ÜFarmers in southern Bangladesh are used to floods. Their land, located in the world’s largest river delta, is regularly flooded. Not least as a result of climate change, however, floods are increasing. More and more surfaces remain under water for longer and longer periods of time.
Floods used to last about five months a year. Today the country is under water for up to ten months. It’s not just because of rising sea levels – the land is sinking and eroding. Hurricanes are more common. And the mud from the rivers, which used to level out erosion, is now held back by dams further up the river.
According to an IMF estimate, Bangladesh will lose around 17 percent of its land area by 2050. According to the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index of the NGO Germanwatch, Bangladesh is one of the countries most threatened by climate change.
Some farmers are responding by giving up rice cultivation and instead growing vegetables on traditional floating beds. There are currently around 6,000 people who earn their living in this way – and the number is increasing. Photographer Mohammad Ponir Hossain has followed families in the Pirojpur area using the traditional technique.
The oblong beds are made from the stalks of water hyacinth and organic waste such as cow manure and secured against drifting with long bamboo poles. Vegetables and fruits such as cucumbers, radishes, pumpkins or papayas thrive on it, and the seedlings are planted in small peat balls.
Fertilizers such as potassium, nitrogen or phosphorus are drawn by the plants from the water or directly from the decaying beds. “Floating beds take up less space than conventional cultivation and require fewer pesticides,” says Digbijoy Hazra, a local agricultural expert. “Floating farms could be the future.”
However, this type of farming is very labor intensive. Making a new bed takes about two months. It has to be replaced after three to four months.
One farmer says she spends more than eight hours a day braiding the balls for the seedlings. The work puts a strain on hands and joints. Another woman sums it up: “I can hardly sleep at night because of the pain. But what alternatives are there when there is almost always only water everywhere?”