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Alternative farming makes char dwellers solvent

  • Published at 02:20 am July 18th, 2018
A recently taken photo shows two children harvest a variety of gourd from a land that was previously used for paddy cultivation in Sirajganj Abu Siddique/Dhaka Tribune

They are opting to farm vegetables over traditional crops to earn more money

People living in char areas have traditionally relied on cultivating paddy, sesame seeds, and jute –and rearing cattle – for a livelihood. However, for the last few years, people of the Brahmaputra and Jamuna river’s char – river island – lands have been earning their bread employing alternatives such as vegetable cultivation, and cattle fattening.

For the last year, Karimonnessa and her husband, Rafikul Islam, on their 50 decimals of land, have been cultivating vegetables including: gourd, red spinach, aubergine, and cucumber.

Through this, they have earned Tk40,000 from winter vegetables such as radish and potato—and another Tk60,000 from pointed gourd, and aubergine.

It is impossible to procure such amounts of money selling paddy and sesame, Rafikul said.

“However, in vegetable farming, it is very important to consistently nurture the produce—which my family members work together to ensure,” he added.

Like them, many other char dwellers are now opting for vegetable farming over traditional crops to earn more money.

Arshed Ali, deputy director of Sirajganj district Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) said this change is a rising trend.

According to official data, around 8,000 hectares of land in the district are being used for vegetable production throughout the year.

“Most of this is in the char areas,” he said, adding that vegetable farming ensures a better turnover for farmers than the traditional rice, jute, or sesame.

He also said he would like to see the expansion of vegetable farming in the chars as those areas are more suitable for vegetable cultivation.

DAE data states that Sirajganj district has a total of around 182,000 hectares of arable land. Of them, 30% is located in different chars of the Jamuna River.

Cattle rearing and fattening

Apart from  agriculture, cattle rearing – particularly fattening – is the other livelihood option for char dwellers. 

As the area is covered by Jamuna flood water for at least four to five months a year, there is little scope for rice cultivation—decreasing the availability of fodder  in the region.

To combat the problem, many of the char dwellers are currently cultivating Napier grass along with vegetables. This rapid-growing grass reduces the amount of straw needed and saves money that would have been spent on fodder. It  gives otherwise-poor farmers an alternative to properly feed their cattle and breed healthy livestock that yields high quantities of milk, and eventually, meat.

Muslim Ali, a local who used to cultivate grass, said he used to spend around Tk20,000 to buy straw for his 8 cows annually.

But last year, he cultivated Napier grass on 20 decimals of land, which he harvested after 35 days each time.

“I used some of the grass to feed my cows and sold the rest to others who also rear cattle. In this way, I earned more than Tk20,000 in a year, which is my surplus,” he added.

Akhratuzaman Bhuiyan, district livestock officer of Sirajganj said to the Dhaka Tribune: “As there is a scarcity of straw, many people are cultivating Napier grass commercially.”

He also said that in the Sadar upazila of the district, at least 700 acres of land were now being used to produce Napier and other grasses.

“At least 16 open markets have already been established to sell and buy the grass in the Sadar upazila,” he added.

According to the Department of Livestock Services, the country’s total number of livestock is around 23,935,000.

Of those, Sirajganj is home to around 1.1 million.