Birishiri in Bangladesh What do pumpkins do

Bangladesh: Floating Gardens

SEND DATE Sun., 08.11.20 | 7:20 pm | The first

Obaidal Molla has rediscovered an ancient cultivation method. His vegetables grow on the water. A necessity for farmers in the south, because his fields are now under water for eight months a year. A direct consequence of climate change. In Bangladesh, that means more and more rain and rising sea levels. Floating fields are a way out that is now catching on.

Old farming methods brought to life

The monsoons in southern Bangladesh bring more rain every year. And then for ever larger areas it is called: Land under. For a few years now, vegetable farmer Obaidal Molla's fields have also been under water for eight months a year. But Molla has found a solution: his vegetable patches float on waist-high fresh water. The cultivation method is ancient, Molla has brought it back to life, making it one of Bangladesh's agricultural pioneers. "I copied it from my father. He already had a few plants in the water. But at that time it wasn't systematic. We developed that. We have no other choice if we don't want to starve."

Molla had to get used to the fact that his life now takes place completely in and on the water. But the success proves him right. The pumpkins are growing at a record pace. In a few days he will be able to harvest. "The vegetables from the water taste better and have more vitamins. We don't need any artificial fertilizers or pesticides here. That is why the vegetables are better than those that grow in the country. Much better." Next door, Molla already has the next seedlings. The roots get nutrients directly from the water. You're stuck in the compost. It's so light that it swims. There is almost no current here. And so the beds, which are held together with nets, drift lazily on the water.

Obaidal Molla achieved something in his village. He earns 300 euros a month. Three times more than usual in this area. The whole family helps out, including their daughter Lamia. She puts pumpkin seeds in bales of compost. They'll be put on the water later. The farmers in Bangladesh are defying climate change as best they can. And yet: They don't see themselves as winners. "Of course I'm scared when my father is on the water," says daughter Lamia. "It's getting hotter and hotter. Besides, mosquitoes breed in the water and they bring diseases. Father is often sick. It's bad for us. He's the only one in our family who earns money. It's always a critical time."

Climate change is causing sea levels to rise

In the village next door, the men have just come back from logging. Supplies for the boat builder. Mohanando Samadder is doing the business of his life at the age of 70. Samadder has given up farming and specialized entirely in boat building. He needs six hours to first carve planks and then a finished boat from the wood of the breadfruit tree. Everything by hand. He could sell a lot more. "We're really busy at the moment. It's the season now. And the farmers have to get out on the water. For us that's twice as good, because the wood has to go. Otherwise it will rot in the wet season. But we still make the farmers a good one Price."

Mohanando Samadder goes to the market every Friday. Despite his advanced age, he rowed himself. Five kilometers. Bangladesh is crossed by more than 230 rivers and tens of thousands of tributaries. Especially in the south like here in the province of Barisal this is becoming more and more of a problem. The sea level rises and pushes the rivers back onto the land. People have to adapt. Fortunately for the boat builder. The boat market stretches over two kilometers along the Sandhya. The small dinghies are amazingly robust. They can carry up to 450 kilos. One costs 4,000 taka. 40 euros. Mohanando Samadder can wait and see. He has his regular customers. "Everything depends on the skill of the boat builder. And on his experience. I have both. That's why people like me. But I also had to work hard for that."

Floating gardens as a model for the whole of Bangladesh

Meanwhile, high-profile visitors have been announced at the Obaidal Molla vegetable farm. Agricultural engineer Dolon Roy. The government of Bangladesh promotes cultivation on the floating fields. Spinach, okra pods, tomatoes, cauliflower and pumpkins. Climate change could soon flood a third of the country's area. The floating gardens, which have so far been limited to the relatively small region here, could become a model for the whole of Bangladesh. "Bangladesh still produces enough food to support itself," explains Dolon Roy. "What we don't have enough is 'safe' food - in the sense of being unpolluted with pollutants. The floating gardens make an important contribution here, because the farmers need far fewer pesticides here because there are fewer vermin on the water."

This is an advantage for Obaidal Molla. Also at the local wholesale market. He not only sells his vegetables here, but also the seedlings to the farmers in the area. He used to only grow rice in his fields. That was a lot less work, he says. But since he went on the water, his farm has become much more profitable. "The seedlings that are grown in the countryside are weaker. Ours are more resilient and also look fresher. That is why we sell better than the farmers. Our water seedlings are more in demand and we get higher prices." And that's why the farmers of Barisal are also planning to significantly enlarge the floating gardens. There is enough water for this. And there is more and more in this part of Bangladesh.

Author: Peter Gerhardt, ARD Studio New Delhi

Status: 13.11.2020 1:49 p.m.