Transcending the boundaries of Bangladesh, India and Nepal, lie the eastern Gangetic plains (EGP), fertile lands home to 300 million people, highly dependent on agriculture for their food security and livelihoods. The EGP area is crucial to future food security in South Asia, where production of rice, wheat and maize must respectively increase by about 1.1, 1.7 and 2.9 percent each year to meet food needs in 2050. Yet due to a lack of agricultural development, today the EGP contains the highest concentration of rural poverty found anywhere in the world.
It is known that conservation agriculture techniques such as zero till, strip till and dry seeding can improve rice, maize and wheat productivity, labor costs and water use while safeguarding the environment. Another option is for farmers to plant new crops at different times. A 2014 study in the Indo-Gangetic plains showed that maize had an eight times greater water productivity than rice, both using the most efficient conservation agriculture practices. Farmers can double their net income from maize production by intercropping, particularly with leafy vegetables.
SRFSI at work in Bangladesh
Across Bangladesh, on average there are just two crop plantings each year, when three or even four could be planted. Rice is a staple that is always planted during the monsoon season, often by flooding the land then planting wheat shortly after the rice harvest. Efforts to increase farming output in Bangladesh have focused on irrigation, allowing water-hungry rice to be planted again in the dry season, but due to the sometimes alarming water table depletion in some locations, high fuel and labor costs, it is impossible for farmers to compete with cheaper and more environmentally-friendly options.
In the northwestern districts of Bangladesh, the NGO Rangpur-Dinajpur Rural Services (RDRS) is one of the partners working to implement the SRFSI in the field. RDRS works closely with the on-farm research division of BARI (Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute).
Whereas water resources are underutilized in much of Bangladesh, in the Northwest this is not the case. Floating pump stations draw water from the vast delta to service a network of canals, thousands of deep tube wells have been sunk and farmers even have access to a pre-paid card system to purchase irrigation services. However, this leaves questions about how to further intensify production, and concerns for falling groundwater levels.