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Communities cope with flooding situation with Gaota

Floating agriculture is a good popular practice of the low-lying areas the south-western parts of Bangladesh where lands remain submerged most of time in a year. Not only to cope during floods, floating agriculture is also a potential means to increase the food production in the country.

Floating gaota
Floating gaota

Basudevpur village situated in Muksordpur Upazila (subdistrict) in Bangladesh is surrounded by the Chandar beel (wetland) on all its sides. Beels are small saucer-like depressions that accumulate surface runoff water through internal drainage channels; these depressions mostly produced by erosion are seen all over Bangladesh. They dry up in the winter but during the monsoon season expand into broad and shallow sheets of water, covering a large area. Chander beel covers around 26 thousands acres of land.

During the rainy season, the entire village floats on the water and people adopt fishing as their alternative occupation. Abundant fishes are caught especially when water starts to decrease from the beel. Fishing fulfill the nutritional demand of each household as well as provide extra income for the household.

Basudevpur village remains submerged for a long period, almost six months, in an year. Majority of the villagers depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Almost all cultivable lands of the village are inundated for six months in an year. As the lands are submerged it is not possible to cultivate crops during this period. To cope with the flooding situation people in the region have been practicing a soil less agricultural production, locally, known as Gaota, meaning floating agriculture. This method has been a source of livelihoods and food security for many in the area.

Producing food on gaota

More than 20 varieties of vegetables like red amaranth, spinach, Indian spinach, coriander leafs, cauliflower, tomato, lady’s finger, cucumber, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, snake gourd, ash gourd, sweet pumpkin, beans, radish, brinjal, potato and various spices grow on the floating bed in this locality.

Farmers are especially interested in producing tuber crops on the floating Gaota. They find that some tuber crops like turmeric, potato, ginger, and arum grow very well on the Gaota than in the soil. Soils have become hard and the tubers cannot penetrate into the hard soil. But the Gaota which is made up of straw or water hyacinth, is very soft and always wet enabling tubers to grow well. Also farmers do not use any kind of chemical fertilizers and pesticides while producing on Gaota. The Gaota being entirely organic in nature, after the season is carried to the high land and mixed with the soil.

Rain water is not the only source for Chander Beel. Sweet water from the Padma River enters into Beel through Arial kha and Kumar Rivers. On the other hand, Posur and Madumoti rivers also supply water to the Beel from the south. Alongside these rivers from both south and north, there are fourteen to fifteen channels surrounding the whole Beel which circulate the water into the entire Beel from these rivers. During monsoon, its size and shape becomes bigger covering lands of atleast forty to forty five villages.

Floating Gaota

Floating agriculture is locally called as Gaota. Techniques
associated with making a floating bed is almost indigenous.
A piece of bamboo, boot, sickle etc are required to form a
floating bed. First, farmers lay a bamboo pole on dense water
hyacinth to make it compact. Thickness depends on duration
of water logging so that it can float during that time. To
quicken the process, farmers use old decomposed materials
of earlier years.

It requires 20-30 days from the collection and preparation
of materials for floating bed to start crop production. After
preparing the bed, farmers may transplant seedling or
broadcast seeds of vegetables. Farmers usually adopt inter
crops cultivation technique and they harvest crops two to
three times from the bed.

Some more benefits

Besides helping in food production, Gaota can reduce the economic vulnerability of the poor specially the landless households. The landless people who are deprived of producing their own food owing to their landlessness can produce food crops and vegetables by adopting the gaota method during the rainy season. They can also fish in the Beel fulfilling their family nutrition and extra income.

Gaotas are also the means to cope during the natural disasters like flood. During the severe flood in 1988 and 1998, local people of the adjacent villages of chandar Beel took shelter on floating Gaota with their household articles and even livestock. Some families survived for one to two months on floating Gaota putting a roof on it.

Challenges ahead

With all its merits and potential to grow, promotion of floating agriculture has some challenges too. Owing to certain development initiatives like construction of roads and numerous embankments along the northern rivers, the flow of sweet water into Chandar Beel has been decreasing day by day. On the other hand, due to the rise of sea level water, the rivers from the southern side carry saline water into the Chandar Beel. Increasing salinity is a threat to the biodiversity in the water. Also water hyacinth which is being extensively used as a base for crop production does not grow under saline conditions. Most importantly, lands submerged under saline water for a prolonged period renders it useless for crop production in the subsequent seasons threatening the food security of the region. Initiatives are therefore needed to stop the flow of saline water from the southern rivers by taking up activities like dredging the canals.

Floating agriculture has a great connection to the production of local deep water rice varieties. The straw of deep water rice grown in amon season has been an excellent base for practicing this method. But with farmers switching over to HYV paddy, the straw is no more available in abundance and people are using water hyacinth as a base material. Water hyacinth is slow to decompose and cannot survive under saline water conditions. Therefore it becomes crucial to emphasize the production of local deep water rice variety to sustain floating agriculture method.

Floating agriculture is a good popular practice of the low-lying areas the south-western parts of Bangladesh where lands remain submerged most of time in a year. Not only to cope during floods, floating  agriculture is also a potential means of increasing the food production in the country. However, efforts in spreading awareness about the practice and support from the government are required in sustaining the practice.

Sukanta Sen
Executive Director
Fahmid Al Zaid
Associate Researcher
BARCIK
House No.50, Road # 27,
Dhanmondi R/A,
Dhaka, Bangladesh
E-mail: barcik@bdonline.com