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Traditional floating garden practices for seedling production in Bangladesh
The floating garden practice is a local indigenous production system most successful in the wetland/submerged areas of selected south and south-western districts (Pirojpur, Barisal and Gopalganj) of Bangladesh. These areas remain submerged for long periods, especially in the monsoon season. Floating garden agricultural practices have been adopted by local farmers for nearly centuries ago. They are amongst the many options developed by local farmers to provide a growing area for poor communities who lack access to land during the period when wetlands are submerged under water (generally for 7-8 months of the year).
One type of floating beds for floating garden agricultural practices is used mainly for seedling production of different vegetables (bottle gourd, pumpkin, cucumber, bitter gourd, papaya etc.) and spices (chili, bombai chili etc.) for marketing during monsoon season (usually from June to October month). This system is traditionally practiced in the wetland/submerged areas of Pirojpur (Nazirpur and Nesarabad sub-districts) and some part of Barisal (Banaripara sub-district) districts. The seedlings produced under this method are generally used for subsequent vegetables/spices production on normal land in the southern and south-western regions of Bangladesh.
Another type of floating bed for floating garden agriculture practices is used as an alternative method for vegetable production during monsoon season. For a detailed description of this practice please refer to http://teca.fao.org/read/8867.
2.1 Construction of floating bed for seedling production
The floating bed for seedling production is prepared directly on the water body (water depth 1 meter or more) usually by using water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), dulalilata (Hygroryza aristata) and tapapana (Pistia stratiotes). Matured water hyacinth is the principal component of the floating bed. The size of the bed is generally of 50-55 meter length, 1.2-1.3 meter width and 1.0-1.2 meter height. Farmers also construct medium sized floating beds (25-27m long, 1.2-1.3 meter wide and 1.0-1.2 meter high) for seedling production, particularly in areas where water bodies are scarce.
The first layer (0.8-0.9 meter height) is made of water hyacinth which serves as the foundation of the bed. The roots of water hyacinth are stacked at the side and the shoot of the plants is kept in the middle position of the floating bed (Fig. 1). The second layer (0.2-0.3 m) is made of dulalilata, which is placed on the water hyacinth layer (Fig. 2). The third and final layer (0.2-0.3 m) is made of topapana (Fig. 3). The floating bed material is produced naturally as well as cultivated commercially for marketing in the local floating market (Fig. 4).
2.2. Preparation of nursery bed for seed germination
Different types of nursery beds are constructed for seed germination. It is usually installed on bamboo made trellis (Fig. 5) or on high land (Fig. 6) (using banana plant and bamboo platform) at farmers’ homestead area. Nursery beds can also be constructed at the corner on the floating bed (Fig. 7).
The nursery bed (10-20 cm height) is prepared using Dulalilata as a first layer and then Topapana as a second layer. Finally, dissected coconut dust is spread on the top and leveled on the bed for making an favorable environment for seed germination. Sometimes, the seed bed is covered by polythene sheet to protect it from damage due to heavy rainfall.
2.3. Seed sowing on nursery bed
In general, small size seeds of vegetables (e.g. brinjal, cucumber, papaya etc.) and spices (e.g. chili, bombai chili etc.) are sown on the nursery bed and are then covered with coconut dust. The nursery bed should be kept under moist conditions for proper seed germination.
Large size seeds (e.g. bottle gourd, pumpkin, country bean, bitter gourd etc.) are being primed for 3-6 hours (depending on the nature of crops/seeds) and then covered with topapana or moist coconut dust for sprouting or germination. The germination of seeds generally takes about 5-10 days, depending on the crop variety.
2.4. Preparation of ball as seedling growing media
As a seedling growing media, farmers prepare small balls (6-8 cm diameter) made of topapana and raped with dulalilata or aquatic algae (Nitella sp.). Locally the ball is known as “Dolla”. Generally women of the farm family make these balls/dolla. A single woman generally can prepare 2500-3000 ball/dolla in a day.
2.5. Insert of germinated seeds/young seedlings into the ball/dolla
2-4 small holes (2-3 cm depth) are made on the topapana made ball/dolla with the help of pointed small stick. Afterwards, the root portions of the pre-germinated seeds or young seedlings (vegetables and spices) are inserted into the holes of the ball/dolla.
2.6. Seedling nursing and placement on the main floating bed
The seedling balls are kept under light shadow and moist conditions at farmers’ home areas for 5-7 days for setting pre-germinated seeds or young seedlings into the ball/dolla properly (Fig. 17-18). During this period watering and other nursing operations are done to make the seedling balls adaptable for growing under floating bed environment conditions (Fig. 19).
Afterwards, the seedling balls are transported to the watershed and placed on the main floating bed maintaining proper spacing (2000-2200 seedlings/bed). The base of the seedling wall is covered with decomposed water hyacinth to protect them from lodging and any attacks of birds. The times required until the seedling balls can be transplanted to the field is about 25-45 days. During monsoon season (June to October month), local farmers can produce seedlings (vegetables and spices) in 3-5 times on one floating bed. However, after the completion of each production cycle (25-45 days) the floating bed needs to be repaired.
2.7. Intercultural operations
The seedlings are irrigated twice a day (in the morning and in the afternoon). Small amount of urea fertilizer (about 400g/10m2) is also applied followed by irrigation to enhance the vegetative growth of the seedlings (Fig. 20). The seedlings are harvested or uprooted when they reach the transplanting stage for crop production (Fig. 21-22).
2.8. Seedling uprooting and marketing at the local floating market
Farmers harvest the seedlings when they become suitable for transplanting (25-45 daysold) for crop production. The seedlings are sold primarily at the local floating market. Afterwards, the seedlings are transported by launch, traller, boat and other vehicles for marketing it in the southern and south-western districts of Bangladesh (Fig. 23). The seedlings produced on floating bed are mainly used for crop production under normal soil conditions in the country.
2.9. Profitability of seedling production on floating bed
On average, farmers can earn about 150 USD/bed (50-55meter long) in one monsoon season through selling their seedlings at local floating market. Moreover, the decomposed floating beds can be used for succeeding winter crop production as well as for selling (USD 30/bed) as compost or organic manure to the neighbor farmers.
3. Advantages of the systems
Resource use efficiency
The floating garden agriculture system is a low-input system. First of all, basic and essential materials for preparing floating beds are available in plenty in the region. Second, it needs a minimum amount of fertilizer and chemical inputs. Farmers have no suitable alternative adaptation option of floating garden agriculture practices for the rural livelihoods under flooded/wetland ecosystem. The floating garden technology can utilize the flooded fallow lands for crop production as well as income generation of the vulnerable local people using the existing natural resources. From the environmental perspective, adequate control of water hyacinth sustainably maintains a good water environment in terms of water-purification and decreased eutrophication. In fact, this system considerably participates to mitigate the risks of natural disaster and climate change.
During the winter season some farmers carry the decomposed floating bed to higher grounds (locally known as Sorjan/Kandi) where they break it and mix it with the soil to enrich the soil fertility. In some cases, the decomposed floating beds are used as compost and incorporated into the soil for growing different winter crops. It can be mentioned that adding of discomposed floating bed materials into the soil increase the soil fertility along with soil organic matter content that ultimately reduce the use of chemical fertilizers for crop production in winter season.
Contributes to food security
- Additional space for seedling rising in the wetlands;
- Early production of seedlings of winter vegetables;
- Primary nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium etc.) and micronutrients (e.g. boron, molybdenum etc.) are available in decomposed water hyacinth, comparable with cow-dung and other organic manures;
- When water recedes in flooded/wetlands, dismantled floating platforms are used as organic fertilizer. In this way it enhances eco-friendly agriculture practice in winter seasons to cultivate winter crops.
The following video shows how school children in Bangladesh learn about how floating garden practices can contribute to food security: Global Food Security: How can we feed a growing population? (This video is produced by from British Council Schools Online and available on Vimeo).
This system contributes to rural poor people providing an equitable access to resources in a sustainable way. Indeed, floating agriculture practices have minimal infrastructure and very little capital requirement. This technology can provide a growing area for poor communities who lack access to land, as many wetlands are submerged under water for 6-8 months of the year. In addition, people who are practicing floating-bed cultivation are enjoying a better life, in particular in economic terms, than those in other flood-affected areas who have not yet adopted this practice. As a result, there are various socio-economic, agricultural, environmental, and disaster risk management benefits.
Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA)
Bangladesh is a country vividly affected by the impacts of climate change, e.g. intrusion of soil and water salinity, sea level rise, heavy rains, flooding, drought, soil submergence, cyclones etc. Low-lying areas of the southern coastal areas remain submerged for longer periods what makes it difficult to cultivate crops. The floating gardens method has been developed to face these issues because they provide an option for growing crops in flooded areas. This increases agricultural productivity and incomes. Floating gardens are adapted to climate change and have the potential for replication elsewhere. In addition, with no or less agro-chemicals inputs for plant nutrition or pest control, the environmentally friendly floating garden practices can also be regarded as reducing green house gas emissions.
4. Improvements of traditional floating gardens for seedling production in Bangladesh
The quality of the seedlings produced through the traditional floating garden system often does not give satisfactory field performance under normal land conditions due to application of improper management practices during the seedling growing period on floating bed.
For example, farmers generally apply urea fertilizer (as source of nitrogen) for enhancing the vegetative growth of the seedlings and marketing them quickly, although the decomposed floating bed is a suitable source of essential and required amount of plant nutrients for quality seedling production. Excessive application of nitrogen turns the seedling plant into more succulent and bushy structure what makes them susceptible to normal field condition. The seedlings are sold in the local floating market just after their uprooting and without doing any hardening process. In some cases, the aged seedlings (after exceeding the optimum stage for transplantation in soil) are uprooted which ultimately decreases the survival rate, growth and development after their transplantation under normal land. Crop production by using these seedlings gives poor yield and less profitability.
Another aspect is that farmers generally use traditional/local varieties which do not show good yield potentiality of these crops. Use of high yielding modern varieties will increase the yield and profitability of the crops.
4.2. Improved seed varieties
Under these circumstances, research programmes have been conducted at BARI to produce quality seedlings of vegetable and spice crops. In Bangladesh, BARI and other research institutions have developed a good number of improved varieties of crops including vegetables and spices. Farmers can easily collect the seeds from the research intuitions, seed companies and local seed dealers. The seedlings of these crops can be produced on traditional floating beds. Some of the improved varieties are:
- bottle gourd (variety: BARI Lau-3, 4)
- pumpkin (variety: BARI Mistikumra-2, BARI Hybrid Mistikumra-1)
- brinjal (BARI Bt Begun-1, 2, 3, 4)
- bitter gourd (BARI Korola-1)
- snake gourd (BARI Chichinga-1)
- ribbed gourd (BARI Jhinga-1, 2)
- country bean (BARI Seem-6, 7, 8)
- yard long bean (BARI Borboti-1)
- okra (BARI Dherosh-1, 2)
- Kangkong (BARI Gimakalmi-1)
- Indian spinach (BARI Puishak-2)
- chili (as a spice crop) (BARI Morich-1, 2, 3).
Fig. 24: Production of brinjal/egg plant seedlings (Variety: BARI Bt Brinjal-2)
Fig. 25: Production of chili seedlings (Variety: BARI Chili-1).
4.3. Improved practices
Seedlings produced from seeds of improved varieties along with application of improved management practices give higher yield as well as net return under normal field condition.
Improved practices include, e.g.
- use of quality seeds,
- judicious use of natural resources,
- application of plant nutrients based on nutrient contents of floating bed/seedling growing media,
- uprooting of seedlings at optimum stage,
- hardening of seedlings,
- application of improved packaging,
- post-harvest technologies,
- improved transportation system
Information obtained from the local farmers revealed that vegetables and spices seedlings produced from improved floating agriculture practices at BARI provided higher survival rates as well as product yields than that of traditional floating garden system.
The pictures used in this document have kindly been provided by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).
The following video gives a short introduction about traditional floating garden practice and its improvements developed by BARI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UU6bZ-oCK06YzlRLwrEhVsYw&v=ktzkGqvWnUE
The system for seedling production is traditionally practiced in the wetland/submerged/flooded areas of selected south and south-western districts (Pirojpur, Barisal and Gopalganj) of Bangladesh.
FAO: Climate-Smart Agriculture: A call for action
Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)
BARI (Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute) is the largest multi-crop research institute in Bangladesh conducting research on a wide variety of crops, such as cereals, tubers, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits, spices, flowers, etc.
Besides variety development, BARI carries out research on areas such as soil and crop management, disease and insect management, water management and irrigation, development of farm machinery, improvement of cropping and farming system management, post-harvest handling and processing, and socio-economic studies related to production, processing, marketing and consumption.
Over centuries, generations of farmers, fisher folks and herders have developed complex, diverse and locally adapted agricultural systems with time-tested technologies. These systems have not only provided multiple goods and services for rural communities, but also created, maintained and inherited remarkable knowledge, outstanding rural landscapes, globally significant agricultural biodiversity and unique cultures. In 2002, FAO started an initiative for the conservation of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), in order to promote public understanding, awareness, national and international recognition of these systems.
The concept of GIAHS is distinct from, and more complex than, a conventional heritage site or protected area/landscape. It is rather a living, evolving system of human communities in an intricate relationship with their territory, cultural or agricultural landscape or biophysical and wider social environment. The humans and their livelihood activities have continually adapted to the potentials and constraints of the environment and also shaped the landscape and the biological environment to different degrees. The resilience of many GIAHS sites has been developed and adapted to cope with climatic variability and change, natural hazards, new technologies and changing social and political situations, so as to ensure food and livelihood security and alleviate risk.
By coping with challenges of today and tomorrow, GIAHS with its contribution to achieving UN SDGs is gaining positive momentum and upscaling worldwide.