System of farming on floating hyacinth mats offers climate resilience

A traditional farming method that has been around for hundreds of years in Bangladesh could help people to adapt to the thoroughly modern threat of climate change, a new study suggests. 

Floating gardens—systems created from a substrate of live water hyacinths that are hemmed together into rafts, and planted with crops—have traditionally been a feature in waterlogged environments in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. Now, farmers are finding these rafts offer much-needed food security in times of flooding. 

In these ingenious systems, crops feed on the nutrients released by the water hyacinth as it degrades, making the floating mats very fertile, and capable of producing a great diversity of produce—from tomatoes, to cucumbers, spinach, egg plant, potatoes, cabbage, and beans, says Abdullah Al-Maruf, associate professor in the department of Geography & Environmental Studies, Rajshahi University, Bangladesh who researches disaster resilience, and is an author on the study.

What’s more, a hyacinth mat can survive for 10 years, nourishing the vegetables it grows—after which, it can be repurposed as fertilizer for crops on land, in a neat, closed-loop cycle. One caveat to this, the researchers discovered, is that farmers in Barisal District currently use pesticides on the rafts, which they suggest should be replaced with greener substitutes, if this farming method is to be adopted as a truly sustainable alternative in the future.

And Al-Maruf does hope floating farms spread more widely in Bangladesh. The country’s population is growing by more than 2 million people each year, who all need food. Meanwhile, in an increasingly waterlogged country, the prospects for conventional agriculture are declining, which makes this long standing agricultural art increasingly relevant. “I strongly believe floating gardening can be an option for other parts of the country, to manage flooded agricultural land,” says Al-Maruf.

Read more on this research at www.anthropocenemagazine.org.


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