Is hydroponics the future of agriculture in Bangladesh?
Hydroponics only use nutrient-rich water to grow plants
Farmers across the Khulna region could not make good use of the land for growing crops and vegetables. This is due to the risk of flooding and the salinity of the soil. “We can neither grow grain nor fish,” says a 45-year-old farmer from the Satkhira district in the south-west of the country.
Bangladesh is known for having flat fertile land that is exceptionally good for growing crops and vegetables all year round, but as the water level rises, the southern regions of the Delta become less culture-friendly.
Most parts of the region become prone to flooding and waterlogging because of the tributaries of the Ganga Brahmaputra River that flow through the country and often change course. In addition, the salty soil makes it impossible to grow the necessary products. To address such a problem, experts have developed newer agricultural technologies to help deal with such problems.
Dr. AFM Jamal Uddin, a renowned professor in the Department of Horticulture at Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University, has given great hope with the use of hydroponics to grow crops in places where land use can be difficult.
This method is also useful in promoting urban farming, where land is scarce and can sometimes be extremely expensive and impractical to grow. He mentions the challenges of pursuing this method as Bangladesh is still a long way from using the method for commercial use as the set-up costs are very high.
To ensure that the process pays sufficient dividends on its crop yields; The plants must be grown in a greenhouse made of special polyethylene that controls the temperature inside. Rain and inclement weather can be a huge challenge in this regard as they can damage the setup.
More durable polyethylene can be used, but it is only made in Israel, and without diplomatic ties between the two it is almost impossible to get them here in Bangladesh. However, there are many high quality foliage crops that can be easily grown using this technique.
It’s best for growing forage for cattle ranches in urban areas, as the year-round grass can ensure steady feeding for cattle in places where empty land is difficult to find. The cultivation of fodder or even leafy vegetables is easily possible with very low set-up costs.
Floating Gardens of Bangladesh
As arid lands in the area become scarce, farmers are forced to use Dhaps, a local name for floating garden farming, better known as hydroponics. Hydroponics is a type of horticulture that involves growing plants and crops without the use of soil.
This method has been used by farmers for generations. But the technology is now far superior and can produce harvests in greater quantities than before. Due to the salinity, this cultivation method for agricultural products is becoming more and more necessary, as high-quality crops can be grown all year round without using soil.
The government of Bangladesh has tried to encourage the spread of such farming practices, especially in those regions where monsoons can easily cause flooding. In 2013, the government approved a $ 1.6 million project to promote floating agriculture. The project involved 12,000 families in eight districts at 50 locations.
A similar project was also recently started a few years ago after the success of the first. Farmers in these low-lying regions benefit tremendously as vegetables such as spinach, eggplant, bitter gourd, and even spices such as turmeric and ginger can be grown with ease.
“Last month we sold fish worth Tk 9,000 and spinach worth Tk 1,200 at the local market,” says Rani – a farmer who uses the “aqua cage culture” method. This process works without fertilizers or insecticides, making the vegetables completely biologically and financially viable, as there are no additional costs.
Hydroponic Farm Challenges
According to experts trying to develop this method more efficiently so that it can be used commercially, there are some challenges that need to be addressed, such as: For example, farmers need training to understand how much cooling, dehumidification and heating are required to control the temperature and humidity of the grow space. This is a challenge that is difficult to tackle as most farmers do not have adequate literacy skills.
Tremendous amounts of money must be invested to properly set up a system that the local company ACI is currently running in Gazipur as the system requires HVAC equipment. HVAC equipment can include air conditioners, dehumidifiers, circulation fans, plumbing, coolers, boilers, pumps, and pipes, all of which result in enormous production costs that are impossible for ordinary Bangladeshi farmers to manage.
However, more and more people are turning to this cultivation method, one such example is Mizanur Rahman from Dohar, a textile entrepreneur and an amateur hydroponic vegetable grower. He has a 3,000 square meter greenhouse where he grows tomatoes. To make the model more commercially viable, more expertise needs to be made available.
To combat climate change and the rise in water levels and soil salinity in many regions of Bangladesh, farmers need to adopt new agricultural techniques that require appropriate knowledge. With the help of government research and funding, these new methods can enable higher crop yields with much less space.