesh. Innumerable rivers and canals crisscross the area. Most of the villagers are farmers and their lives are closely connected to these water bodies.

Boats play an important role in daily life. Photo: Mohammad Shahadat Hossain

But the water is not always a blessing for them. They face extreme hardships when it rains too much. As the water level rises, so do the worry lines on their foreheads. Sometimes, they have to live with flood water inside their homes. The longer the water stays, the more damage it does. Often, they have to rebuild their houses or leave their village to look for new livelihoods.

But with time, the villagers are learning to adapt to life that centres around water. Today, they dream of a future in the land of their ancestors. The proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” is a reality here. Some people have survived for generations through their own ingenuity in the low-lying areas of Bangladesh.

Over time, they have come up with new innovations and methods that not only provide food security but also create employment for many people. One of the most innovative approaches is floating agriculture. In areas where the land is under water for six to eight months of the year, farmers prefer to cultivate using this floating method.

Children playing in the river. Photo: Mohammad Shahadat Hossain

Floating farms are popular in Barishal, Gopalganj, Pirojpur, and Satkhira. In the submerged lowlands during the monsoon, water hyacinths and other aquatic plants grow in abundance and local farmers use these as floating beds to grow a variety of vegetables and produce seedlings.

Farmer Monir Hossain cultivates paddy for three months in the dry season and grows vegetables on floating farms for the rest of the year. For a long time, his forefathers have been practising floating agriculture. Following in their footsteps, he specializes in floating farms and has successfully engaged in the profession for over 10 years.

Talking about floating farms, Hossain said, "Our ancestors have been cultivating in this way. This farming method is about 200 years old. Floating agriculture is becoming more and more popular these days. Some people, who had once migrated to the cities in search of jobs, have now returned to the village and are making a living through floating farms.”

Farmers in Barishal are taking care of their vegetable plants on their floating bed. Photo: Mohammad Shahadat Hossain
Jisan is working at his father's farm. Photo: Mohammad Shahadat Hossain

The village women make small seed pots with sonali lata, a kind of aquatic plant. When there is no work in the field, the men help the women in this work. After the seeds germinate, they transplant the pots on to the floating beds, where the seedlings grow and are ready for sale within 10 to 15 days. The farmers also cultivate seasonal vegetables, herbs, and spices. The floating farm produce include chilies, garlic, turmeric, and strawberry, as well as vegetable, rice and wheat seedlings.

A long floating bed is called "Dhap". Photo: Mohammad Shahadat Hossain

Realizing the importance, the Bangladesh government has taken various steps to promote floating farms. Marginal farmers receive various types of training and assistance through their local agriculture officer. In addition, insolvent farmers can get loans from private financial institutions which they can repay in monthly installments.

The government and some local and foreign NGOs have also been working to introduce the system in other parts of the country. The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) is doing research and working on expanding and popularising the floating farm method.

A farmer at his floating farm. Experts believe that floating farms are one of the best adaptation techniques in agriculture in the flood-prone areas of Bangladesh. Photo: Mohammad Shahadat Hossain

Experts believe that floating farms are one of the best adaptation techniques in agriculture in the flood-prone areas of Bangladesh. Floating farms were recognised as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) in December 2014 by the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Produce from the floating farms is safe and environment friendly as farmers usually do not use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. In some areas, when the floodwaters reside during the dry season, the floating beds become well-decomposed organic fertilizers for the next crop.

As a result of climate change and global warming, Bangladesh, along with other countries, is submerging day by day as rainfalls increase and sea levels rise. In the future, floating farms may become our mainstream farming method that will benefit the people.

Storyteller

Mohammad Shahadat Hossain

Mohammad is an Economics student from Bangladesh. He currently works as a freelance research associate at Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Germany.

Author’s views are his own and do not reflect that of our organisation.

This story is part of our series Water stories from Bangladesh, funded by Internews.

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