Helping homestead gardeners mitigate the impact of soil salinity
Homestead food production (HFP) is an effective way to help poor families increase access to nutritious food and new sources of income. HFP enables women to access fresh vegetables for themselves and their children directly, instead of relying on a male family member to purchase them, and proceeds from household gardens are usually controlled by women and thus more likely to be used for education, healthcare and other activities which directly benefit women and children. Helen Keller International (HKI) has implemented HFP programs throughout Bangladesh since the early 1990s. As part of the global Project Laser Beam initiative, the Mondelez Foundation supported HKI to increase women’s asset base and food security through HFP, improve nutrition, address gender barriers and intra-household communication and strengthen farming groups.
However, a changing climate requires that new practices be integrated into strategies to promote HFP, particularly in the vulnerable areas of southern Bangladesh which face frequent floods and cyclones where southwestern Bangladesh bordering the Bay of Bengal, is particularly vulnerable to floods and storms. The soil salinity is worst during dry periods. The spring of 2012 was particularly dry, with no rainfall during the month of May according to the local farmers and the Department of Agricultural Extension. With support from the Mondelez Foundation, HKI surveyed the impact of soil salinity on household gardeners in Shymnagar, Satkhira district during this period and rolled out strategies to help families continue vegetable production.
About half of households were already implementing practices to cope with soil salinity. Among these, 38% were using organic compost and 34% were planting crops in pits which were first leached with water. However, households with the knowledge and means to adopt these practices tended to be among the better off; poor households who are more reliant on their gardens for food and income had fewer coping mechanisms and were thus most affected by the salinity.
Challenges: However, introducing this practice requires a relatively high level of expertise by program staff in order to demonstrate the correct method of soil management and planting for various types of crops. Composting & mulching is a practice that poor household have found more difficult to adopt. It is therefore worth developing tools and techniques to promote composting in areas where vegetable cultivation is a priority strategy to increase nutrition and income for poor households.
Results: PLB provided training to households, both men and women, to increase garden production and produce more varieties in small water-prone areas, introduced poultry-rearing practices to increase production, formed marketing committees with links to market actors, built business skills to market agricultural products, and educated mothers through nutrition education. Data were collected from project participants as a panel survey at baseline (n=207) and end line (n=197). Participants were pregnant women with more than 2 decimals of land.
A significant reduction in inadequate diets was observed among target women at baseline, 76% (n=158) of women had an inadequate diet (all participants were pregnant at the time of the baseline). By the end of the project, this number had dropped to only 23% (n=45) among the same survey sample. There was also a significant increase among women who consumed >5 food groups per day.
Amin Uddin, Director- Food Security & Livelihood, Helen Keller International, Bangladesh.