Residents of char areas in Gaibandha are now witnessing what they dared to dream five years ago.
The sandy shoals that were nowhere near fertility, are now yielding different kinds of vegetables and Robi crops (crops that are sown in winter and harvested in spring).
The change is visible in 70 percent of the shoals in six unions under Sundarganj upazila, according to the district agriculture department.
“Alluvial soil flow from the upstream with flood water and deposit on the shoals during rainy season. As a result, the shoals no longer go under Teesta river and become fertile instead,” explained Sundarganj Upazila Agriculture Officer (UAO) Syed Reza-e-Mahmud.
Hashem Ali grows chilli and maize on his five bigha land in Lalchamar char. Last year he earned Tk 27,000 through maize cultivation and this year he is looking forward to earning profit particularly from the chillies.
“Five years ago, it was unimaginable that crops and vegetables will grow here. The residents used to rear cattle, do fishing or other petty jobs but now the situation has drastically changed,” Ali told this paper.
During monsoons, the char dwellers have no option but to leave their homes with cattle and little belongings.
But unlike before, now they get back in dry season to take up contractual works in croplands.
Three years ago, Mottaleb Ali left Badamer char due to river erosion. But he returned after hearing about the changes in the quality of soil and now works as a labourer at a maize field.
In 2012, an international Non-Government Organisation (NGO) started growing pumpkins on the sandy chars of Gaibandha. They filled up sacks with fertile soil and buried those under the sands. The success of the project encouraged locals.
“Living standard of people in these chars have gone high with cultivation of Rabi crops,” said Sundarganj UAO Mahmud.
Rafiqul Islam, a landless farmer of Madaripara char, earned Tk 45,000 last year by cultivating pumpkin on two bighas of land. This year, he ploughed three bighas under sharecropping.
Winter vegetables mostly grow in these chars during dry season. Boro paddy, wheat, maize, pulse, chilli, and pumpkin are among other produces.
“I have cultivated chillies on one-and-a-half-bigha land. Last year I had earned Tk 35,000 by cultivating chillies on one bigha land. This year I am expecting more profit,” said Khaiber Hossain of Putimari char.
“Char people used to grow millet grains like kaon, cheena, teel, and Boro paddy in small scale. They never thought of cultivating anything else. It was the pumpkin farming that showed them the way,” said Belka Union Council Chairman Md Ibrahim.