Pumpkin Plus: A Climate Smart Innovation for Landless Communities through Transitional Land Management in Bangladesh  

Pumpkin Plus, Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a riverine country, with a coastline that stretches for 580 kilometers in irregular zig zags, creating a constellation of land fissured by rivers and streams that all eventually exit into the Bay of Bengal. The mighty rivers, the Tista, the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna, create floodplains that are both a lifeline to communities that have been living along the coast for millennia and a source of anguish. In the northwest of the country, transitional lands (or char lands, as they are more commonly called) emerge after each rainy season. Technically these temporary islands belong to the Bangladeshi government, but in practice, they are inhabited by people who have been displaced by natural disasters like floods and erosion.

Some of Bangladesh’s most disenfranchised and extreme-poor communities live on these lands, routinely excluded from basic services, plagued with ill health and weak nutrition, and lacking employment and education opportunities. Men are often forced to head into cities in search of work, leaving more vulnerable groups of mostly women, children, and elderly people behind. As sedimentary mud banks, char lands have the possibility to be used for farming opportunities (and thus, economic growth), but they are extremely vulnerable to flooding, erosion, cyclones, and the effects of climate change. They are considered some of the most hostile places in the world for settler farmers. And so, a vicious cycle of poverty continues.

Sandbar cropping is an innovative, simple, and cost-effective solution that is being spearheaded by Pumpkin Plus, a Dhaka-based organization transforming the char lands into farmable zones that generate local income. It is a technique that uses pit cultivation to grow crops. Pumpkin Plus works with local coastal communities to grow hearty pumpkins, zucchini, watermelons, and squash in small compost pits dug into the sand. These fruits and vegetables can withstand nearly anything Mother Nature throws their way, and have the added benefit of a year-long shelf life; they provide both income generation and food security.

According to Pumpkin Plus, since first implementing the initiative in 2005, a total of 24,651 landless poor have been trained in sandbar cropping skills to date. Collectively, they have produced over 213,000 MT of fruit and vegetables, which has translated into $51 million in local markets. Pumpkin Plus has directly engaged with over 39,000 beneficiaries (directly and indirectly), 70% of whom are women. 100% of all targeted households increased their income by up to 5.8 times the baseline; the average income of a woman trained by Pumpkin Plus increased from 1,763 BDT to 150,000-200,000 BDT in just half a year. In addition to the undeniable economic success, food stocks increased in 90% of households, and the abundance of Vitamin-A rich produce has helped these coastal communities combat childhood blindness.

Sandbar cropping is low risk and minimal work — it doesn’t take much to dig a pit — but has demonstrably high financial returns. In addition to impacting food production, employment, income, and nutritional security, sandbar cropping has helped turn char lands into more ecologically diverse places, supporting local insects, birds, and other small animals. According to Pumpkin Plus, their sandbar cropping technique can be scaled to other areas and could be used as an important coping strategy in regions impacted by climate change; the organization is actively looking to expand the technique abroad to other riverine communities. Founder A.Z.M Nazmul Islam Chowdhury was inspired to start Pumpkin Plus by the catchphrase «something is better than nothing» — and he’s already succeeded in doing a whole lot of something in Bangladesh.

More about the Pumpkin Plus.

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