Question and Answer Series: Sandbar Cropping in Bangladesh
This entry was written in collaboration with Securing Water for Food and is the fourth in a series highlighting innovations from around the globe designed to reduce water usage in various farming techniques. Learn about the previous innovations featured in the series, such as highly accurate weather modeling, Aybar Engineering's Broad Bed Furrow Maker, and Groasis Tech's WaterBoxx.
Sandbar cropping, introduced by Practical Action Bangladesh and innovative farmers, is featured below in a Q&A with the organization's Head of Extreme Poverty Program, Nazmul Islam. This low-cost model is able to transform previously unused sandy islands, which appear after each rainy season, into large-scale pumpkin farms.
1) First tell us a bit about why you decided to create the product that you are now marketing.
The sandbar cropping project first began in 2004 as part of our work to help tsunami-affected communities in northwest Bangladesh rebuild their communities and protect them from the effects of river erosion, flooding and other natural disasters.
Over the last decade, sandbar cropping, a low-cost technique that transforms previously unused sandy islands that appear after each rainy season into large-scale pumpkin farms, has proved it is vital for thousands of farmers—many of whom are women—in Bangladesh. Over 15,000 farmers have been trained and are implementing sandbar cropping methods.
By digging small pits and lining these pits with compost, the barren sandbars that would otherwise not be stable enough to support natural vegetative growth, have been transformed into productive crop land. Large-scale irrigation is not necessary, and the pumpkins produced on the sandbars can be stored in homes for up to 18 months. The entire plants can be fed to livestock or composted for the following year at the end of the dry season.
Since 2014, through Securing Water for Food funding, the innovation has been testing water efficiency and developing a market-based commercial model with 1,000 farmers. To date, 650 farmers have been brought onto the project, and they have successfully produced 5,000 metric tons of pumpkin and squash. Recently, they began exporting the product to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.
The technology could have a much wider application in other dry areas and become an important coping strategy in some areas adversely affected by climate change.
Photo: PracticalAction.org. Farmers dig compost pits in the sand.
2) How does the innovation contribute to water savings?
Sandbar cropping uses the water in the river channel for the bulk of the plant’s growing seasons, thus saving the water from going to the sea or evaporating. Through the application of reservoir-based irrigation systems, it has saved over 117 percent in water consumption last year compared to flooding irrigation methods.
3) Did you set out to create a product that dually benefited reducing water usage and supporting farmers' livelihoods or did it emerge over time? If the former, what inspired you/drove you to want to solve for water issues?
We chose this method because water is one of the most important issues for Bangladesh. There is a drought during the dry season and floods during the rainy season. Minimizing water loss in order to save energy and reduce the cost of production while securing water for crop production is a priority for the country.
4) Building a social enterprise that benefits the marketplace and the social good is gaining ground in the international development space. What advice would you give to others trying to break into social enterprises that benefit social good that you wish you had before you started?
The truth is, a large amount of food can be grown by the landless and extremely poor communities who have lost their homes and businesses due to river erosion and flooding.
5) Tell us what your next steps are. How can Agrilinks community members benefit from your work and/or help advance the use of your product?
We are looking to diversify our production system in the following ways:
- Expand in India, Nepal and African countries in order to develop a sustainable market and fuller year-round supply.
- Diversify crops based on local markets and external market demand.
- Establish market linkage for external export.
- Diversify the products.
- Low-cost industry development.
- Mechanize the sandbar cropping system.
- Find a female-friendly support system to attract more women into productive roles for their own economic empowerment.
Securing Water for Food is soon to announce its fourth global call for innovations. You can find out more and sign up for updates at www.securingwaterforfood.org/4thcall