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Bangladesh Overcomes Flooding with 'Floating Farms'



From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

Rivers in northwestern Bangladesh rise sharply during the rainy season causing months of flooding on farms and villages. This hurts the rural poor who depend on agriculture to survive. When the floods cover their lands they cannot grow crops or raise animals. But local farmers may have found a way to deal with the seasonal weather. Some are building small farms that float on top of the floodwaters.

Hafiza Khatun is gathering eggs from the ducks that live in what is called a “coop” on her floating farm. The farm is made of bamboo plants and empty oil containers, or drums. It is attached to the bank of a river near the village of Charbhangura. Women also raise fish and vegetables on the floating farm.

25-year-old Hafiza Khatun could not earn money during the rainy season before she had her floating farm. Ms. Khatun has two small children. She does not have any education. Her husband is an agricultural worker. But he does not work when monsoon rains fall from July to October. During that time, the Gurmani river rises at least three meters.

Three years ago, a Bangladeshi non-profit organization called Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha brought small floating farms to the village. The farms are 17 meters long and almost five meters wide. They are made of both recycled and local materials.

Long bamboo rails create places to raise fish in nets. Vegetables such as gourds and beans are grown in plastic containers filled with soil. Shidhulai pays the cost of making the farm.

For Ms. Khatun and other villagers, life is difficult during the flood season.

Ms. Khatun says when the water comes, her house goes underwater. There is no place to go, no place to stay, she says. There is water everywhere.

But now she can grow food on the floating farm and earn money from selling some of it. Five to ten women work on one farm. Depending on the size of the farm, together they can earn about $1,700 a year. That amount of money can buy a lot of food in rural Bangladesh.

Ms. Khatun also rented land with the money she earned. She grows sugar cane on the land. Her family is saving money in a bank for the first time.

Mohammed Rezwan started Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha in 1998 to create schools on boats. The school boats let poor children continue their education even when flood waters block the roads they use to get to their school. Four years ago, he created floating farms so people can still earn money and feed themselves during flood season.

Bangladesh is close to sea level, which means it is greatly affected by climate change that causes flooding and rising sea waters. The difficulties of making money in the rainy seasons often lead rural people to move to cities in Bangladesh. Most cities are very crowded.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. There are 156 million people in an area that measures 144,000 square kilometers. That is about half as many people who live in the United States. But that country measures about 9.9 million square kilometers.

Mr. Rezwan says there is great demand for answers for areas affected by climate change.

“Bangladesh is on the front line of climate change. We have hundreds of rivers in the country. So this project has big potential to be scaled up in the country and other developing countries, particularly the countries that will be affected by climate change.”

Shidhulai has created 40 floating farms that help about 300 women and their families. Mr. Rezwan wants to create 400 more farms in the next few years. He believes the floating farm idea can be used in other developing countries.

“We hope that the idea of on water farming will be replicated in other settings. It helps people adapt to changing climates. It creates jobs. It ensures food security and helps the whole family to adapt to the climate change.”

School boats are being used in several other countries, including the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Zambia. The group’s floating schools have helped more than 70,000 children in northwest Bangladesh go to classes since 2002.

And that’s the VOA Learning English Agriculture Report. For more agriculture and environment stories, go to our website: learningenglish.voanews.com.

I’m Marsha James.

Correspondent Amy Yee reported this story from Dhaka. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

coop – n. a cage or small building in which chickens or other small animals are kept

recycle – v. to make something new from (something that has been used before)

rural – adj. of or relating to the country and the people who live there instead of the city

densely – adv. crowded with people

replicate – v. to repeat or copy (something) exactly

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