Dr Anwar Hossein
In the delta region of Bangladesh, water is everything. Therefore, at the heart of any long-term change, you will find water management. Improvements in agriculture, the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of women have all stemmed from engineering feats that have created and strengthened polders across the delta.
I recently met Noresh Mandal, a farmer who grows crops in Polder 30, a typical section of reclaimed land protected by embankments, dykes and sluice gates. Until last year, his land could only support rice. He struggled with water salinity in the winter and then flooding in the wet season. Noresh and his family were trapped by crop limitation and weather dependency.
Their prospects changed with the re-excavation of the Kharia and Dabitola Canal to create vast reservoirs of sweet water. This is a new era for farmers like Noresh. More than that: the irrigation has sparked a revolution. Suddenly, he could introduce a second crop cycle. Watermelons! Every fruit can earn him up to US$1.
Noresh is a typical farmer. He only likes to talk about his crops. But it’s not hard to see the social benefits of this economic revolution.
Farming here has become more predictable. It’s less vulnerable and stressful. All of his family members now work together on the farm. There are more books for the children and fuller plates on the table. Noresh can plan for the future. He’s not alone. Backed by technical support from the Farmer Field School, 120ha were planted with watermelons across the polder.
Personally, it’s very satisfying to help teach new skills. Yet, our team can’t reach everyone. All we can do is set the ball rolling. For example, again in Khulna, I helped with an initiative to improve poultry rearing with the use of hajols. These are hatching bowls made of baked mud, which include two small troughs at the front for grain and water. Mother hen never needs to leave her eggs, which means more hatch successfully. Once hatched, you separate her from her chicks, and she is happy to lay another batch. In this way, farmers can get up to six cycles a year from the same hen.
We trained 25 members of the Milemara Water Management Group, which is mostly populated by a marginalised Hindu community. The women here work closely together and share ideas to support each other.
Dipali Mondal, a housewife and mother, embodies the local drive to make the most of what you have. She couldn’t join our Farmer Field School, but she was determined to learn about the hajols from her neighbour, who did. Starting with just 10 hens and a cock, Dipali sold 110 hens, 1200 eggs and 300 chicks in her first year. On top of all her usual household activities, she has added Tk49,400 (US$600) – and a regular supply of eggs and meat – to the family pot.
Her status has grown in her family and the wider community. Dipali is hugely excited for the future. ‘From just 10 birds, I can now afford the full cost of my son’s college fees and support my five family members,’ she says. ‘My dream is to own a big poultry farm one day and I am preparing to make this happen.’