More than one million hectares of land in the coastal zone of Bangladesh are contained within polders, low-lying tracts of land that are enclosed by embankments. Constructed during the 1960s and 1970s, the polders were designed to control flooding and increase agricultural production. Today farmers within the polders, 80% of whom live below the national poverty line, face numerous limitations to productivity including flooding, drought, and variable salinity levels—conditions that will be exacerbated by climate change and rising sea level.
A number of constraints prevented the polder zones of Bangladesh from benefiting from the Green Revolution. However, researchers working on CPWF projects in the Ganges are confident that the agricultural and aquacultural productivity of the coastal zone can be greatly improved now, and in projected future conditions, using existing cropping system technologies.
Earlier this month, Liz Humphreys and Andy Nelson of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) presented their work with the CPWF Ganges Basin Development Challenge (Ganges BDC) to their IRRI colleagues. In the video below, Liz describes how one project has successfully trialed new cropping system schemes (including high yielding rice varieties, cropping schedules and community water management) in three polders that are representative of variable salinity regimes. Following her presentation, Andy explains how a complimentary Ganges BDC project is examining opportunities for upscaling this success to the 139 polders of the coastal zone. Through the development of extrapolation domains, the project has produced comprehensive maps that detail what types of cropping systems have the most potential for success in what areas of the coastal zone, both now and in the future.
Together, the projects of the Ganges BDC are working together to unlock the potential of what is currently a low productivity zone. As Andy explains, “There is a huge amount of investment in Bangladesh, particularly in infrastructure and irrigation. Can we tap into some of that? If you look at some of the projects that are developed and money that is spent, if you can combine that with the sort of recommendations we are proposing it will enable you to get the maximum [benefit] out of some of those systems.”
The presentations were followed by a Q&A session. One comment by internationally recognized social scientist Dr. Gelia Castillo was particularly noteworthy, “As far as I am concerned this is a perfect project. It is field based, poverty based, problem based, solutions seeking and you even have maps for extrapolation domains. I will help you pray that you can continue funding [it]…You know, this is the first time I’ve seen something where everything seems to have been taken care of. My one question: is somebody documenting and analyzing the partnership component of the project, because you said that this is an exemplary model, so I think it’s got to be written up for lessons.” Indeed, as the Ganges BDC moves into its final year the program plans to undertake an exercise to document of the program’s research for development approach, including its partnerships.