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Land Use and Agriculture in Rural Bangladesh

(R. Ahmed)

 

The total area of Bangladesh is about 143,999 sq km, including rivers, lakes and estuarine regions.  Total farm area is estimated to be about 22.68 million acres. The net cultivated area (NCA) was estimated to be about 20.16 million acres (in 1986). But NCA increased in further in successive years. For example, inland marshy lands have always been converted to NCA. Newly acclaimed lands in the offshore and estuarine islands give space for cultivation. About 269,000 acres of culturable wastelands within the farm areas are also coming under cultivable lands. But however, there has always been a discrepancy in the statistical data. In ever increasing growth population and food demand cultivable land increase is never a sustainable solution. Increasing use of fertilizer, use of high yield variety seeds and the use of pesticides have been given emphasis it increase food production. It resulted to some extent till recently, but problem of food shortage and also insecurity of food production is appearing in alarming rate. In fact, bringing lands under multiple crop production in a single year, improved crop rotation system and change of food habits have also helped a bit. The below table gives an idea of a crop rotation system in a sugarcane growing region of north-west Bangladesh. Rotation of crop is necessary where two or three crops are grown, but it is not always possible. Rotation is however, widely practiced, more especially in areas with less than 170 cm rainfall, where variety of crops is more than in the wetter areas.

 

 

Seasonal type

Crop

1st year

Kharif

Aus rice

1st year

Rabi

Sugarcane planted

2nd year

Kharif

Sugarcane growing

2nd year

Rabi

Sugarcane harvested

3rd year

Kharif

Aus rice

3rd year

Rabi

Sugarcane planted

 
Based on soil, practice and climate the country is divided into 95 crop association units (Harun-ur-Rashid, 1991). These units are considered while planning for agriculture and regional development.

 

 Land use pattern is broadly determined by topography, climate and practice of people. Current land use pattern is mostly the result of human land interaction, so it is dynamic and in a process of modification depending on the intensity of interaction. Few land use categories are common throughout the country, such as (i) crop land, (ii) fallow land, (iii) orchard gardens, (iv) settlement, (v) water body, (vi) forest/vegetation cover and (vii) urban land.

 

Concentration of these land uses vary differently. For example, forest dominates in the south-western hilly region. Natural and afforested mangrove coverage is significant in the coastal belt. Plenty of immature fallow lands are also extensive in the coastal belt. Most significant phenomena of rural coastal land use are settlements (mixed with orchard trees), randomly distributed throughout and surrounded by cropped lands. Each settlement is added with a small or big water body that serves as water source for domestic use, irrigation and fish culture. A significant change in the coastal belt is the rapid conversion of crop lands to shrimp farm. Salt water from rivers (which are inter-tidal by nature) is brought into the lands to be used as salty water body. It gives a quick return of investment as it a booster exportable economic item, but the land is turned to almost an irrecoverable saline soil – a serious environmental problem indeed. There was a small mangrove forest in the Chittagong coast called Chakoria Sundarban. The forest was cleared almost completely by 1995 and is by now a continuous shrimp farm region (Gain, 2006).

 

But however, the Sundarban is somehow managed to retain its status as it is a UNESCO Heritage icon in addition to environmentalist’s effort, although there has been a continuous threat from illegal forest cutting and salinity penetration due to possible sea level rise. It is observed that there is an on average few centimetres rise of sea level along Bangladesh coast. Major part of Sundarban forest is inside Bangladesh covering about 6017 km² (inclusive of river area) (Gain, P., 1994). Virtually Sundarban is composed of several islands seperated by rivers of different sizes. There is a clear pattern in the distribution of different species of forests. After the pathches of the forest was cut illegaly the government endevored to reforest/restored some parts of that. So, the changes are more in the island peripheries more than the deep insides.

 

Fishing is one of the major economic activities for people in coastal and off shore islands. Fishing in the coastal continental shelf region (about 150 km wide in some locations) is good for different types of fishes of which Hilsa (national fish of Bangladesh) is the most notable which is hervested during monsoon time (July to October). Shrimp is the most important in inland coastal regions, particularly in Khulna, Satkhira, Bagerhat and Cox’s Bazar districs. Both the types of fish hervests are linked to the fish ports of Khulna, Mongla, Bagerhat, Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong and Teknuf. Nearly 100 percent shrimp is exported, but Hilsa and other fish are consumed mainly locally (about half of the total). There are good international level fish processing (sorting, cleaning and freezing) plants located in Khulna, Cox’s bazar and Chittagong areas. Shrimps are exported mainly to Europe. Other than shrimp, all fish are shipped to different parts of Bangladesh either fresh or dried. Drying of fish is also an extensive economic activity of coastal and island people.

 

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