How floating farms are helping Bangladesh adapt to climate change
To reach his farm, Mohammad Mohasin has an unusual commute. The 40-year-old either rows in a wooden canoe or swims to the field of crops — which is floating in a body of water in Barisal, a southern region of Bangladesh.
Tomatoes, pumpkins, potatoes, beans, eggplants and cucumbers are among the produce that he cultivates in curiously green, buoyant rows.
“If I grew these on a normal field, the floods would destroy them,” says Mohasin, a third-generation farmer of the floating gardens, known locally as dhap. “But when the water levels rise here, so does my garden.”
A traditional form of hydroponics that dates back at least 400 years, gardens like these are being recognized as a climate-resilient, nature-based solution that can keep the country’s increasingly flood-hit farmers afloat.
Low-lying Bangladesh is among the nations most vulnerable to impacts of climate change. Much of its land is flooded after severe monsoons, and by 2050 rising sea levels and coastal erosion could displace 20 million people, the World Bank has estimated, while submerging a substantial amount of land and wiping out a large share of food production.
As climate change intensifies monsoons, accelerates Himalayan snow melt and makes cyclones more frequent, agriculture systems such as rice paddies are no longer as reliable because they are easily damaged by weather and will be prone to saltwater intrusion. Since about half of Bangladesh’s workforce works in agriculture, adaptation strategies are desperately needed.
Barisal’s rectangular floating rafts, which rise and fall with swells, are mostly made of a tightly-knit weed known as water hyacinth, sometimes bolstered with bamboo poles. In a layer of manure on top of them, farmers plant fruits, vegetables and spices. Similar forms of soil-free cultivation exist in other parts of Asia, such as Dal Lake in Kashmir and Inle Lake in Myanmar.
The low cost of establishing the gardens makes them a viable option for Bangladesh’s rural population. And they offer a range of other benefits: The waters around them can be used to farm fish or shelter livestock during heavy monsoons. Farmers say that even when cyclones cause unavoidable damage, the farms can be rebuilt quickly.
“When everything is washed away, it doesn’t take long to recover,” says Mohammad Shamsul Haque, a 64-year-old farmer in Barisal who has been cultivating a floating garden for 40 years. “It’s easy to do for those who know how to do it.”