Happy Floating Gardening!


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 is the former disaster risk reduction and climate change programme lead of Practical Action in Bangladesh. Haseeb can be reached at hmirfanullah@yahoo.co.uk

2 responses to “Happy Floating Gardening!”

  1. Catherine Baart Says:

    I am a teacher and in Geography our topic this term is India. We had a lesson about the affects of the monsoon and I challenged them to think of ways to protect crops in monsoon floods. I then showed them information on floating gardens from Practical Action and they were really interested and intrigued. A video would be really well received if one is available.
    I am a regular supporter of Practical Action and use your materials in lessons whenever possible.

  2. Amanda Ross Says:

    Thanks, Catherine, yes there’s a video on floating gardens at the bottom of this page of resources for schools. http://practicalaction.org/floatinggardenchallenge

Leave a reply