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      In Bangladesh, people use floating farms to survive

      Mohamed Mustafa, a farmer in the lowland delta of southwestern Bangladesh, has revived his ancestors’ farming practice of growing floating crops as rising sea levels and storm flooding increasingly threaten farmland, reports Reuters .

      Periods of extensive flooding are increasingly threatening people’s ability to grow food and more and more people are using floating platforms made from vegetation to grow vegetables and fruit, including cucumbers, radishes, bitter gourds, papaya and tomatoes. Most are sold as seedlings.

      The rafts, woven from the stems of the invasive species of hyacinth (hyacinth), provide a chance for families during increasingly severe monsoon seasons when dry land is particularly scarce.

      The 200-year-old technique was originally used by farmers in the region during the flood season, which used to last about five months each year. But now the area remains under water for 8-10 months and the proportion of flooded land is increasing.

      “These days, the land is under water a lot. This ancient technique has helped us earn a living,” said 42-year-old Mustafa as he planted seedling balls on the floating beds.

      “My father and ancestors all used to do this. But the work is not easy. So initially I tried to earn from selling fruit but I ended up in debt,” said Mustafa, the only earner in his family of six. “I tried my hand at floating agriculture five years ago and it has made a huge difference in my life.”

      Water covers more and more ground

      The approach, now practiced by nearly 6,000 subsistence farmers in the swampy southwest, could prove crucial as climate change raises sea levels and makes monsoons more erratic.

      Digbijoi Hazra, an agriculture official in Nazirpur’s Pirojpur sub-district, says the number has increased from nearly 4,500 five years ago.

      Floating farms now cover 157 hectares in Pirojpur district and 120 hectares in Nazirpur have expanded from 80 hectares five years ago.

      “It requires less space than traditional farming and no pesticides,” Hazra told Reuters. “When we fight the…impact of global warming, floating agriculture could be the future”.

      One of the countries most affected by climate change

      Low-lying Bangladesh is considered one of the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change, with the impact of rising waters through storms, flooding and erosion.

      The climatic impact is composed of natural factors, such as tectonic movements that lead to the sinking of the land beneath and upstream dams that retain silt that would replenish the eroded delta.

      Between 2000 and 2019, Bangladesh ranked seventh on the list of countries most severely affected by climate change, according to the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index produced by the NGO Germanwatch.

      “Because it is the largest delta in the world…a huge portion of the land area experiences frequent flooding, especially floods along with river erosion,” the Asian Development Bank says in a 2021 report.

      Bangladesh is also often affected by cyclones reaching the Bay of Bengal, while global warming is producing increasingly erratic rainfall patterns. More than a quarter of Bangladesh’s 165 million people live in the coastal zone.

      30% less food by 2050

      Rising sea levels and coastal erosion could cause a 17% loss of land area in Bangladesh and 30% of food production by 2050, according to a 2019 International Monetary Fund report.

      Sailing a boat along one of the country’s countless waters, Mustafa says he can now feed his family “without asking for help”.

      Profit margins, however, have shrunk as prices have risen, he said. This year, he spent nearly $43 (4,500 taka) on a boat full of water yak weighing nearly 1.2 tons to weave them into a new raft for this year. Last year, the cost was only 1,000 taka.

      The floating platforms, which take two months to manufacture, are usually about 6 metres long and 1 metre wide, but can be several times that length, farmers say. They should be replaced with new ones after 3-4 months.

      Mohamed Ibrahim, another farmer in the area, says the floating beds allow him to grow more crops reliably.

      “Water levels are rising. I still remember I used to play football on land that is now underwater during the normal ebb and flow,” said the 48-year-old man as he sold gourd seedlings he grew on floating beds from his boat.

      The effort is not without cost.

      His wife, 35-year-old Murșida Begum, said she works more than eight hours a day making seedling balls that are planted on rafts, but the yak often causes itching and sores on her palms and fingers.

      Kajol Begum, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters, says: “The work is so hard and painful. I can’t sleep at night because of the middle pains. But what else can I do when water is everywhere most of the time?”.

      Editor: A.C. ALEXANDRU COSTEA

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