Now, I know about floating gardens, I’ve seen them before and think they are fantastic. I also know about pit cultivation and have spoken with families who have benefitted hugely by growing and selling pumpkins. But until today I didn’t know that with some communities we do both!
Today I travelled to Rangpur, a district in the far North of Bangladesh. I met with communities living on the very edge of the river – precarious banks deeply susceptible to river erosion, but for these people there is nowhere else to go.
Mohammed Munis Ali told me how he had lost his home three times to the river, making it difficult for him to care for his family. Now, with the help of Practical Action, he has two ways to earn a living and provide food for his family – in the rainy season he tends his two floating gardens, while in the dry season when the river recedes he grows pumpkins using the Practical Action pit cultivation technology. He also uses the old floating gardens as compost to improve his pumpkin yields.
He and the other members of the community talked about lives changed and lives saved, about being able to work and provide for their families. They were really positive about the help they had received from Practical Action, our local staff and the innovation the community had continued – showing off new crops they had trialled and found to be successful.
There are 20 families in the community and each family have two floating gardens – they’ve shared out the water space between them. They told me that in six months they have between six and eight harvests, on average harvesting 40kg of veg per harvest (mainly Kang Kong, which is quick growing, but also okra, red onions and other veg). I asked the ladies what they thought: ‘Great to have food, great to have veg, but tastes slightly different – but we are used to it now,’ they said.
As were leaving the village, walking on the embankment, one young man started to dissent from the others – he was shouting slightly and wanted to be heard. He didn’t want to grow pumpkins or make and cultivate floating gardens – it was too hard work; he wanted a job. What can we do to help?
Our project manager spoke about how he had grown up in a family impacted by river erosion – they had lost their home too – but education had been his escape: he’d worked hard, been clever and now had a good career and was working for Practical Action. I don’t think it satisfied the guy who at probably 20 was maybe too old to go back to school, but I did like his passion for more, his push for development and his willingness to speak out. The other members of the community eventually shushed him and talked of a ladder, one step at a time and things will get better.
It is brilliant that we can help – but when, like here, we are working with people who are counted as the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh, it’s not surprising that the young are ambitious for more. I am not young and fit, but when I was, I think I too would have thought this a very difficult way to make a living.
This only served to emphasise to me how hard working and committed to caring for their families the villagers were. Mohammed Munis Ali must, like me, have been in his early 50s, and is doing all he can to keep his family going. It is very hard but they do it!
On a very practical note, the project manager also talked about pumpkin cultivation combined with smaller squash – both have a good market, but the small squash takes only half the time to grow, meaning you can get a quicker return for your labour. When the pit cultivation starts in December they plan on testing some with both squash and pumpkin and think it may be possible to get two good crops from one pit – nearly twice the return for the same labour.
Hopefully another small step on the ladder out of poverty for this community.