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Salinity-tolerant agriculture could improve livelihood of rural farmers in Bangladesh

A new salinity-tolerant paddy species could increase productivity of coastal small scale-farmers, boost income, and potentially buffer against urban migration.

The Strategic Foresight Group writes,
"The Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) has created a new type of salinity-tolerant paddy species for coastal districts in the southern region of the country. Here, the percentage of salt in soil and water is much higher than in other parts of the country. Salt tolerance capacities of conventional high-yielding rice varieties are below 4 dS/m (deci-siemens per metre). The new paddy varieties can withstand 12-14 dS/m of soil salinity while they are young, and 6 dS/m in their entire lifespan of 152-155 days. (Soil salinity in the coastal areas of Bangladesh varies from 2- 6 dS/m depending on the distance from the sea. However, due to saline intrusion, increasingly more lands fall towards the higher end of the range.)

Bangladesh has a coastal area of 2.5 million hectares. Out of this, approximately 1 million hectares of land have already been affected by different levels of salinity."

Implications

This new paddy could increase rice production, allow farmers to sell at higher prices, and help farmers stay on their coastland farms. The Strategic Foresight Group writes,

"The salinity tolerant paddy will have the following implications in the coming decades:

1. Increased productivity - Every year in the dry season, the rice fields in the southern districts of Bangladesh are enveloped by a thin film of salt, making agriculture lands impossible to cultivate. The paddy grown on these fields takes on an abnormal red colour before wilting away. The new paddy in the coastal areas will increase the production by 400,000 metric tons annually in the coming years.

2. Sustainable income - The rice grown on soil with high salinity levels is of poor quality and therefore is sold at a lower price than the conventional rice in the coastal community markets i.e. less than USD 0.5/kilogram. However, poor farmers will be able to sell the new variety of paddy at the same price as conventional rice, thereby providing them with sustainable incomes in the future.

3. Secure livelihood and migration prevention - According to the 2001 census, there were around 37 million people living in the coastal districts of Bangladesh. The population is expected to increase to approximately 44 million in 2015. Due to rising soil salinity, thousands of small-scale farmers have leased their land to big shrimp farmers at cheap prices. Once they lease their land, a large percentage of them migrate to cities and work as day labourers. Introduction of saline tolerant paddy will not only secure landholding of the poor farmers, but also enable them to grow shrimp in small enclosures within their land, thereby increasing their future earnings. This will also prevent migration of poor farmers to urban centres in the long run."

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Sources:

The Strategic Foresight Group, Nov 2010, page 6: http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SFG_July2010.pdf#page=6

‘Salinity-affected land brought under scheme’. NewAgebd. 06 February 2010.
<http://www.newagebd.com/2010/feb/06/home.html>

‘The saline revolution?’ bdnews24. 28 April 2010.
<http://www.bdnews24.com/details.php?cid=2&id=159554>

‘Mechanisms of salt tolerance in crop plants and salinity management’. Rivers and Communities.
Blog 27 August, 2009.

<http://riversandcommunities.wordpress.com/2009/08/27/mechanisms-ofsalt-
tolerance-in-crop-plants-and-salinity-management/>