LOS ANGELES, California — In the testing labs of Salt Farm Texel’s eponymous island, a range of crops from cabbage to potatoes undergo a selection process for growth in high salinity soil. This work is part of Salt Farm Texel’s commitment to providing its partners in Cordaid, an international relief organization, with seeds that endure the rising water salinity across farming communities in Bangladesh. Improving salt resilience in Bangladesh has the potential to reduce poverty in the country by increasing the agricultural output and strengthening the livelihoods of farmers while enabling impoverished farmers to earn a greater income.
Water salinity presents an increasing damper on agricultural productivity. With 25-30% of arable land facing the brunt of this issue due to close proximity to coastal areas, salt resilience in Bangladesh is the solution that public and private organizations are exploring to save harvests and the livelihoods of struggling farmers. New saline tolerant varieties of crops are thus gaining popularity.
“Our scientists have developed BRRI 67, a saline tolerant variety which will be very successful,” says Agricultural Minister Muhammad Abdul Razzaq in an interview with The Daily Star on the government’s distribution of new rice to supplement other potential options for helping farmers adapt. Training follows from this aid, allowing farmers to further mitigate saltwater damage by maximizing their access to fresh water.
Artificial ponds serve as rain catchers that avoid the saline intrusion characteristic of more than 100 rivers across Bangladesh. With the addition of organic fertilizer, more than 2,000 farmers in affected areas are using new skills to turn a profit.
Working Around the Land
Other solutions involve transforming traditional methods of growing crops. Soil salinity presents a separate problem from that of water, thus, the surge of hydroponic gardens in a round of government investment dating back to 2013 serves as one of the multiple avenues for salt resilience in Bangladesh.
Growing food without soil primarily benefits farmers working in areas with high water levels, whose circumstances invite other techniques meant to address a specific environment. The use of hyacinth beds as greenhouses is also gaining popularity. Tying these beds together creates a sufficiently wide and buoyant area for growing crops, simultaneously attracting fish to the bed’s nutrients and offering a source of fertilizer as the hyacinth slowly degrades.
“The study suggests areas that cannot be conventionally cultivated are made usable,” says Abdullah Al-Maruf, an associate professor of Rajshahi University in an interview with Anthropocene Magazine. With data continuing to suggest that adaptation is the path to improving lives, separate instances of implementing these innovations are becoming increasingly common.
The Salt Solution
Large projects to make the most of seed advances maintain an enduring presence through the fight against rising salinity. Ensuring salt resilience in Bangladesh stands as a long-term goal for Cordaid. Ever since its work through the Bangladesh branch expanded through the organization’s January 2021 merger with another international organization known as the ICCO Cooperative, a tightly integrated group of agricultural experts aims to direct their process of seed distribution from the lab all the way to adoption in the marketplace.
Continuing work that has its beginnings in ICCO’s contact with Salt Farm Texel in 2015 reflects Cordaid’s long-term interest in the project. Projections from Cordaid’s data likewise indicate that implementation of a “Salt Solution” will increase productivity by approximately two to three harvests in the 53% of farmland in Bangladesh that suffers from acute salinity.
While the Salt Solution is Cordaid’s flagship program, the organization’s work on salt resilience in Bangladesh goes further. One of the early hurdles was the search for lasting forms of aid. “Initially, we tried to work with [communities], focusing on the existing technologies,” and considering “various livelihood options,” says Shekeb Nabi in an interview with The Borgen Project.
Lack of community engagement would damper attempts to diversify into sources of income such as textiles or food processing. In response, research into using previously unworkable land became the area of focus. “So, what we try to do, we look at each household as a separate unit of intervention,” says Nabi in reference to gathering soil and climate data to help assign specific crops to villages. Such connections were constant to ensure that seeds could account for specific needs along a broad series of steps:
- Seed development passes through a private and public certification process. This lasts no less than one growing cycle due to using a “demonstration plot” as a practical test.
- Demonstrations by local “lead farmers” chosen from open-minded volunteers with larger plots to minimize personal risk, fulfill two purposes. Success from these farmers passes an additional layer of certification that ensures the seeds can thrive in local conditions. Furthermore, allowing a community to access proof of the Salt Solution’s effectiveness helps overcome hesitancy to adopt the seeds.
- A round of additional agricultural training follows as the lead farmer helps their community adopt the Salt Solution’s aid. Aside from farming practices, this training includes access to databases with precise information on where the seeds grow best.
- Commercial distribution follows when there is confidence that the seeds are in demand. Local outlets receive shipments and Cordaid instructs the community on essentials such as the seeds’ brand and where to find them.
As the Salt Solution project matures, so does the scope of its work. Cordaid caps off its assistance with self-sufficiency, encouraging community members to carry out their own work in gathering data and assessing needs. After years of progress, salt resilience in Bangladesh finds itself in the hands of Bangladeshi people, contributing to poverty reduction as food security improves and farmers’ incomes increase along with crop productivity.
– Samuel Katz