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Smashing Pumpkins! Thousands of landless farmers to turn sand flats into fields

Press Release   •   May 13, 2016 07:05 BST

50,000 Bangladeshi farmers are set to benefit from Practical Action's radical climate change adaptation project

50,000 farmers who lost their land to climate change-related river erosion in Bangladesh will benefit from a radical project which transforms barren land into huge pumpkin fields.

Since the first trials in 2005, more than 90,000 tonnes of produce has been grown, eaten or sold by more than 16,000 of the poorest people in Bangladesh. enabling them to combat complications related to malnutrition, such as childhood blindness, rickets and increased infection rates.

This year’s biggest-ever harvest marks the end of the latest phase of the Pumpkins Against Poverty project and the start of a new two year expansion, thanks to a £1m fundraising appeal, doubled by the UK Government. So far, £10m worth of pumpkins have been grown.

The new funds will allow Practical Action to work closely with regional and national Bangladeshi Governments to ensure the sandbars which emerge from the flooded river plains every year are left for the use of thousands of underpriviledged farmers long into the future.

Project manager Nazmul Chowdhury said: “The results of Pumpkins Against Poverty has been absolutely staggering, even for those of us who have worked in development for many years.

“We have now tested the project on a large scale, with better distribution, export and greater diversification than we managed in the past.

“What has been very pleasing is that even with greater amounts of pumpkins, there is still a market for the produce, and exporters are now working with the communities to distribute to new areas and even outside Bangladesh.

“As long as we can get guarantees that sandbars will remain available to the public at no cost, we are in a place where we can expand the project so that thousands more people in Bangladesh are able to cope with the effects of climate change and lifted out of poverty.”

Stunning drone footage shows the extent of this year's harvest and pictures of the process and some of the harvest can be downloaded here

The problem:

  • Bangladesh sits on the flood plains of the Himalayas. During the monsoon season, huge swathes of the country are flooded and land is washed away.
  • Climate change means that the floods are becoming more severe and thousands of families lose their land, homes and businesses and their ability to sustain themselves.
  • However, when the floods recede, huge sandbars emerge, changing position annually. Despite a shortage of fertile land, this land has previously been considered barren and left unused.

The solution:

  • Once the land is dry we work with the farmers to find a suitable site for the crops. They need to be accessible and stable.
  • A square pit is dug into the sandbar – one metre deep and 75cm in diameter - and lined with compost
  • The compost is made from cow-dung and the previous year’s crop and household waste as well as any new compost bought by the farmer.
  • After a few days, four seeds are plantedare placed into the sack, the compost is kept moist and carefully tended over the following five months.
  • Two healthy saplings are grown in each pit - if four germinate well, they are replanted in other pits where germination has failed
  • Shortly before the monsoon season starts, the pumpkins are harvested. If they are kept dry and stored carefully they can be kept for up to a year.

In numbers. The story so far:

16,000 – people who have benefitted from sandbar cropping so far, including 8,500 women

98,000 – tonnes of pumpkins harvested so far, worth over £10m

5 – minimum multiple by which an individual investment has returned so far (so for a £20 investment, minimum return has been £100)

1,000,000 people affected by flooding and river erosion in Bangladesh each year.

200,000 number of Bangladeshi farmers who have lost all their land to climate change

1,000,000 – number of pounds to be invested in the next phase of Pumpkins Against Poverty

80 average percentage of harvest sold by the farmers. (80% of the produces will be sold in the local, regional, national and international markets)

66,000 total number of people set to benefit from sandbar cropping by 2018.

To speak to Nazmul Chowdhury or anyone else involved in the project, contact Andrew Heath or Abbie Wells on 01926 634552.

Practical Action uses technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

Our strength is our approach. We find out what people are doing and help them to do it better. Through technology we enable poor communities to build on their skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions - transforming their lives forever and protecting the world around them.

By doing this each year we help around a million people break out of the cycle of poverty ... for good. 

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