Every year the monsoon rains come to Bangladesh, and rivers flood. With climate change, the flooding has become more severe, destroying crops and eroding topsoil. This has devastated local communities. The failure of farming in the area has left many with no means to make a living, and malnourishment has increased.
One of the main problems is that after the flood waters recede, they leave behind vast deposits of sand and silt, which remain there until the rains return. These sandbars are unstable and unproductive – unless you can find some way of growing food on sand.
Practical Action have spent several years experimenting with ‘sandbar cropping’ in the region. After testing various techniques and crops with local farmers, they have discovered that pumpkins offer the best solution. Pits are dug in the sand and filled with compost and a handful of pumpkin seeds. The seeds will germinate and reach maturity before the floods return, and each pit can produce around 10 pumpkins.
The advantage of a pumpkin is that it can store for a year, so households get a reliable source of food. They’re nutritious and a source of Vitamin A. If families can grow enough to sell, then there are further benefits. Trials showed that farmers were able to significantly improve their diets, and earn enough to educate children or improve their homes. This effect led Practical Action to create their current schools campaign, Pumpkins Against Poverty, which you might want to take a look at it if you teach children aged 7-11.
One interesting thing about sandbar cropping is that it is able to reach the landless and the displaced. During the monsoon rivers can change course and farmers can lose their land, leaving them with nothing. Learning to farm the sandbars offers a way to keep producing food. Practical Action cite a farmer who had been displaced five times in a decade. When he discovered pumpkin farming, he was able to produce 4,000 pumpkins in a year. This was enough to buy cows and branch out into fish farming too, diversifying his family’s opportunities and reducing their vulnerability.
Sandbar cropping is a simple technique with powerful results, and a good example of climate change adaptation in one of the world’s most vulnerable countries.