Bangladesh's floating gardens: a sustainable solution for farming in the face of climate change

·2-min read
Far from being a new concept in Bangladesh, floating gardens have existed for hundreds of years in the South-East-Asian country, and are recognized by the UN as "a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System."

The floating gardens of Bangladesh are a precious aid in reducing the food insecurity linked to frequent flooding. According to a recent study, this form of agriculture could also provide a source of income for rural households in flood-prone parts of the country.

Far from being a new concept in Bangladesh, floating gardens have existed for hundreds of years in the South-East Asian country. They are even recognized as a "Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System" by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

These floating gardens are made up of native plants that float in the rivers (traditionally water hyacinths), and which rise and fall with the waters. They have the major advantage of being able to continue growing food during the rainy season (usually running from July to September), when flooding is frequent.

The study, published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food and Environment and carried out by international research teams, set out to determine the extent to which the floating gardens of Bangladesh could be a sustainable farming practice as climate change continues to cause flooding and drought. The researchers also analyzed the ways in which these gardens can improve food security for individual households.

Bangladesh is a country that is particularly prone to flooding. In fact, these natural disasters have been growing due to the effects of climate change, as seen in summer 2020, when a third of the country ended up underwater.

"But as climate change has affected the volume of water in those rivers -- creating extreme highs and floods, along with extreme lows and droughts -- floating gardens have become a way for rural farmers to keep producing food during unpredictable weather," observe the study authors.

For the study, the researchers interviewed farming families in Bangladesh (nine in total) who use floating gardens. Through their research, the study authors observed that the benefits associated with growing food in floating gardens outweighed the costs associated with this kind of agriculture (hybrid seeds to purchase each year, pesticides and fertilizers, etc.).

"One farmer told the research team that he earns up to four times as much money from the gardens as from traditional rice paddies," explain the researchers.

However, the study authors note several ways that the practice could be improved, particularly in terms of farmers' revenues, as they can often take out high-interest loans to cover the costs of investment in building their floating gardens. "Lower-interest loans from responsible government or non-governmental organizations could alleviate that burden," the researchers explain.

Léa Drouelle