July 14, 2008

Increased Salinity Changes Vegetation Pattern in South Bangladesh – Paper

Text of report by Pinaki Roy headlined "Increased salinity changes vegetation pattern" published by Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star website on 14 July

Geowa plants are abundant on the banks of Khalsi canal. Most of these species are less than a decade old; many others are growing for only couple of years. Not only geowa, some golpata (nypah) and other saline-tolerant plants are visible here and there along the canal.

The canal is named after Khalsi village in Dakop upazila in Khulna where the residents are mostly Hindus.

During a stroll around the village it was seen geowa is the main tree there. Locals say vegetation pattern of Khalsi has entirely changed in just 20 years. Just two decades ago, like other typical Hindu majority villages, Khalsi was full of Tulsi, joba, sheuli and coconut, banana, mango, wood apple and other fruit trees essential for worshipping the Hindu gods and goddesses.

But now concentration of salt has become so high in the land that only saline tolerant plants can survive it.

"We had 45 coconut trees. But those started dying slowly since saline water entered the village. Now we have some other fruit trees with no produce," said housewife Mira Ray.

During the 80s when shrimp farming was becoming popular, influential people forced small farmers to lease out their land for the venture. A number of the farmers started shrimp farming at will, but many others were forced into the business flooding their cropland with saline water.

Initially, shrimp farming yielded a good profit. But soon it became a losing concern due to virus infection and the farmers realized that producing crops was a better option.

"I remember just immediate before first shrimp farming we got 1,000 mounds of rice from 60 bighas [approximately 24 hectares] of land. Now our land has increased to 94 bighas and produce comes down to only 100 mounds," said Dr Achintya Bhowmik, principal of a local graduation college.

Krishna Pada Mandal echoed the same. He cultivated rice in 10 bighas and harvested only 11 mounds rice whereas a farmer from saline-free land got over 100 mounds from the same quantity of land.

Now villagers want to get rid of saline water and saline water- based shrimp farming like those of Bazua who have successfully rid their cropland of saline water and are making huge money cultivating rice, watermelon and pumpkin.

But influential shrimp farmers want to continue the business anyhow. The villagers allege an influential businessman from Dhaka is producing shrimp taking lease of their land at 1,000 taka [14.57 US dollars] yearly for per bigha.

The villagers say the businessman cultivates shrimp on only 40 acres of land through irrigating saline water from the Kazibachha River. But about 700 acres of land around is getting increased amount of salinity.

The villagers say local civil and police administration is working for the influential shrimp cultivators, who are also leaders of major political parties. These leaders are filing cases against marginal farmers and police are taking bribe from them, they claim.

A farmer who is protesting against the salinity aggression said if someone wants to cultivate rice in an acre of land, they have to spend 21,000 taka for power-tiller, 2,400 taka for seeds, 3,000 taka for labour and 1,000 taka for irrigation.

In the end, they will possibly get around 45 mounds of rice from single-crop land which is worth no less than 40,000 taka at current market price. And in this area farmers can grow three crops annually.

But now farmers who have one acre of land are hardly getting only 5,000-6,000 taka a year.

Success of Bazua Village

Locals of Bazua union, just three kilometres down from Khalsi have successfully got rid of saline water and are cultivating crops there. Vegetation pattern is different there as geowa and other saline water varieties are hardly visible.

The farmers in Bazua said they get around 75,000 taka by selling watermelons in one acre of land in addition to 25,000 taka from over 30 mounds of rice.

Parimal Mandal from Bazua said they are doing fine cultivating sweet water varieties.

Gouranga Prasad Roy, convener of salt-water prevention committee in Bazua, said the small and landless farmers protested against the shrimp farming.

"Commoners and landless people don't want shrimp farming as it only makes the rich people richer. But by cultivating watermelon and rice the marginal farmers are making some money themselves."

Originally published by The Daily Star website, Dhaka, in English 14 Jul 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring South Asia. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.