Mobilizing Science and Partnerships to Boost Irrigation and Food Security in Bangladesh
At first glance, most people would view the low-lying delta in southern Bangladesh’s Feed the Future zone as highly productive agricultural land. But reality is different. Many farmers lack reliable access to water for irrigation in the dry season, so they fallow their land or grow low-yielding rainfed crops in the dry season, trapping themselves in a cycle of poverty. However, alternative options do exist. The region’s network of naturally flowing canals can be tapped to provide irrigation from surface water, so long as canals are managed to assure adequate water supply.
With support from USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, scientists with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project conducted research on how best to target irrigation and rehabilitate canal networks. Using remote sensing and geospatial and environmental data, the CIMMYT team developed an online decision support tool that allows users to identify where surface-water can be effectively used for irrigation and where canals can be efficiently rehabilitated to improve water supply. Using these research outputs and community participation process, and with further support from USAID, CIMMYT teamed up with the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) to improve canal systems and water access to 5,000 ha and 21,000 farm households. Using CSISA’s research outputs and technical guidance, BADC excavated 50 km of canals in seven subdistricts over two years. An additional 35.5 km of canals were rehabilitated the following year.
According to Engr. Md. Monirul Islam, project engineer of the Surface Water Irrigation Rehabilitation in Southern Delta Project (supported by CSISA), “The excavation of 85.5 km now allows water to enter canals and is available for the entire dry season. It has induced farmers to cultivate crops during the dry season. Now the farmers surrounding the canals are able to produce two to three crops per year.”
Mr. Jamal, a farmer from Rahamatpur village said, “Farmers used to grow only one crop in this area. I am very pleased for the opportunity to access supplementary irrigation during the summer and the availability of water for dry season irrigation for crop production and income.” Engr. Abdullah, executive engineer for BADC said, “Farmers are switching from traditional low intensity crops to grow more wheat, maize and rice and are increasing profit margins. They are also adopting new technologies like the axial flow pump (AFP) for lower cost irrigation. Canal re-excavation has created huge potential for dry season irrigation.”
In connection with this canal re-excavation, the CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) project assisted in developing commercial availability of the AFPs for farmers and irrigation service providers in the Feed the Future zone. Research conducted by CSISA-MI found that compared to conventional irrigation equipment, AFPs were highly fuel efficient, unlocking new potential for affordable dry season irrigation.
A local farmer saved 120 litres of fuel while irrigating eight hectares of land, compared to using his previous centrifugal pump. Arrival of the new pump technology generated wide-spread interest among farmers and irrigation service providers.
To meet the demand for the new pumps, CSISA-MI has supported Bangladeshi manufacturers, such as RK Metal and The Metal Limited to stimulate domestic manufacturing and local supply-chain markets for the new pumps. Over the last two years, both companies produced hundreds of affordable AFPs now sold in machinery dealer shops across the Feed the Future zone. This is in addition to more than 1,000 imported axial flow pumps now sold by a suite of partnering Bangladeshi firms.
Canal water has continued to flow freely over the last year, with dramatic impact on farmers who are now able to affordably irrigate. More than 3,400 ha of rice were irrigated by AFPs, which required 40 percent less fuel than with conventional pumps, with over 20,000 farmers cultivating 12,000 tons of rice on previously fallow land. This confluence of applied research for development, technology targeting and public-private partnerships has been transformative, helping farmers to escape from poverty traps by enabling high-value and low-cost dry season production on previously fallowed land within the Feed the Future zone.