Strengthening Community Gardening in Bangladesh

A Bangladeshi girl tends a vegetable garden in a rural village. (Photo: Brent Stirton / Getty Images)

Many Bangladeshi villagers invest a considerable amount of time and energy in subsidiary economic gardening. This often takes the form of a vegetable garden and tree orchard, located in whatever household land is available to them. In fact, this arrangement has been the mainstay for the country's basic nutritional needs and its homestead forestry. Its contribution to rural economics and collective well-being is well recognized.

The availability of support services for farmers during the last decade has proved efficacious to development in the agriculture sector. However, Bangladesh's agricultural yield is declining at an alarming rate due to the lack of quality seeds and other planting materials. Due to this factor, Bangladeshis are losing interest in agricultural pursuits and are instead accepting such risky and potentially harmful jobs as non-motorized transport pulling, brick chipping and other industrial occupations.

The main reasons for this abaondomnent are: (1) people cannot make an adequate amount of money from agriculture; and (2) other industrial sectors, such as garment making, offer higher wages. The aforementioned conclusions were drawn from a study conducted by the Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallayan Foundation in the Ishwarganj sub-division of the Mymensingh District, located in the capital, Dhaka.

Bangladesh is one of 115 countries participating in the United Nations International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, signed in 2004, which created a new global network to collect the seeds of unusual plants and catalog their traits. It is of primary importance for the country to accumulate a large number of valuable plant resources, and then store them in local areas that represent conservation at a community level.

Such seed accumulations will become valuable sources of available planting materials. Field conservation is a rational way to improve and strengthen Bangladesh's Plant Genetic Resources (P.G.R.) conservation and use, thereby contributing to food security and sustainable economic development, now and for the future generations.

In Bangladesh, existing seed banks have been judged not sufficient for viable P.G.R. conservation. As a result, day after day the country is losing its valuable plant resources. Many feel that now is the time to devote more attention to conservation activities. The Agricultural Extension Policy (1996), in its short and midterm objectives stressed improving the quality and availability of planting materials, and reducing environmental degradation. The policy also focused on such factors as food security, a self-reliant economy, development of agro-based industries, value added products, crop diversification, export augmentation and employment generation. Community-level P.G.R. activities can contribute a vital role in successfully implementing such government policies.

The Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallayan Foundation has critically observed that people in rural localities around the country have no appreciable skills in industrial jobs, but were previously much more collectively exporienced in agriculture. All that is needed, some posit, are quality planting materials, eco-friendly technologies, cost effective techniques, and modern equipment. Improving these areas should lead to an increase in Bangladesh's agricultural sector as a basic economic source, ensuring sustainable daily incomes for its rural citizens.

A cogent plan is required to create a model for locating sources for better seeds and planting materials possessing the desired genetic quality, thus engendering sustainable agricultural growth, improvement of plant biodiversity within the local ecosystem, reduction in environmental degradation, as well as introducing eco-friendly technology on a local level. Trained and motivated farmers, knowledgable individuals from N.G.O.'s, students of education institutes, and agricultural researchers should all be engaged within their own areas of influence to locate and collect trees and other plant resources from around the country.

A participatory approach, inclusive of local leaders and village elders may help the process to successfully move forward. The contributions of farm families, communities and indigenous people are also critical in the active enhancement of P.G.R. activities and biological diversity. Techniques for the identification of P.G.R. sources and conservation methods for seeds and other planting materials, including field conservation technologies, should be transferred via hands-on, cost-effective training. A simple motivational campaign with nominal incentives for participatory conservation and breeding practices may overcome any local resistance and provide a positive impact on the ecosystem.

Bangladesh's climate is sub-tropical monsoon, and the seasons are favorable for agricultural growth. Therefore, field conservation at the community level is a suitable activity for localities all around the country. A number of partner organizations, such as the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (P.K.S.F.) are currently utilizing in-house P.G.R. conservation processes for successfully preserving seeds and other planting materials.

In general, wage earners want to make enough money to uphold their standards of living. With the help of P.G.R. activities, local Bangladeshis can earn extra money by selling their expertise, technologies, and P.G.R. products. Such activities would also help localities to harvest an abundance of quality crops, fruits, vegetables, thus ensuring sustainable communities. Individuals will gain expertise in the plant breeding process and varied technical endeavors such as sowing, planting, harvesting, post-harvesting activities, conservation of both P.G.R. and consumable crops, and finally marketing their products — all of which will help to make localities both self-sufficient and self-reliant.