FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Combining New & Old Technologies for Enhanced Agriculture and Sustainable Natural Resource Management

The knowledge and expertise of FAO stemming from its experience of 75 years is being combined with new ideas and technologies to enhance productivity with controlled natural resource use in agriculture.

Low-cost drip irrigation in Bangladesh

Low-cost drip irrigation in Bangladesh

In Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where nearly one million refugees from Myanmar are housed, local farmer groups have constructed low-cost greenhouses and installed drip irrigation technology designed by FAO experts for high-quality vegetable production.

The issue: a food-insecure population

The massive influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh has had profound impacts on the communities of Cox’s Bazar, where an overwhelming majority of the refugees have settled. In two of the southern sub-districts – Teknaf and Ukhiya –refugees constitute more than a third of the local population. The refugees are food-insecure and are almost completely reliant on the distribution of non-cooked food such as rice and pulses.

Agriculture in Cox’s Bazar district is less productive than in other areas of Bangladesh, largely due to poorer soils, challenges of salt-water intrusion, limited access to technology and issues of land ownership.

Irrigation systems are underdeveloped and water conservation technologies are not widely utilized. In Bangladesh most of the vegetables are cultivated in the Rabi season (October to March) and Kharif-1 season (March to June). During monsoon season (July to September), the vegetable supply in the local markets is limited to only a few varieties as high humidity fosters mold, disease and infestations.

The action: Making agriculture productive and sustainable

FAO designed an innovative drip irrigation system and local farmer groups constructed low-cost greenhouses for high quality vegetable production. A “hoop greenhouse” design was chosen by the farmers because it was an inexpensive design and required a relatively low level of investment, with overall construction cost usually less than USD 5 per m2 making them suitable for farms operated by small growers. The hoops are made of bamboo, the walls and roof made of polymer plastic for better control of humidity, soil quality and sunlight. The shape of the greenhouse allows for rainwater harvesting.

The drip irrigation system saves precious water by allowing it to drip slowly to the roots of the plants from above the soil surface in a highly targeted and efficient manner. The greenhouse design allowed for flexible incorporation of the irrigation system as needed throughout the yearly production calendar.

Results: Extended growing season

The farmers participated directly in decision-making and design of appropriate technologies and  selected the most high-demand and suitable species for production including tomato, pepper, cucumber, green bean, and eggplant (vegetables with medium thermal requirements) with the aim to extend the growing calendars beyond the conventional open-air cultivation season, and thus increase profitability.

Drip irrigation uses water efficiently, and the protected environment reduces the use of chemical inputs to agriculture. As a result, fixed and operating costs were found to be much lower for drip irrigation when compared to other alternatives.

Geographic focus: Bangladesh

In partnership with the Government of Bangladesh

Low-cost greenhouses in Bhutan

Low-cost greenhouses in Bhutan

The Royal Government of Bhutan has decided that production of commodities needs to be largely increased by improving yield and productivity and not much from expansion of farmland. The existing farmlands have to be brought under intensive use through technology. For cereal crops, intensification is limited to introducing high yielding and shorter duration varieties, assurance of irrigation through piped channels and electric fencing the fields from wildlife depredation.

The area under protected agriculture is of 220.87 acres, and Sarpang Dzongkhag (district) has the highest area of 29.53 acres. The use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to manage drip and hydroponic irrigation systems is limited to research institutions as of now but has huge scope.

In Bhutan, conventional subsistence farming is a continuing challenge given the country’s mountainous topography and cold weather, and this also discourages youth from remaining in rural areas. In collaboration with FAO, Bhutan is investing in protected farming with inexpensive materials. Polysheets not only provide the sides and roofs of the greenhouse structure but also serve to suppress weeds and maintain soil moisture when placed on the ground. The result is minimal post-harvest loss, crops are protected from wildlife, and farming livelihoods are improved.

The issue

Bhutan is a small , mountainous, country and consequently, access to arable land is an issue. Only 189 465 acres of the total registered 250 633 acres of agricultural land is cultivated. The mountain soil is shallow, subject to high leaching and loss of top soil, and prone to landslides and flash floods.

Further, the narrow terraces of farmland on slopes constrain the use of technology and machinery. The mountainous terrain has multiple microclimates and investment on research is a challenge, as every valley demands a different technology package. Youth are therefore discouraged from remaining in rural areas.

Credit facilities through the banking system do not reach rural areas even though supporting farmers is one of the corporate social mandates of all financial institutions. Moreover, crop insurance is unviable due to risks from adverse climatic conditions, pest and disease outbreaks and wild predators.

The action

In collaboration with FAO, Bhutan is investing in protected farming with inexpensive materials. Polysheets are promoted in the farmers’ fields but their use is still limited to a few pockets in most dzongkhags. The sheets not only provide the sides and roofs of the greenhouse structure but also serve to suppress weeds and maintain soil moisture when placed on the ground.

Greenhouses are used to expand the production season of fresh vegetables and fruits. To upgrade the technology package, drip irrigation is being introduced with an automated schedule of irrigation though a mobile application, and supported by solar-powered pumps thereby replacing labour for irrigation.


Crops are protected from wildlife, and post-harvest loss is reduced. This innovation allows farming to become commercial and market-driven, and assures income to farmers. Technologies that increase labour efficiency and capital are recognized by the government as the future of farming in the country.

Compared to conventional subsistence farming, the protected farming with ICT-managed irrigation in Bhutan is almost a revolution. At broader level, farming is becoming commercial and market-driven, making it an assured source of income for farmers. Technology-driven farming has the potential to gain the confidence of educated youths and mitigate migration and unemployment. Since protected agriculture is mostly near houses, it helps reduce depredation from wildlife and encourages women’s participation. Family income and nutrition are set to improve due to year-round production of green vegetables and fruits.

Geographic focus: Bhutan

In partnership with the Government of Bhutan