Mohammad Mostafa, a farmer in the low-lying deltas of south-western Bangladesh, has revived his forefathers’ farming practice of growing crops on floating rafts as rising seas and storm flooding threaten more and more farmland.
With prolonged waterlogging posing an increasing threat to families growing their own food, more have turned to using the rafts as secure platforms to grow vegetables and fruit including cucumbers, radishes, bitter gourds, papayas and tomatoes. Most are sold as saplings.
The rafts, woven from the stems of invasive hyacinths, are providing a lifeline for families during the increasingly extreme monsoon seasons, when dry land can be especially scarce.
The 200-year-old technique was initially adopted by farmers in the region during the flooding season, which used to last about five months each year. But nowadays, the area remains underwater for eight to 10 months and more land is being flooded.
“These days, the land is underwater for a longer time. This ancient technique has helped us to earn a living,” said 42-year-old Mostafa, as he planted balls of seedlings on floating beds.
“My father and forefathers all used to do this. But the work is not that easy. So, at first I tried to earn as a fruit vendor but ended up in debt,” said Mostafa, the sole breadwinner in his six-member family. “I tried my luck at floating farming five years ago and that made a great difference to my life.”
The approach, now practised by about 6,000 subsistence farmers across the swampy south-west, may prove crucial as climate change sends sea levels higher and makes the monsoons more erratic.
Digbijoy Hazra, an agriculture official in the Nazirpur sub-district of Pirojpur, said that the number had risen from around 4,500 five years ago.
Floating farms now cover a total 157ha in Pirojpur district, with 120ha in Nazirpur that expanded from 80ha five years ago.
“It requires less space than conventional farming and does not need pesticides,” Hazra told Reuters. “When we’re fighting … the impact of global warming, floating farming could be the future.”
Low-lying Bangladesh is considered among the most climate-vulnerable countries, with the impact of rising waters compounded by storms, floods and erosion.
The climate impact is being compounded by natural factors, such as tectonic shifts that are causing the land beneath to sink, and upstream dams holding back silt that would replenish the eroding delta.