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Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Paradise in peril

Where the Ganges and Bramhaputra rivers converge at the Bay of Bengal, they form a vast fertile delta. Sediment brought down from the Himalayas means this has long been a region of agricultural plenty. But as climate change pushes up the sea level and storms become more frequent and more severe, its inhabitants and way of life are among the most threatened on the planet.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Farewell to farming

As saltwater seeps into once-fertile land, farmers are giving up agriculture and looking for new ways to make a living. Some relocate to urban areas to take low-paid jobs in factories producing cheap clothing for the West. Others are turning to aquaculture to supply another European consumer market — prawns. But the impact of shrimp farming on the delta coast is hastening its destruction.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Traditional technology

Some families, though, are turning to a more traditional, and less harmful strategy to make the most of their changing environment. Aquatic plants and straw are woven together to create a floating platform on which crops are planted. Bangla Delta farmers have been doing this for hundreds of years. But with climate change, this ancient technology has become a cutting-edge solution.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Family fortunes

Women and men work together to build the rafts. This farmer in Pirojpun shows the delicately wrapped seedlings she's preparing to plant on her floating garden.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Organic and recyclable

Leafy vegetables, okra, gourd, eggplant, pumpkin and onions all thrive on the raft gardens. Out on the water, they are less vulnerable to pests and don't require chemical fertilizers. Each raft lasts around three months. Then, it's hauled ashore, broken down, and used to fertilize crops on land.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

From alien invader to savior

These days, the garden rafts are built on a base of water hyacinth. A voracious invasive species from the Amazon, the water hyacinth is upsetting the balance of ecosystems in many parts of the world. But its resistance to salt water, buoyancy and sheer abundance make it the ideal material for floating farms.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Living liferafts

Hari Podo and his family lived on a hyacinth raft for two months when a giant flood hit in 1988. "Humans to one side and domestic animals to the other," he recalls. "We slept and cooked food on the floating plants." Such floods are becoming an ever-greater threat. "Seasons have changed," Podo says. "Nowadays rain is heavier than before."

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Taking back territory

Other delta communities are working to reclaim ground lost to the waters. The village of Nazir Bazar was created by piling soil onto swampy ground and draining it with a system of canals to create both farmland and residential areas.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Close to the elements

A farmer in Nazir Bazar looks skyward for clues as to when the next downpour will come. His boat is loaded with bananas grown on reclaimed land. The canals that drain the village's farmland also provide a transport network, bringing produce to market and children to school.

Climate change: Bangladeshi farmers turn to hydroponics to stay afloat

Learning to adapt

Nazir Bazar farmer Giassudin Saddar has seen his home transformed over the years, but is optimistic about the future and his community's ability to adapt. "Whatever we face — rivers, canals, rain, floods — we have learned to live with a changing environment," he says.

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At Global Ideas, we focus on "best practice" climate and biodiversity protection projects that offer solutions and inspire others to take action. Each week, an international team of television and online reporters produce films and features that offer an insight into how developing and emerging countries are dealing with the impacts of climate change. Global Ideas is supported by the German environment ministry within the framework of its International Climate Initiative. 

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