Bangladesh's Floating Gardens May be the Key to Future Farming

This agricultural technique is a creative solution to grow food hydroponically during seasonal flooding.

May 11, 2021
Bangladesh's Floating Gardens May be the Key to Future Farming | This agricultural technique is a creative solution to grow food hydroponically during seasonal flooding.

What will the farms of the future look like? They could look radically different from the family farm or large one-crop commercial farms that are prevalent today.

You've probably heard of hydroponic indoor vertical farms and greenhouses that are using sustainable methods. Or you may know about permaculture farming to replenish the soil. But you may not  have heard of floating gardens. This creative farming solution developed in Bangladesh hundreds of years ago as a way to grow food during flood seasons.

Now that climate change  has made monsoons and flooding more severe, this type of farming has become a necessity according to Euro News. There are 230 rivers in Bangladesh and while flooding nourishes the soil, too much flooding causes extensive damage. And with 80 percent of the country considered a flood plain, it is easy to understand why floating farms are necessary.

Farmers first construct a floating platform of native plants like water hyacinth to create a base. Then they build layers about 1 meter deep. After that, they plant vegetables – okra, spinach, gourds, eggplants, herbs, and spices – to grow hydroponically without using soil. Some of these structures are more than 50 meters long. Entire families work on the enterprise from building the rafts to growing seedlings.

When the rainy season ends, the plants are then broken up and mixed into the soil to grow land-based crops. But do to increased flooding from climate change, floating gardens may soon be the only way for farmers to continue to produce food.

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Now, the world has taken note on how successful this is economically for Bangladesh and researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus are seeing if it can be implemented in other countries. The study was recently published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

“We are focused here on adaptive change for people who are victims of climate change, but who did not cause climate change,” Craig Jenkins, a co-author of the study and academy professor emeritus of sociology at The Ohio State University said in a press release.

“There’s no ambiguity about it: Bangladesh didn’t cause the carbon problem, and yet it is already experiencing the effects of climate change.”

The researchers wanted to see if floating gardens could be a sustainable farming practice as both flooding and droughts become more severe, as well as to ascertain if the gardens can provide food stability to families.

“They’ve got to be able to grow specific crops that can survive with minimal soil,” said Jenkins. “And in Bangladesh, a lot of small farmers that had typically relied on rice crops are moving away from those because of the effects of climate change and better returns from alternative crops.”

While there are drawbacks to the system, the researchers found that the benefits far outweighed the costs. One farmer told the team that he earned four times as much income from the floating farms than he made growing rice.

The system is so successful that the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization named Bangladesh’s floating gardens a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System in 2017. However, floating gardens are not unique to Bangladesh, they are used in Myanmar, Cambodia, and India.  With governmental support, this sustainable agricultural method could be the key to future farming.

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