Monday, July 18, 2011

Bangladeshi farmers look beyond rice as wells run dry

Abu Rushd Md. Ruhul Amin in AlertNet): Hashim Uddin, a farmer in the northwest Bangladeshi district of Rajshahi, finds growing rice too expensive these days. This year he decided to cultivate vegetables on four of his 10 hectares of land. Producing rice has become more costly amid rising prices for seeds, fertiliser, insecticide, power, irrigation and labour. “That’s why I’m trying to cultivate vegetables and hoping to get more profit,” said Hashim, who lives in Jikra Para village.

Groundwater levels in the Barind Tract, which includes Rajshahi, have dropped due to climate change and massive extraction for irrigation. This is pushing farmers to try new crops besides rice, especially varieties that are drought-resistant and need less water. Local government statistics show that production of boro (winter) rice is declining in Rajshahi, falling from 334,532 tonnes in the 2009-10 financial year to 302,218 tonnes in 2010-11.

Geological experts say the farmers of the Barind highlands are partly to blame for water shortages due to their use of deep tube wells since the mid-1980s. In 1985, when these wells were first introduced in Rajshahi, the water table was 30 feet below the surface. But 20 years later, it had dropped by a further 12 feet, to 42 feet below ground.

Badar Miah, a farmer in Chapal village, Rajshahi, said around 80 hectares of local land is now being left uncultivated because the well that irrigated it no longer functions. Miah is now growing pulses on one acre of his land, as they don’t need much water….

Child walks in deepwater field of wild rice species in Bangladesh. From the International Rice Research Institute, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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