Farming for the Future
A sustainable food supply in Bangladesh
Gosto Gopal describes himself as a person with “skill and knowledge” about agriculture. He is a leader in his community in south-western Bangladesh, passing on knowledge of sustainable agriculture, and contributing to the social advancement of his fellow villagers. But this was not always the case.
Growing knowledge and skills
Nurturing and cherishing creation is a command God gives not only at the beginning of history, but to each of us. It is part of his plan; it means causing the world to grow responsibly, transforming it so that it may be a garden, a habitable place for everyone."Pope Francis
Before 2008, Gosto described himself as “a poor and landless farmer” living with his family in a hut. He and his wife had to “sell their labour” to others, but work was available for only three months each year, during the rice and shrimp cultivation periods. The family did not have enough money to educate all three children, and often there was not enough food to eat.
Once a fertile land
Gosto’s village in east Jelekhali lies on the bank of Bangladesh’s Malancha River. This is one of the most fertile areas in the densely populated region. Most people who live there are farmers, relying heavily on the land for both food and livelihood.
Though the environment in the region is so critical to the community, it is one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change.
In Bangladesh climate change will continue to cause rising sea levels, extreme river floods, more intense tropical cyclones and very high temperatures. Salinity intrusion is also killing off fertile land. Agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change: food security, food prices and nutrition are all adversely affected when extreme weather events disrupt people’s lives.
A seed of hope
In 2008, Gosto learnt that Caritas Bangladesh, with support from Caritas Australia, was offering a program to assist farmers in south-west Bangladesh. This program had sprung from local farmers’ recognition that natural disasters were increasingly eroding their landscape, and they needed to adopt new agricultural practices to withstand any further damage.
Like other local farmers, Gosto saw the program as a seed of hope. He seized the opportunity to be trained in sustainable farming practices that would make increase his independence and offer a more secure future for his family.
In the program, farmers identified the challenges they were facing, and were supported in finding sustainable solutions. They were trained to implement workable new systems for fish farming, seed germination, vegetable cultivation, kitchen gardening and nursery development.
For two years, Gosto undertook training on adaptive technologies, such as natural fertilisers and pesticides, drip irrigation and saline-tolerant rice and fish cultivation. He learnt new techniques that have allowed him to use the same fresh water to grow rice and farm fish in one field.
Financial support enabled the farmers to put their learning into practice, and in 2009 Gosto received funding. He used it to lease land, and began fish farming using his newly acquired skills.
A setback to growth
Only a few months later the devastating cyclone “Aila” tore through the coastal belt of Bangladesh. The storm claimed 210 lives and flattened more than 3000 thatched homes. Gosto lost his dwelling house and kitchen. Tidal surges washed out his farm, and he lost his assets.
“Our land flooded with sea water, contaminating all our fresh water supplies,” Gosto said. “We were lucky to escape with our lives. My rice and vegetable gardens stopped producing, and with no fresh water I had to sell all my livestock.”
With support from Caritas Australia, the community excavated a canal to provide renewable fresh water supplies. Six hundred homes were built and roads were repaired, with funding from several organisations.
Cultivating a new future
This second stage of support helped Gosto and other farmers in the community to consolidate the skills they had gained from the training program, and from working their own land. As more sustainable practices are being undertaken, the local environment is being renewed.
Gosto now applies some of the techniques he learnt during training to protect his crops: “We use raised vegetable beds and cultivate saline-tolerant rice. And we use the canal for water. I can now cultivate year-round vegetables and fish. It has ensured my family’s food security.”
As Gosto has become more confident in his ability to farm sustainably, he has begun to pass on his knowledge to the farmers in his community.
“I first started compost preparation in 2011. Three years later, about 270 families are preparing and using compost fertiliser, and vermicomposting. I have established a seed bank, and distributed seed to poor farmers.”
The local government representative of his village, Ms Nurjahan Begum, said, “The community people are now getting encouragement and motivation on organic farming, climate resilience agricultural production and climate adaptive technology from Gosto Gopal.”
Gosto supports people in his community through training and help with understanding farming technology. He also plays a leadership role on the village’s school and social festival committees.
Gosto plans to buy more land, and use this to demonstrate best practice to the community. “Now,” he says, “I am confident enough to raise voice and able to motivate the community for alternative livelihoods and offer poor people dignity.”
A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth ... above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.Pope Francis