The total char land of Bangladesh is one million hectares. This land has been created through the formation of lands by accretion of sediments along the riverbanks and/ or riverbeds of four big rivers – Padma, Meghna, Jamuna and Brahmaputra and their more than 500 branch rivers and tributaries. People of char lands mainly depend on agriculture including fisheries and livestock-rearing. Most of the people of the area are very poor. During the rainy season, sediments of the Himalaya and other mountains flow through the rivers, of which one-third is settled on the riverbeds and riverbanks and the rest to the sea to form char lands. Lands created by the side of the rivers can be divided into two groups. The one created in the middle of the river-flows may be called temporary char or delta and the other, created by the side of the rivers having infrastructures, like permanent and semi-permanent houses including buildings, roads, plants and age-old trees, markets, schools, etc., may be called permanent or attached char.
Temporary chars completely drown during the rainy season. Water depth used to be so great that any crops remain there is completely damaged. During the dry season, farmers move there to cultivate lands and make temporary shelters, which they remove during the rainy season. This type of char may be demolished by the river within a few years or a decade. On the contrary, permanent chars are submerged during the rainy season, but there is a less probability of complete crop damage, as farmers are habituated to grow such type of crops as can survive in that situation. Of course there is a good probability of complete crop damage once in 10 years or so when flood of severe nature occurs. Because of technological advancement in agriculture, farmers can grow alternate crops in winter to combat the food shortage. Also government is farmer-friendly enough to help those flood-victim people immediately after the flood. When permanent chars are demolished by rivers, all the farmers living there become destitute and have to take temporary shelters in city slums or in other side of the rivers where temporary chars have been developed or to other places of their choice. Most of the ultra-poor people of the country live in temporary chars.In general, soils in char lands are deficient in necessary nutrients for proper crop growth. Soils of northern and midland chars are sand and silt dominated. These types of soils have low water holding capacity and deficient in organic matter content. Some of the chars have fertile soil due to the sediment deposition during the rainy season. Generally local varieties of different crops are used there. Therefore, yields of most of the crops are below the average national yields. Soils of coastal chars are clay dominated, therefore, the water holding capacity is very high. Coastal chars usually do not inundate during the rainy season, like that of northern and midland char lands. But they face cyclones, tidal waves and salinity problems. Soils are, in general, deficient in organic matter and other important nutrients. Because of soil salinity, most of the char lands are one-crop dominated; mainly aman rice is cultivated. During the winter season, due to increased salinity and lack of irrigation facilities, most of the lands have to keep fallow.
But the situation has changed recently. As char land people are very poor, government, non-government and international organizations paid special attention to alleviate the sufferings of people of those areas. Lot of different types of projects including crop, livestock, fisheries, roads, electricity, information and telecommunication, marketing, etc. have been implemented, which are very essential for agriculture development. As a result, farmers are adopting almost all the latest technologies of agriculture to increase their agriculture production. Communication problem is one of the most important obstacles to obtaining technologies, inputs of production, marketing of products, etc. As the country is progressing rapidly, communication in char lands has also been improved, though there is a good scope to improve it further. Farmers nearby roads have easy access to inputs at a relatively cheaper price, can market their products at a relatively higher price and agricultural research, extension and development officials can visit farmers easily to implement their projects. Farmers’ training, field demonstration, technological exhibition, field visits etc. on almost all the new varieties of most of the crops and other agricultural technologies have been done in different char lands of different agro-ecological zones of the country. It has been found that different technologies have been proved to be suitable in different char lands. Farmers have accepted appropriate technologies to increase crop production and were able to improve their livelihood. Two examples – one for midland char and the other for coastal char are given.
A research conducted in two villages in Kazipur upazila of Sirajganj district showed that the soil of those chars is generally sandy and partially sandy loam types. In sandy soil, farmers grow water melon, sweet gourd, ground nut, etc. and in sandy loam soil, rice, wheat, pulses, jute, chilli, etc. During annual flooding, silt is accumulated, which increases the soil fertility. About 65 per cent of the farmers participated in research had high ownership of livestock and poultry resources, which ensured their food security and better livelihood. Fisheries sector is a very good source of animal protein as well as in providing rural employment and poverty alleviation. Farmers of those chars adopted different pattern of fishing activities, like ‘Fish catching in backyard pond’, ‘Fish catching in river’, ‘Fish catching in canal’ and ‘round the year fish culture in pond’ of which the first one is preferred by most people.
Many char farmers of different coastal districts have improved their livelihood through adoption of sorjonfarming system, which is a system of integrated vegetable and fish production. In this system, vegetables are grown on raised beds and fish on ditches made in between beds throughout the year. Previously thousands of hectares of land had to keep fallow due to stagnation of water during the monsoon and salinity and desertification in the summer. Through different projects, farmers received training on sorjonfarming system, got credit, technical supports and other necessary help to increase their crop and fish production.
The author is an agricultural engineer and retired Director General, Bangladesh Agricultural ResearchInstitute.