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Households living in areas of high saline intrusion in Chitolomari sub-district, Bangladesh

People living in the coastal areas of the Ganges River face large challenges in increasing food production and improving livelihoods in the face of climate change, yet farmers are showing that much can be accomplished in spite of the apparently hostile living and farming conditions.

ChitlomariIn the Chitolmari sub-district of Bangladesh, an area covered by the newly launched Ganges Basin Development Challenge (BDC), various farming system innovations have already been implemented by farmers, allowing households to adapt to increasingly high salinities in some seasons. A few years ago, farmers in this region practiced only a single rice crop in the monsoon period; now they are cultivating various combinations of fish (shrimp and other fishes) in the monsoon and producing rice (boro) in the winter/dry season. Instead of being kept fallow, farmers are using raised dikes (bands between the rice plots) for cultivation of vegetables (bitter gourd, cucumber, tomato, cabbage and others) by extending a trellis over the water. Bamboo and nylon cord are used to grow creeper vegetables, such as cucumbers and gourds. In the cooler dry season, dikes are being used to grow winter vegetables like tomato and cabbage, and by raising dikes high enough above the water, farmers are able to reduce the impacts of salinity on dyke soils. Growing volumes of vegetables in the region are stimulating trade and development of local collection markets, where urban buyers are able to connect with farm produce.

Considerable opportunities are emerging; the farming systems are found to be highly productive and profitable. One household interviewed by the Ganges BDC research team in August 2011 showed a net income of Taka 29,000/year (Taka 71=US$ 1) from a plot of 30 decimal (1 decimal = 40.47 m2), which is higher than the income of a good farmer in many of the other non-saline areas of the country. Production costs for a plot of 30 decimal is Tk 23,000/- (Tk 17500/- for prawn and fish that includes shrimp post larvae & fingerling & feed cost; and Tk 5500/- for rice & vegetables production cost). The gross income per Ganges aquacultureyear is Tk 52,000/- (Tk 25,000/- from prawn and fish, Tk 10,000/- from rice and Tk 10,000/- from vegetables). The farming system has integrated rice and fish culture in the same piece of land over successive seasons and vegetable production in the higher and comparatively wider areas of dikes. Dikes are important, conserving rain water in the farming plot to facilitate fish and rice culture, and supporting high value vegetable cultivation throughout the year. From nutritional and income perspectives, the integrated approach is more productive than only cereal production.

CGIAR-implemented programs, such as the WorldFish Center PRICE–GHER Project, CAARP Project and CSISA project and now the Ganges basin program of the CPWF Phase 2 are working with farmers to help identify, test and share such innovations. Ganges project “Productive, profitable, and resilient agriculture and aquaculture systems (G2)” seeks to identify improvements across a range of agro-ecological conditions, and the Ganges project “Coordination and change enabling (G5)” seeks to enhance impacts of such farming system innovations across the Ganges delta through stakeholder participation, policy dialogue and effective coordination among other government, NGOs, CGIAR and donor-sponsored projects and programs in Bangladesh and India. The Ganges delta, with its diverse agro-ecological conditions and salinity regimes, is a challenging environment for food production, but the farmers of Chitolmari show that much can be done to improve the farming systems. These approaches show not only that benefits can be derived by the people living in this region but also lessons can be shared more widely across the Ganges delta as well as with other basins of the CGIAR Challenge Program for Water and Food.