Food and agriculture | Blogs

  • Krishi call centre helps fisheries sector in Bangladesh

    Halim Miah

    April 8th, 2016

    Krishi Call Centre, a low cost solution to the extension challenges of the fisheries sector in Bangladesh

    “Hello, I am Ahsan Habib from Kishoreganj, my fishes are dying due to skin ulcer. What are the treatment measures for carp ulcerative syndrome? “

    Ahsan Habib is a small scale farmer. He has a pond with an area of 60 decimal (800 sq m approx). He farms carp, tilapia and local catfish in his pond. This season he stocked his pond with carp and tilapia fish. But, during first week of January he discovered his fish were dying with red ulcers on their bodies.

    He knew about the Krishi Call Centre from one of his neighbours, so he called 16123 for suggestions. The fisheries executive suggested he use lime and salt to disinfect the pond water and KMnO4 (potassium permanganate) to help the fish recover. After two days he called back to say that his fish were better now and wanted some suggestions for a proper feeding scheme. After few months, we learned that Mr. Shahidul saved his fishes and expected a 60 to 70,000 (£6,000-7,000) taka net profit. Every day Krishi Call Centre gets this type of call from local farmers about their problems.

    Fisheries for poverty reduction

    fishery BangladeshAttaining higher fisheries growth is a key factor in poverty alleviation in rural areas. Bangladesh has extensive aquatic resources and fish and fisheries are an indispensable part of the lives and livelihood of the people of this country.

    Bangladesh is a south Asian country, situated between latitude 20°34′ and 26°39′ north and longitude 80°00′ and 92°41′ east.  Hundreds of river crisscross the country. The river water is the soul of our country and provides fertility for our motherland. The climate of Bangladesh is congenial to fisheries and the country is endowed with many inland bodies of water. Our country has productive freshwater fisheries comprising 6,27,731 hectares of enclosed water and 40,24,934 of open water. The Bay of Bengal marine resources covers a huge area of 46,99,345 hectares. Bangladesh has 710 km of coastline and 25,000 sq. km of coastal area with a huge population, supporting a variety of land uses.

    The deltaic country is rich in fishery resources including 260 freshwater fish species, 475 marine fish species, 24 freshwater shrimp species, 36 marine shrimp species and other important species. In 2013-2014  Bangladesh produced 34,10,254 tons of fishery products and fish provides about 60% of our daily animal protein intake. In Bangladesh, fisheries sector plays a vital role in our national economy regarding employment generation, animal protein supply, foreign currency earning and poverty alleviation. More than 11% of the total population depends directly and indirectly on the fisheries sector for their livelihood.  The fisheries sector contributes 4.37% to GDP, 23.37% to agricultural GDP and 2.01% of the country’s export earnings. Fish is one of the most familiar, popular, tasty and nutritionally enriched food items of the world including Bangladesh. As a result of the global market economy along with so many food items, garments, and pharmaceutical products,  fish and fishery products also get the opportunity to enter the global market. Thus the fisheries play a crucial role in the national economy of Bangladesh.

    Challenges and opportunities in extension services

    krishiSmall scale pond farming has great potential for contributing to the increase in aquaculture production in coastal regions. These fishery resources are facing a severe threat of depletion because of lack of proper guidelines. The latest communication facilities like newspapers, radio, television and internet are used for disseminating knowledge to farmers.  There is no doubt that ICTs can play a vital role in giving better access to information in a cost effective way to the millions of poor, smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs. Mobile phone based call centers play a role in agribusiness in many countries. In Bangladesh, the total number of mobile phone subscriptions reached 131.085 million at the end of February, 2016.

    It is therefore timely for farmers that the Krishi Call Centre offers real-time advice on farming issues in Bangladesh. The Centre was launched in June 2014 by the Agriculture Minister Begum Matia Chowdhury by dialing to the number, 16123, whilst addressing the National Digital Fair at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in the city. This is an initiative between Practical Action and the Agricultural Information Services (AIS), of the Ministry of Agriculture.

    Farmers can call 16123, the number of the centre from any mobile operator to seek advice on any problem related to livestock, fisheries and agriculture production. A farmer from any part of the country can contact to the Krishi Call Centre by dialing mobile number 16123 at the nominal cost  of 0.25 taka for a minute and share their problems/queries related to farming in local dialect. The specialists at the Krishi Call Centre provide suggestions to the farmers immediately. If the call centre operator is unable to address the farmer’s query, they consult with other specialists and then provide feedback.

    The southern part of the country is endowed with vast aquatic resources where aquaculture is a promising sector. But aquaculture is beset with numerous problems, especially disease. Fish farmers face immense problems when their farms are affected by diseases. Very few support centres are available in Bangladesh where they can get crucial information. Sometimes they go to their fisheries officer but fisheries officers are busy most of the time due to lack of enough manpower. It is also almost impossible for officers to visit farms and solve their problems in a single day. Hence, a large number of fish die and farmers lose faith in fish production.

    Another promising sector in aquaculture is shrimp farming.  The government earn a huge amount of foreign currency from this, but its is not free from problems. A viral disease can wipe out a farmer’s whole stock of shrimp and many fish farmers have lost everything. If farmers had enough guidelines regarding shrimp farming, they could easily avoid this horrendous loss.

    DRR and climate change risks solutions in the fisheries sector

    Climate change is an emerging challenge for the fisheries sector. The erratic weather makes our farming and fishing communities more vulnerable. Bangladesh is a low lying country which makes it extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.  It is ranked first in countries affected by the adverse effects of climate change. Every year farmers face massive losses due to heavy rain or flooding. Flooding happens recurrently in some regions in Bangladesh but climate change has made this seasonal phenomenon more unpredictable. Earlier the rainy season lasted from mid of June to September but now it rains even in late of March and carries on until October.

    Practical Answers in Bangladesh have uploaded 500 questions and answers related to DRR and Climate Change adaptation solutions for better farming. These 500 questions and answers have been collected from farmers who are most at risk of flood and other environmental disaster. Zurich Flood Resilience Program has been supporting this. Those questions and answers are validated by the national experts from the Agricultural Information Services and uploaded in the repository of the Krishi Call Centre for answering the questions of farmers throughout the country.

    There are other problems small fish farmers face which hinder them from profiting from their farming, such as feed prices and the adulteration of fish feed. Feed industries do not maintain the appropriate composition of the feed according to their specification. But farmers can prepare their own on farm fish feed with proper guidelines.

    Fish farmers are often exploited by middlemen when they sell their fish to consumers through middlemen. If farmers are regularly updated with price information about their products, they can secure their expected price.

    The government does have some support programs for fisheries and fisher community.  But, due to lack of literacy many farmers cannot attain those services. By asking the Krishi Call Centre a small farmer or new entrepreneur can benefit without intermediaries.

    incoming call rate pie chartAt present of the total incoming calls to Krishi Call Centre, about 71% are agricultural calls, 17% livestock calls and 12% fisheries related. The call rate in case of fisheries is comparatively lower than others. Among the total calls in fisheries, about 43% are disease related, 27% management related, 26% culture related and 4% have other aquaculture related queries. Most of the calls on fisheries come from the northern part but fisheries dominate the middle and southern part of the country. It is necessary to disseminate information about the call centre and its importance to every corner of the country to ensure a golden revolution in our agricultural sectors. Different media workers, newspaper agencies, government offices and NGOs should come forward to publicize Krishi Call Centre services among the grass root level farmers.

    Other contributors: Md. Aminul Islam and Mohammad Kamrul Islam Bhuiyan

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  • Impact of low cost irrigation technologies on livelihoods and women’s empowerment

    Rabindra Bahadur Singh

    March 28th, 2016

    ICIMOD held an international workshop on water, livelihood and gender nexus recently in Kathmandu. We were also invited to share our experience.  The following is the full script of the presentation I made on the impact of low cost irrigation technologies (micro irrigation technologies) on livelihood and women empowerment.


    The impact of irrigation on livelihoods is obvious. However, the impact of conventional irrigation schemes on the livelihoods of poor and marginalised households is not that obvious.  Marginalised households often live at the edges of the settlements, mostly in small numbers, making it difficult for the conventional schemes to reach them.

    Google map

    This Google map shows a typical village in western Nepal. The main settlement constitutes about 60 houses. Five houses are below the main settlement, at about 20 minutes’ walking distance. These houses belong to the poor, most likely to Dalits. Conventional irrigation would target the main settlement as there is often  pressure to reach the larger population as better value for money.

    Extending the reach of the irrigation scheme to marginalized households is costly. The per unit cost would be very high and economically unjustifiable. Even if economic viability is discounted and the budget is not a constraint, the water is less likely to reach them, because there is not enough water, even for the main settlement.  Hence, some households will be left out.

    There are thousands of similar villages across the country. You won’t find any village, even in the remotest part of the country, where there is no irrigation scheme of some sort; however, you will find such left out households in almost every village. Hence, large numbers of marginalised households are deprived of irrigation facilities. We promote the low cost irrigation technologies to cater the irrigation needs of such marginalised households.

    The following are some of the  low cost irrigation technologies we have been promoting:

    So, how do the micro irrigation technologies improve the access of poor and marginalised households to irrigation?

    1. Low cost irrigation technologies fill the void left out by conventional schemes.
    2. They increase water efficiency. Our mountains and hills are dry.  Limited resources we have are also shrinking gradually.  Hence, it is very important that we use our water resources wisely and efficiently. These low cost technologies help achieve this.
    3. Studies and our own experience have shown that low cost technologies are more sustainable. They have small and homogenous users. Hence, all the users have equal say in decision making and the distribution of water is more or less equitable. This ensures more ownership towards the technologies which help to improve their sustainability.
    4. Low cost technologies are affordable and simple to operate and maintain. This improves access of marginalized households to the technology.
    5. Low cost irrigation technologies also help in women empowerment.


    This is Tula Devi Saud from Bajura. She literally had to beg to her husband to let her to grow vegetables on some of their land. In the rural areas, women rarely own land. Hence, they have little say in deciding how to use the land.  After much pleading, however, her husband agreed to let her cultivate vegetable in 0.5 Ropani (1 Ropani = 508.72 sq. m) of their land. But, there was no irrigation facility in their village.
    She had to fetch water from a well about 20 minutes walking distance from the village. It would cost her 2-3 hours daily. Hence, she would produce only about 50-60 Kg of vegetable in a season which would earn her merely about five thousand rupees in a year. Thus, she was solely dependent on her husband for all kind of expenses.

    Two year ago, they constructed an irrigation pond in the village. She actively participated in the construction. Now, she grows vegetables on 2.5 ropani of land. It takes her only about an hour to irrigate her plots. Now she sells 1200 kgs of vegetables a year. Last year, she made Rs 45000 from selling vegetable. Now, she supports her husband financially.  In fact, she gets her husband to porter the vegetable to the market whenever he needs pocket money.  This story pretty much explains the significance of micro-irrigation to women’s empowerment.

    We can summarize as follows:

    • While the conventional irrigation schemes are more concerned with cereal crops, the low cost technologies are often used for cash crops, mainly vegetable farming. Often, vegetable farming is the only prospect for rural women, who are mostly illiterate, to earn money. So, the low cost irrigation technologies help.
    • Rural households have multiple water needs. And women are responsible for meeting the needs. Statistics tells us that 80% of the water needed in rural Nepal are met by women. The micro-irrigation technologies help to meet the multiple water needs. For example,  water in the jar or the irrigation pond can be used for irrigation, for cattle and maintaining household sanitation.
    • The low cost irrigation technologies bring the water closer to the house, which reduce their drudgery and save time and energy. It also allows them to attend other household chores alongside irrigating their plot.
    • Finally, the technologies are affordable and simple to operate. Hence, women can own and operate them on their own.

    The 21st century is defined by technological revolution. However, its benefit is lopsided. The rich have greater access to technologies. The technological innovations are inclined to meet the desires of the rich than the needs of poor. However, it is invariably the poor who bear brunt of the negative consequences of indiscriminate use of technologies. In Practical Action we call this technology injustice, and seek to reduce it by promoting the low cost appropriate technologies. Micro-irrigation technologies are among the technologies which hold much promise for improving the livelihoods of the poor and supporting women’s empowerment.

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  • A role model for women in Kassala

    Bahga Galal

    March 7th, 2016

    ‘To be a woman in Eastern Sudan community means you should act superior.’ Those are the words I heard when I interviewed  Aliat Altoum Mohamed Taha the general secretary of Kassala Women Development Associations Networks (KWDAN) one of Practical Action partners.

    Aliat from KassalaAliat didn’t attend university after high school but developed her career through voluntary work with local women’s associations as a trainee in food processing.  It was her dreams and ambitions that led her to her notable success.  Her strong desire to make a better  life for herself and for those women who did not have the chance to complete their education – the home makers, poor mothers and illiterate girls.  She was determined to fight against those that look at women merely as creatures to obey and respond to the orders of men.

    To make a difference in society Aliat has started to build her own capacity in the field of women’s development.  She began by reading about gender equity and gender main streaming until the establishment of KWDAN with Practical Action Kassala’s support. Through KWDAN Aliat found great opportunities to exercise her leadership skills and found career success. She started to build  good relations with other NGOs which are focusing on women development and gender issues and reaching many women in rural areas to deliver training in areas such as food processing and income generating activities for women.

    Aliat has made a great impact as a trainer, fundraiser and strategic planner. In the KWDAN management team she is known for her ability at team working, her leadership abilities and facilitation skills.  These encouraged women’s organisations to nominate her to represent them in  projects including  women participation advocacy campaign for north and south Sudan.

    Since 1997 Aliat has achieved a great deal. A shy girl has become one of Kassala NGO’s most active members.  She doesn’t forget her role as mother to a 6 year old child. She has succeeded to balance her job and duties as a wife and mother in addition to her role in leading women development activities in Kassala state.

    Aliat gave special thanks to  Practical Action for support for building her capacity and encouraging her to make an impact as an activist on women issues. She added; “When I look back at my life I would not hesitate to choose women development interventions.  I believe that women’s participation is so important to challenge bad practices and  behaviours. At a personal level she has gained a lot. She is independent, can generate her own income, participate decision making for here life and with her husband  in the management of home affairs.

    She is a hero with a real willingness to continue with Practical Action through her role in KAWDAN and other stakeholders. Success came by accident or luck, she has fought to change her future and achieve her goals. She is able to write her name as activist in Kassala’s history.

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  • Women are key to agriculture and food security in Sudan

    Siham Osman

    March 7th, 2016

    The face of agriculture around the globe is often female. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that “women produce between 60% and 80% of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production”. But, more often than not, women’s contributions to the agricultural sector go unrecognised.

    women laying irrigation pipes In Sudan, women have always been active in agriculture and food security, constituting 17% of the total agricultural labor. Women also bear almost the entire burden of household work including water and fuel wood collection and food processing and preparation (FAO, 1994). Women’s participation is significant in subsistence food production for household consumption. In Northern and Eastern states, women’s participation in agriculture is confined to their households, while in Western and Central states; women have always been active in agriculture within and outside household compounds. They contribute 80% to 90% of labour for household production and 70 percent of total labour for agricultural production.

    Yet, despite all their contributions and the role they play in the agricultural sector and household food security, they have restricted access to land ownership, agricultural inputs and credit; all of which are needed to be economically successful and can make it difficult for them to escape poverty or provide food for their families. In this regard, Practical Action for the last 15 years has been working with rural women in North Darfur, Kassala and the Blue Nile states addressing these issues through a series of projects focusing on economic and social development programs with the expectation of achieving the goals of empowering women with productive capacities and skills. Practical Action has identified two approaches as imperative for women empowerment, the first is social mobilization and collective agency; second is economic security. As long as the disadvantaged suffer from economic deprivation and livelihood insecurity, they will not be in a position to mobilise.

    Practical Action prioritise women-headed households in all its interventions, ensuring women have access to project benefits. The women’s farm is one of Practical Action’s initiatives to improve food security for the targeted families. This activity targeted the most vulnerable people; through increasing availability and quality of food for targeted groups and improves their access and utilization of nutritious food. On the other hand, it offers them a source of income. Moreover, they developed higher self-steam, became more visible in their communities and more mobile.

    In Kassala state, six women group farms have been established as agricultural associations, with involvement of Kassala Women Development Associations (KWDAN) for organizational building, and the Ministry of Agriculture-horticulture department for technical support in vegetable cultivation.   Practical Action facilitated implementation through strengthening linkages between the partners, women farmers and the Village Development Committees (VDCs). With support and guidance, the women farmers have gained the necessary skills in agriculture and successfully harvested vegetable crops (okra, cucumber, Jews mallow, purslane, rocket & carrots) which are used for home consumption as well as marketing the surplus to other villagers. Furthermore the women farmers are received training in cooking demonstrations to use the farm products for the first time in the villages facilitated by KWDAN.

    We are happy to have a piece of land where we are able to cultivate and gain experience in vegetable farming methods. We are proud to be a farmer to produce, eat and feed our families with nutritious food and thus ensuring better health,” said one woman farmer.

    Another woman from the  Group said: “I grow cucumber, okra, mulukhia (Jute leaves), and some fruits. The price of fresh okra in the market is 5 SDG and the dry one is 2 SDG. I use it for cooking twice a day, which means I save from 4 to 10 SDG each time during the harvesting period – from okra alone, besides the other vegetables grown in the farm”










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  • Local innovation in agriculture in North Darfur

    Awadalla Hamid Mohamed

    February 22nd, 2016

    Over the past few years Ibrahim Hamid Mohamedain, a farmer from Magdoub A in North Darfur, has been selectively breeding his millet crop, the region’s foremost staple grain. Like farmers across the region, Ibrahim has struggled with increasingly low yields of millet year on year. Whereas twenty years ago one mukhamas (equivalent of 1.25 acres) used to produce 6-8 sacks of millet, it now rarely produces more than half a sack. The reasons for the falling fertility of the sandy soils on which the crop is grown are many, chief among them is widespread deforestation across the region.



    Ibrahim realised that one of the (albeit lesser) causes of this deforestation was the practice of local farmers cutting down trees on their farm land, and uprooting tree seedlings, as a preventative measure to reduce the number of birds, seen as one of the main pests of the millet crop.

    As an environmentally conscious farmer, he sought a biological and natural form of bird control. One day, his wife Aisha Adam observed that a few of the millet plants grown by her sister were covered in small hairs and were thus resistant to birds and grasshoppers. He took some of these seeds back to his farm, so beginning his three-year endeavor to selectively breed a bird-resistant millet variety which would also have high tolerance to drought (essential in an arid area increasingly prone to rain shortages) and a high yield.

    In this attempt, he drew on his experience accumulated as a Practical Action trained agricultural extension agent (from 2004). In 2005 he participated in an exchange visit to neighbouring North Kordofan state with the State Ministry of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Corporation, where he was taught how to select and propagate seeds. More recently, he participated in a refreshment training course in agricultural production techniques for village extension agents, organised as part of the Wadi El-Ku catchment management project for peace and livelihoods.


    Close-up of Abu Suf (hairy) millet

    In the 2014 agricultural season he tied a strip of cloth around the first millet stalk to flower, considering this as an early maturing variety and resistant to drought. He also observed that as it grew, the millet head was the biggest, a sign of high production. Most importantly, he also he observed that the same millet head was covered in long hairs which made it difficult for the birds to eat. He observed a second millet variety with a compacted seed head with large seeds that made it hard for locusts and bird to dislodge and eat.

    He selected these millet heads and stored them as seeds for the coming year. This second crop was harvested in October/November 2015 with stunning results. Despite being one of the worst rainy seasons in many years, he produced a surplus of millet beyond his annual household’s needs, the only farmer Magdoub A to do so in 2015. The crop was virtually untouched by birds.

    Scaling up use of new millet variety

    Ibrahim invited Practical Action to attend the harvest, with the aim of seeking support to scale-up the propagation of this new millet variety. Practical Action, accompanied by a team from the State Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the Agricultural Research Corporation (ARC), visited the farm to assess the seeds and to discuss with Ibrahim how his millet variety could best be expanded to the benefit of other farmers in the state.

    This scale-up began with Ibrahim training 250 other farmers in Magdoub, and from neighbouring satellite villages, in identifying, selecting and breeding seeds. The next step in the scale-up plan is still being discussed but the provisional plan entails distributing the seeds to 50 farmers in the state who will then grown the seeds; keeping half the crop and passing the other half on to a further 50 farmers. Practical Action also hopes to use these seeds to encourage farmers to adopt agro-forestry. As they no longer need to fear birds damaging their crops, planting Acacia trees on their sandy soils after 4 or 5 years will significantly improve soil fertility. At this point they can also benefit from the trees as Arabic gum gardens supplying reliable source of additional income, through the sale of gum Arabic.


    Aisha Adam harvesting her Abu Suf millet

    While this variety of millet is not new to Sudan as a whole, with other pioneer farmers developing similar locally propagated improved seeds in several states, his efforts show how with limited training and outside support, farmers can find locally appropriate solutions to their livelihood challenges.

    This is in line with Practical Action’s vision of promoting local knowledge that contributes to improving the livelihoods of poor communities. By connecting farmers with governmental institutions such as MOA and ARC, we encourage sustainable development.

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  • Being Young

    Ananta Prasad

    February 17th, 2016

    At least, a smile means something;
    The satisfaction of being the reason of it,
    The happiness to see someone happy,
    The accomplishment of honest efforts,
    The realization of contributing for a cause
    All these matters, all this you count
    When you are young, Young at heart!

    It’s neither the space you work,
    Rather the environment of positivity,
    Which propels you
    Towards goodness and inspires.
    The spirit of an action hero
    To being the saviour
    Not in a dream but by action.
    This is what you fantasise
    This is what makes you Young
    Young at heart.

    The philosophy of a Visionary
    Visions of Change and prosperity
    Traveled through countries
    Enabling lives better and happier
    Translating the words into action
    Action being real; being Practical.
    Creating comrades of development
    Young Minds and young thoughts,
    Because, we are Young at 50.

    Lights, life and Livelihood
    Water, toilet and self-respect
    Disaster, fights and self-sustain
    Agriculture and caring the climate
    Its power to you, energising lives
    In-hand with Tech-Justice
    Hopes multiplied and lives dignified.
    Aging is just a myth.
    We are 50, Young at heart.

    IMG_6262 (Cópia)

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  • Community-led 3D mapping of natural resources in North Darfur

    Awadalla Hamid Mohamed

    February 16th, 2016

    The primary goal of the Wadi el Ku Catchment Management Forum Project is to demonstrate how the promotion of inclusive natural resource management (NRM) systems and practices can help rebuild inter-community relations, enhance local livelihoods and contribute to peace in North Darfur.

    Locating natural resources on 3D map

    Practical Action and project partner the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have adopted a range of interventions targeting both local natural resource users and custodians, with the latter including technical support for government institutions responsible for natural resource management in North Darfur.

    Students prepare 3D map

    Activities to promote NRM at the local level include:

    • Community participatory action plan development for all 34 village clusters in the project area;
    • Training of local natural resource management extension agents to act as champions of natural resource management and pass on knowledge and techniques to their wider communities;
    • Building water-harvesting structures designed to meet the needs of diverse water users upstream and downstream. (see my other blogs for more information)

    UNEP and Practical Action decided to try a different approach to building consensus over natural resources in North Darfur through the creation of a three dimensional map with the participation of local communities and facilitated by a 3D mapping expert from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The project targets a 50km stretch of Wadi (seasonal rain-fed river bed) El Ku. However, to produce a three dimensional map of sufficient detail and topographical scale, the mapping exercise concentrated on only 25km of the project area, with the intention of later producing a second map of the rest.

    This participatory process took a little over three weeks. Farmers, pastoralists, native administration, youth, and other community leaders from more than 10 villages took part in the map.  Students from two local secondary schools were also enlisted help in the labor-intensive process of creating the papier-mâché base map.

    3D mappingLively debates were held by community representatives as they discussed the location and types of different natural and man-made resources to be featured in the map, including  migratory routes, gullies, clay soils, sandy soils, mountains, water points (e.g. boreholes, shallow wells, and hafirs), water-harvesting structures, crop growing areas and forests. All the while, they were cutting out, glueing, and painting these resources onto the map.

    Throughout the mapping exercise, and as more and more layers and resources were added to the map, facilitators from UNEP and Practical Action asked communities what had surprised them about their resources in their area when looking not just at their own communities but the wider mapping area. Five observations were repeatedly heard.

    • The almost total extent of deforestation in the area, whereas only 10 years ago significant areas of natural and government forests had existed.
    • Many farmers came to realize that while pastoralists are mostly held responsible for crop damage that occurs when they seasonally migrate with their animals, it was evident that greater and greater areas of what used to be open land had been encroached by farmers seeking new cultivable land, making crop damage increasingly unavoidable.
    • The extensive formation of deep gullies across what used to be a relatively flat wadi bed had lead to greater water concentration and the consequent reduction in arable land.
    • The proliferation of unplanned earth embankments, designed to capture water as it flows down the wadi, played a critical role in the gully formation described above.
    • Over reliance on millet growing in sandy soils has had a highly negative impact on soil fertility.

    Through the process of creating this map, the community participants gradually reached consensus around the key natural resources in their areas. How far this consensus can be extended to their wider communities and government institutions is yet to be seen, but it is a good start and the map represents an effective physical tool for NRM planning and advocacy to that effect.

    The 3-dimensional map, which measures approximately 4.5 meters by 2.5 meters, is on display at the Women’s Development Association Network where it is easily accessible to visitors from communities, NGOs, government staff.

    Putting the finishing touches on 3D NRM map

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  • Sandbar cropping to eradicate extreme poverty in Bangladesh

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah

    February 2nd, 2016

    Every year in monsoon, the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna and their hundreds of branches carry enormous amounts of water and silt and flood at least a quarter of Bangladesh. The scenario is very different in winter. As the water reduces in the main river channels, thousands of hectares of sandbars (sand-covered silty riverbeds) surface.

    Sandbar cropping is an innovation, tested and scaled up in northern Bangladesh by Practical Action over the last decade, making these uncultivable lands arable.

    A life changing nature-based innovation

    In this agro-technology, numerous pits a couple of feet deep are excavated on sandbars reaching down to the silt layer to sow pumpkin seeds. After a few weeks’ nurturing, green plants come out of these pits and spread over the sand. Over the next few months, flowers bloom, fertilized ones turn into green fruits, which ripen into orange pumpkins.

    pumpkins gaibandhaThis fascinating innovation transforms the silver sandbar first into a green then into an orange landscape.

    This visual metamorphosis of ‘sandscape’ has effectively been used through a series of initiatives over the past 10 years transforming the lives of 15,000  extreme poor families, who were without any land or productive assets, often lived on embankments, earned only a couple of dollars a day, and lacked most basic services.

    The fantastic positive impacts of sandbar cropping on the ultra-poor have been achieved by overcoming many social, environmental, technological and systems challenges.

    Sandbar access

    Existing laws of Bangladesh put sandbars, which are dried up riverbeds and temporary in nature, under the ownership of the government as unsettled land. But the ground scenario is different; most of the sandbars are claimed by local people.

    Although left unused, getting consent from the land claimants for sandbar cultivation by the landless people can be very difficult, especially when there are multiple claimants. After negotiating in presence of local governments, administrations and NGOs, a sandbar can be accessed by an extreme poor family for free or in exchange for cash or by sharing a part of the production.

    Access in exchange of harvest has a downside. Some extreme poor farmers hide their hard-earned pumpkins by harvesting them green. This causes crop damage during storage, leading to lower prices and reduced production.

    A fantastic production of pumpkin not only upholds the success of the sandbar cropping technique, but also increases the value of the sandbar. Seeing the production, some land claimants who initially gave free access began to demand a share in the middle of the season. In other cases, the land claimants increased the percentage of the share the following year. In severe cases, no access was given to the extreme poor as the owner decided to practice sandbar cropping himself. All these indicate a ‘success backlash’ to this nature-based venture.

    Access to land is further constrained by uncertain geomorphology of the rivers. In the upstream of a river, sandbars are temporary. Their extent and characteristics, like position in the river and depth of sand layer, vary significantly from one year to another. If a piece of land appears without a sand layer, it is leased out for cash crops, like tobacco, maize, potato, chilli, onion and garlic. Such uncertainties make long-term land-tenure arrangement for sandbar cropping impossible. Every year, new negotiations have to be opened up for access to new sandbar or to fix the percentage of share cropping.

    To minimize land access challenges, it is important that the local administration and local government formally facilitate the extreme poor’s ‘operational access’ to sandbars, since such a natural-resource-based, innovative cropping system can directly contribute to extreme poverty eradication − the core of the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Environmental factors

    Another challenge of sandbar cropping is the dependency on seasons. The starting of sandbar cultivation depends upon the first exposure of sandbars in autumn (October−early November). Late availability of sandbar delays the whole cultivation process. It may lower pumpkin seed germination rate due to severe winter/cold wave. Sand storm may cover young plants causing stunted growth. Sudden rainfall in March can cause crack on mature fruits just before harvest due to lack of micronutrients, like boron, in the soil. Early flooding in late March−early April may also push for early harvest of crops before they mature properly. All these reduce the overall pumpkin production.

    Timely availability of seeds, compost, fertilizers, micronutrients and irrigation has therefore been a basic prerequisite of the success of sandbar cropping. Such need has been met by building farmers’ capacity, establishing effective market linkages, and making financial resources available.

    Human capacity and economic aspects

    Sowing of pumpkin seed in the sandbar pits usually takes place in mid November and the first harvest of green pumpkins occurs in the late February. It is difficult for extreme poor to cope with this three-month lean period as they need to give time to sandbar cropping in lieu of their regular work.

    Sandbar cropping is also labour intensive for a significantly long period. Ability of individual farmer is thus a major factor. It is very difficult to work (e.g. for irrigation, artificial cross-pollination, and pest control) in February−March under strong heat. Ripening fruits also need 24-hour guarding from theft. All these may cause loss of regular daily wages affecting household income. Further, women and adolescents of the family also need to get involved in sandbar cropping, particularly when the male family members migrate the area at the beginning (October−November) or end of the sandbar cropping season (March−April) to work in winter rice fields.

    Cultivating some quick-harvesting crops, like squash, on sandbars has been found to be very useful to cover the lean period by earning money within a couple of months. Further, linking the extreme poor families with other government initiatives, like social safety net programmes, could be useful to partially compensate income loss during sandbar cropping season.

    Managing and marketing the harvest

    pumpkin storagePumpkin, the major sandbar crop, has a long shelf-life. If ripe pumpkins can be stored for a few months, a good price can be expected in the monsoon season. As they mostly have small houses, however, extremely poor farmers cannot store their whole harvest.

    Practical Action helped to install simple, low-cost bamboo shelves within farmers’ houses which helps them store much of their produce for several months. Creating a community storage facility has also been considered, but the farmers have expressed unwillingness to keep their produce somewhere distant.

    Finally, given a huge pumpkin production in a small area, selling them with a reasonable understanding of the market system is a major challenge. The extreme poor have a limited understanding of market mechanisms as they work in the agriculture sector as day-labourers. When they produce crops, usually they produce for themselves, not in bulk for formal markets. Limited access to markets and market information, and over-saturation of pumpkin market may lead to low prices.

    Capacity development of farmers on market systems and value chains, organizing them into formal producers’ associations, facilitating their access to microfinance, and connecting them with big buyers and markets in the region and beyond have therefore been important aspects of sandbar cropping projects in Bangladesh.

    A stepping stone

    Sandbar cropping has effectively shown its potential and strengths to help the extreme poor. In the long journey of promoting this technology, development organizations and their partners have been crucial initiators, facilitators, advocates and catalysts. But the question remains, whether sandbar cultivation alone is robust enough to push ultra-poor families out of extreme poverty.

    Given the uncertainty around the availability of sandbars every year, the low bargaining power of the extreme poor to access sandbars, labour intensiveness, initial and recurring costs, complex market mechanisms, and environmental risks, sandbar cropping may not be practiced by an extreme poor family as the sole livelihood choice year after year.

    sandbar cropping

    A mechanism needs to be built in the sandbar cropping promotion, whereby the income from this practice can be efficiently invested in livelihoods diversification and asset creation (see figure above), creating a staircase to get out of extreme poverty. Sandbar cropping is thus an effective ‘stepping stone’ to bring the riverine extreme poor out of poverty.

    Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh. He used to lead the disaster risk reduction and climate change programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at



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  • Mobilization is vital to sustainable governance

    Erwin Rathnaweera

    January 20th, 2016

    Mobilization plays a critical role in every development project. This is the strategy used to ensure that beneficiaries actively participate in development planning, implementing and monitoring. One may say that mobilization brings beneficiaries from a state of non participation or passive participation to a stage of active participation. However, this is an immensely challenging process.

    Sherry R. Arnstein, the author of “A Ladder of Citizen Participation,” (1969), explains eight rungs of participation. Understanding the eight rungs is of vital importance in building sustainable governance. The highest rung in the ladder of participation is ideally “Citizen Control” in which good governance comes into action. In practice, there are a whole range of tools used to mobilize people. The argument is “too much of mobilization activities lead to passive or no participation of fisher communities”. In other words, too many mobilization activities lead the participation process to move downward in the ladder of participation. Because issues and constraints related to governance of fisheries resources are the key incentives for the participation of the communities, unless they are addressed within reasonable time duration, communities tend to lose their faith in the process.

    The Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods (SLL) project experience is that levels of participation of fisher communities vary and that needs to be understood before devising mobilization activities. Failure to do so, only leads to either passive participation or no participation. It has been found that with some fisher communities a whole lot of mobilization activities need to be carried out for them to be motivated, whereas others need only one or two activities. Blog post 5

    “Urgency” is a prominent characteristic among fisher communities. Their sense of urgency is clearly manifested in the activity of fishing. However, this characteristic can be found in most of their routine actions daily. Fishers are quick in every aspect of life when compared to most other communities.  The argument is if the mobilization activities do not match the essential nature of fishers, less participation or even insubordination will result. The baseline studies or initial mobilization actions help to understand the level of participation of fisher communities that fits in the ladder of participation. Therefore, mobilization strategies need to be chosen and implemented accordingly.

    The project plans or proposal contain time-frames with a flow of mobilization strategies. However, the implementers need to understand the community first and adapt and adopt strategies to match the communities and motivate them to do better.  Experience indicates, with one community, a transect walk will trigger stewardship in the fishers whereas in other fisher communities, this will happen at the end of the project.

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  • Happy Floating Gardening!

    Haseeb Md Irfanullah

    January 5th, 2016

    The year 2015 ended well for floating-garden-enthusiasts!

    On 15 December, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared floating gardening of Bangladesh as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). This agricultural system has now become one of the 36 systems around the globe, and the first from Bangladesh. A GIAHS is essentially an outstanding land use system or a landscape that has been evolving with a community meeting their needs and desire for sustainable development.

    Floating gardening is a traditional agricultural practice in the southern part of Bangladesh. In this farming system, rafts are made on stagnant waters with aquatic plants, mainly water hyacinth. On these platforms, crop seedlings are raised, and vegetables, spices and other crops are cultivated during monsoon. In winter, when water recedes from the wetlands, these rafts are dismantled and mixed with soil as compost to grow winter crops.

    gathering produce from a floating garden 21778

    In addition to supporting food and nutrition to rural Bangladeshis, this indigenous technology is a good tool for disaster management and climate change adaptation in the wetlands. Floating farming has also been an useful income generation option for wetland dwellers, thus their poverty alleviation, by managing aquatic resources.

    Over the past few years, floating gardening has received much global attention, specifically as a means of adaptation to climate change. It has now found its place in the latest authoritative Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Practical Action’s work on floating gardening in Bangladesh is showcased by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a farmer-led sustainable agricultural adaptation technology.

    FAO’s latest recognition is a step forward to appreciate the contribution and opportunity of this indigenous technology to mitigating some basic global challenges, like food insecurity, extreme poverty and climate change. Such global appreciation is indeed a result of long-term efforts by many organizations, like, Practical Action, IUCN, CARE and Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS), to name a few.

    It is interesting to note that Bangladesh’s centuries-old floating gardening technology had never left its ‘centre of origin’ − a small area of about 25 sq km − until NGOs started promoting it in the late 1990s. This is particularly fascinating since about 50% of Bangladesh’s 147,570 sq km is basically wetlands.

    The recent robust promotion of floating gardening is an excellent example of how an indigenous technology can transform  poor people’s lives as an innovation − in new areas, to meet new challenges. There, however, has not been any assessment per se to check if floating gardening is really a sustainable option under changing climate. Such testing is very logical as the growth and survival of water hyacinth is very much dependent on amount of rainfall, length of flooding period, and salinity of water − all to be affected by climate change.

    The need for research on floating gardening has repeatedly been raised in recent years. But very limited studies on floating agriculture, however, do not match the overwhelming interest in and increasing recognition of this technology.

    It may be argued that floating agricultural practice has reached its pinnacle in Bangladesh by being in practice over centuries. But ever-changing climate and hydrology, people’s economic conditions and aspirations, and our development approaches have been continuously changing the face of floating gardening in newly introduced areas. To cope with these changes and uncertainties, promotion of floating gardening should be backed by organized innovation, planned research, and effective knowledge management.

    As we start 2016, floating gardening gives us a fantastic opportunity to go about nature-based solutions to basic development challenges − extreme poverty, food insecurity, climate change − duly supported by evidence, not only by emotion.

    Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the programme coordinator of IUCN in Bangladesh. He used to lead the disaster risk reduction and climate change programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at

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