The vast floodplains of southern Bangladesh have been transformed over centuries into a patchwork of rice fields and aquaculture ponds.
To increase the food production from this challenging landscape, farmers have developed a unique agricultural system called a gher. A pond is dug into the rice field, and the excavated mud is piled up around the banks to create both a footpath to navigate the expansive grid and cultivable land for growing vegetables.
While this method of cultivation has been used for generations, WorldFish’s adaptive research on improved gher farming technologies has increased the productivity of these systems by 30%.
In Bagerhat District, the Aquaculture for Income and Nutrition (AIN) project has provided training on good management practices for shrimp, fish and vegetable gher farming to 19,479 farmers since 2012, 28% of whom are women.
“After the training, I would share the knowledge with my husband or son, and they would all listen to me … My fish and shrimp harvest is better, my family life has improved, and my children are happy.” – Sabita Odhikari, gher farmer
The practical sessions cover the whole aquaculture process, including pond preparation, polyculture technologies for fish and shrimp, the correct stocking densities, feeding regimes, harvest techniques, vegetable cultivation, nutrition, and more.
AIN also focuses on educating farmers on the importance of sourcing and using good-quality polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-tested shrimp postlarvae that are free of white spot syndrome virus to reduce disease outbreak, along with connecting farmers with postlarvae suppliers.
“Earlier, my harvest was not good because I did not have the required knowledge about how to release the fry, feed them or use fertilizers,” recalls mother of two Sabita Odhikari, who has been brackish-water gher farming for 26 years in her village of Rai, Bagerhat.
“Now when I prepare the gher, I dry it, then apply lime, fill it up with water, add bleach, and only then release the fry. Earlier I wouldn’t do all this,” she adds.
The training sessions also teach participants how to culture vegetable crops around the banks of the gher, as well as the best varieties to plant during each season.
“After the training, I would share the knowledge with my husband or son, and they would all listen to me … My fish and shrimp harvest is better, my family life has improved, and my children are happy,” she says.
In neighboring District, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia Bangladesh (CSISA-BD) has also provided training on good management practices for freshwater and brackish-water gher farming to 5800 farmers since 2011.
The project is also conducting research in partnership with local farmers to identify the most effective and affordable fish feed for local growing conditions.
“My neighbors and I told our trainers that we have learned about fish farming, but if we could do something about the feed we could all benefit. We were using costly feed, but of low quality ... The trainers suggested we start doing research, and that is how I got involved,” says Mahammad Harun Mollah, a freshwater fish and prawn gher farmer from Dhopakhola village, Khulna.
“We used four different types of feed for research last year, but one stood out. This year we are using the top two local feeds along with last year’s pick, and researching these to find the best one. The improved feed was a big advantage. Now the fish grow twice as much with less disease, so the production is higher,” explains Harun, who expects his yields and profit to further increase as the research continues.
In a country where more than 46 million people in rural areas are living in poverty, these projects are helping to provide increased incomes for around 680,000 small- and medium-scale farmers and their families.
“The success with gher farming has improved my income. Life has become so much better. I’ve gotten two more ghers, built a house and this year I got married! Life's good,” smiles Harun.