Transforming lands, transforming lives


December 15th, 2015

In Bangladesh, the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers are both vital and threatening to nearby inhabitants. Monsoon rains cause these great rivers to swell, often flooding villages and fields.

However, during the other months, drought leaves crops, livestock and communities praying for water. Land is scarce, population density is high and poverty and food security are major concerns, especially in the face of this seasonal feast and famine.

The pumpkin harvest

It is in this environment that Practical Action’s Pathways From Poverty project was launched in 2009 in the north west part of Bangladesh to lift 31,850 households out of poverty.

The project goal is to reduce the vulnerability of men, women and children to the physical, social and economic effects of river erosion, flooding and other natural disasters in the five districts in northwest Bangladesh. It aims to help those whose villages and farms have been lost through river erosion and are forced to live illegally on flood protection embankments. We offer these communities a wide range of technological support programmes in agriculture, fisheries, livestock, food processing, light-engineering, disability, education, health and nutrition to improve their ability to manage productive livelihoods, including our sandbar cropping project.

A life changing innovation to eradicate extreme poverty

The sandbar cropping project started with the objective “something is better than nothing” but today it has transformed the lives of the landless poor through access to barren transitional sandy land.

Sandbar cropping is a ground-breaking approach to ensuring these harsh landscapes provide for their inhabitants. After each rainy season, large islands of sand appear in the main rivers of Bangladesh. These ‘lands’ are common property resources that generally tend to disappear during the following wet season and, until now, have not been used for any productive purpose. However, this project has successfully used this ever-changing landscape to demonstrate that the growing of pumpkins in small compost pits dug into the sand is both possible and profitable. Large-scale irrigation is not necessary as the land is close to the river channel.

From 2005 to 2014, a total of 15,000 farmers, many of who were women, produced over 80,000 tonnes of pumpkins worth £5.5million at farm gate price by utilising 7,973 acres of sandbar land…and the technology is now spreading to new areas, with a further 15,000 individuals benefiting from it in north west Bangladesh.

Transforming barren landscapes

pumpkin storeThe pumpkins produced on these sandbars can be stored in people’s houses for over a year. They help poor households both in terms of income generation and year-round food security and lean season management. Sandbar cropping has transformed a barren landscape, and these ‘mini deserts’ have now been turned into productive, green fields.

This innovative cropping technology opens up otherwise unproductive lands and is ideally suited to adoption by displaced and landless households. The technology appears to be low risk, yet shows an impressive financial return. Sandbar cropping is so simple and yet, to our knowledge, no one had thought of this application until the project was first experimented with in 2005. The technology would seem to have a much wider application in other dry areas and could even become an important coping strategy in some areas both at home and abroad adversely affected by climate change.

Revolutionary socio-economic changes for millions

Anwar with pumpkinAn earmarked policy for the erosion-affected communities to use transitional sandy land for 5-6 months of a year can bring revolutionary socio-economic changes for millions on production, processing and marketing chain on the ground.

Barren land management will enable food production to meet the demand of local, regional and national markets. It will support families by ensuring year-round food security and nutrition, income and employment.  It will reduce dependency on external relief and migration to urban areas in search of employment.

The tested innovation can be disseminated in a number of erosion prone districts in Bangladesh to benefit hundreds of thousands of the poor embankment dwellers, affected by river erosion.

Want to help?  You can donate to Practical Action’s Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal.  This is matched pound for pound by the UK government until 31st December, doubling the impact of your donation.

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