Guest blog: Dealing with the Delta: A Story of Change through Barren Transitional Lands Management
Guest blog by A.Z.M Nazmul Islam Chowdhury Innovator and Founder Pumpkin Plus Agro Innovation Limited
Transforming lands, transforming lives https://youtu.be/7ZN92tAmdFg .The innovation comprises the demonstration and widespread adoption in 5 districts of North West Bangladesh of ‘sandbar cropping’, an innovative, simple, cost-effective technology which transforms silted barren lands created by flooding and, as a result, helps thousands of displaced, extreme-poor families surviving on the edge of mighty rivers to escape from extreme poverty and hunger; climate change and recent covid generated socio-economic shocks.
Pumpkin Plus, a new generation private sector company (www.pumpkinplus.com), has founded by the innovator in 2017 with a vision to shift handout-based charity approach, towards a community driven agribusiness model through Riverbed Farming System. It aims to assist these displaced people through offering them support and train them in managing productive livelihoods, by using transitional common property natural resources and to promote youth and women led agribusiness model to cope with climate change and combat series of socio-economic shocks and development causes.
After each rainy season, large sand islands appear in the main rivers of NW Bangladesh. These 'lands' are common property resources but until now have not been used for any productive purpose. The innovator has successfully demonstrated that the growing of pumpkin, squashes and other high value crops/vegetables in small compost pits dug into the sand is both possible and profitable. Since its inception in 2005 it has reached to 22131 extreme poor households (of which 65% were women), who have produced over 150K MT of pumpkin worth 30m USD over a period of 12 years.
Since 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 in two seasons, Pumpkin Plus led 1000 agri-entereuners have produced over 56K MT worth 1.5m USD with an average cost: benefit ratio 1:4
The innovative cropping technology developed opens up otherwise unproductive lands and is ideally suited to adoption by displaced and landless households. The technology appears to be low risk yet shows an impressive financial return.
The pumpkins produced on the sandbars can be stored in people's houses for up to a year and therefore greatly assist poor households from both income generation and food security perspectives. In addition to the pumpkins, the leaves and flowers of the plant can be used for food, and the entire plant fed to livestock, or composted for the following year, at the end of the dry season. Sandbar cropping has transformed a barren landscape and these 'mini deserts' have now been turned into productive green fields which also support a wide range of insect, birds and other small animal species due to the habitat created.
The sandbars that emerge each year as the rivers recede are not stable enough to support natural vegetative growth and remain as a barren sand area until the river rises again. By digging small pits and lining these pits with compost, the innovation has demonstrated that these areas can be made productive. Large scale irrigation is not necessary as the sandbars are usually close to the river and watering is done by hand. No pesticides or minimum inorganic inputs are necessary.
Bangladesh is a deltaic country located within the floodplains of the three great rivers; the Ganges, Brahmaputra and the Meghna. These rivers drain a total catchment area of 1.72 million Sq. km of which only 7% lies within the country, and has an estimated 2709 Sq.km (IWM & PA, 2018) of newly accreted lands, along the banks of these river systems in the North of the country and have same amount of lands in other river system and coastline islands. These transitional lands or char islands are composed of coarse sand and by definition belong to the government. But in reality, these charlands have been inhabited by people who became landless or were displaced due to river erosion, floods or other natural disasters. The wider dissemination of the innovation with right policy implications, could bring a big transformational change of the fate of millions of our new generations to come by ensuring food security and sustainable supply of food for over 200 million population by 2050.
Bangladesh is desperately short of arable lands and struggles to feed its growing population. The technology would seem to have a much wider application in other dry areas and could even become an important coping strategy in some areas adversely affected by climate change in some part of the world.