Forest, fish and fruit: An innovative agroforestry practice in coastal Bangladesh to reduce vulnerability due to climate change

--Mohammad Shah-E-Alam Divisional Forest Officer North Curcle, Cox’s Bazar Department of Forest

17. Shah-e-Alam Cox

Bangladesh is located between 20º34´ and 26º38´ North latitude and between 88º01´ and 92º41´ East longitude, with the Bay of Bengal to the south. Population numbers 151.41 million and total area is about 147,570 km², of which 423,394 ha is coastal forest.

Although not a significant contributor to climate change, Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to its impacts. According to its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), which was developed in 2005, and other scientific assessments, anticipated effects range from a greater intrusion of saline water and inundation of coastal lands. Key risks include drainage congestion, less fresh water, disturbance of morphologic processes and more intense flooding. Communities in the coastal region are especially vulnerable. They have high rates of poverty and villagers depend on natural resources such as forestry and fishery stocks for their livelihoods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 35 million people in these areas will be adversely affected by a predicted 45 cm rise in sea level by 2050. Some 1,000 km² of cultivated coastal land and aquaculture farms are likely to become salt marsh due to increased salinity. Thus, food security and livelihood options will decrease significantly.

2. Issues and challenges

Crowding along the coast is made worse by fragmentation and absentee landlords. Moreover, the area is becoming increasingly fragile due to river erosion and threats from climate change. Vast lands outside the flood-proof embankment are regularly inundated by saline water during high tide. Poor people are especially affected by these conditions and suffer additional hardships because of their limited access to financial institutions to start small businesses.

Since 2010, Bangladesh has been implementing a community approach to climate change adaptation through afforestation in four coastal sites. One of the innovative interventions is the forest, fish and fruit model (FFF) – an agroforestry system which generates products over the short, medium and long terms and, in doing so, offers diversified livelihood options and increased security.

he FFF model

The main objectives of the FFF model are to provide protection from storm surges, cyclones and rise in sea level; produce timber, fruit, vegetable and fish; and diversify livelihoods. As part of the project, eight poor families made ditches and dykes in one hectare of naturally occurring open spaces of the mangrove forest (figure 1).

The FFF model consists of a combination of protective and productive vegetation, mounds and ditches, and a pond to support a fish nursery – all of which create multiple sources of income and mitigate the effects of climate extremes (figure 2).

Components consist of a row of mangroves along the coast line which acts as a buffer against storm surges, strong winds and a rise in sea level. This barrier also protects nearby communities and homes and it supports the growth of a healthy water and shore ecology. Mounds and ditches are then built next to the mangroves. The mounds are made of compacted mud from the surrounding area and create a raised platform upon which timber species, fruit trees, vegetables and medicinal plants are grown.

oFruit trees: Quick growing and early yielding fruit trees such as bau kul (Ziziphus mauritiania) and apple guava (Psidium guajava) are planted on the mounds to generate income and produce food in the medium term.

oForest trees: Forest trees and palms (Cocos nucifera) provide timber, fuelwood from pruned branches and food. They also provide the land and communities with added protection from climatic extremes.

w         Vegetables: Improved varieties of vegetables planted between the tree seedlings (for up to 5 years) provide households with immediate products for consumption. Scaffolding on the margins of the ditches extend the growing area by supporting creeper vegetables such as country bean, cucumber, bottle, bitter and sweet gourds (cucurbitaceous vegetables).

w         Fish: By excavating the ditches to 2m (figure 1), a single one can produce an estimated 140-150 kg of fish. They also double as a reservoir to collect rain to supplement regular water supplies for irrigating the plantations on the mounds.

3. Approach

A group approach (10-15 people) was used to establish the agroforestry system described above. Each member is allocated one ditch and one dyke, with the last dyke jointly built and owned by the collectivity. Dimensions are 60m long, 3.5m wide and 2m high. Each member, in turn, guards the resources at night. As of April 2012, 60 ditches and dykes were constructed, 26 of which were finished before the rainy season (set A, figure 2). In addition, households received other inputs and training.

Agencies, including the Forest Department, Department of Agriculture Extension, Department of Fisheries and Department of Livestock, provide regular technical support to households as part of their efforts to build capacity and help them sustain operations. For the first time, agencies also supplied inputs – saplings, fish fry and ducks, for example.

The model is built in open spaces in the forest and beneficiaries become steward of the land. They cannot construct any accommodation, transfer or sell the agreement, or engage in illegal tree felling. They can grow and consume the vegetables, fruit and fish produced and can keep 65% of the revenue from the sale of timber from mature trees. The Forest Department receives 25% and the remaining 10% is deposited in a fund earmarked for plantations.

To monitor, supervise and guide project activities, a co-management committee was formed. It is chaired by the Upazilla Nirbahi Officer (UNO) and consists of 15 members, including from implementing agencies.


4. Lessons learned

After modifying the topography to prevent saline water from inundating the open spaces inside the coastal forest, the area can now support non-mangrove species and crops. Thus, they are highly prone to encroachment. However, since a huge number of poor people are benefiting from these changes, threats have been reduced and project participants are even helping Forest Department staff to manage the coastal resources.

Beneficiaries also indicated that they are willing to share their newly acquired skills and knowledge with other farmers who are interested in growing vegetables, planting trees or engaging in aquaculture. In addition, villagers were hired as laborers to build the structures and to plant trees/crops. Thus, implementation of the model provided additional work for the community during lean periods. However, it is still not able to expand fast enough to meet demand.

In raising the contour of the land, the risk of flooding has been largely mitigated. The FFF structures also act as the front line of defense against storm surges and cyclones.

Although it is too early to assess the impact of interventions, beneficiaries and other stakeholders have identified issues which seriously hinder productivity – for example, theft and conflict with wild animals (deer, fish cat and fox). In some instances, distance from houses to the project sites discourages participation and makes it difficult to regularly maintain the resources. Land disputes are also problematic. In one case, the UNO placed an injunction on activities in Hatiya Upazilla, pending resolution of the layout for a new FFF. Some beneficiaries argue that the width of the ditches and dykes is not optimum and would like the design altered so that fish have more space to grow faster.

Lack of fresh water is another limiting factor. During the last dry season, most ditches were completely dried so that some farmers sold all their fish at market, even those which were below allowable size. Others stocked the fish in their homestead pond. However, almost all beneficiaries were unable to give their fruit trees enough water and many did not survive as a result.

5. Results and impacts

Beneficiaries earned income mainly from vegetables, fish and eggs. Set A beneficiaries averaged 381.5 taka/month for the season by selling country bean grown on dykes (maximum 45 kg to a minimum of 2 kg/dyke) while Set B averaged 202.75 taka/month (maximum 50 kg to a minimum of 5 kg). Figure 5 shows that Set B earned more from fish sales than Set A. The difference is because Set B depleted stocks in the ditches, whilst Set A were still harvesting and expected more yield.

Male beneficiaries derived more income than females (figure 6) for 2 main reasons: society discourages women from working in the field and they are not allowed to visit their sites at night – a factor that makes them extremely vulnerable to stealing.

Despite less revenue, 25 of the 60 women participants are happy to be involved in this project. Not only does the additional income supplement their regular household earnings, the dykes provide them the land to grow vegetables which is not available around their homestead.

6. Looking ahead

High soil salinity

Though this model was designed to avoid or reduce soil salinity, levels are still high after one year. Beneficiaries hope that, after two rainy seasons, a significant reduction will occur to allow them to grow more vegetables and maximize their benefits.

Probability of overtopping of the mound

The model is built outside the flood-proof embankment (although it is protected by a belt of mangrove forest) and the dyke is lower than the embankment. Therefore, it is possible that saline water could overtop the mound during a storm surge and damage the fish farms and crops. However, local elders reported that no storm surge produced waves equal to the height of the dykes during the last decade so beneficiaries remain hopeful such an event will not happen.

Conflict among group members

Sound management and protection of resources largely depend on good relations and a sense of solidarity among group members. For example, if one farmer fails to maintain fences around his/her ditch and dyke, resources of other dykes and ditches will become vulnerable to stealing and grazing.


Group savings

Beneficiaries can create a revolving fund by agreeing to set aside a small amount of money weekly or monthly. Doing so will allow them to obtain small loans in emergency situations and to purchase inputs on a large scale to minimize cost. Many NGOs working in the area can provide technical support to start such a saving scheme.

Seedling business/SME

Given that some markets are near the project area, some beneficiaries can establish a small produce-based business. Since they have been taught to raise and manage seedlings, there is also significant potential for them to supply project participants and other local farmers.

Knowledge sharing among groups/regions

The group approach is conducive to members sharing knowledge and good practices among themselves. They can also exchange information with other groups in the area and other parts of the coast.

Potential to replicate successful measures in other parts of the economy/region

Because government allocation of more land for forestry is extremely limited, naturally occurring open space inside the forest could be used to establish more FFF models. This approach will not only involve and benefit local poor people but it will also reduce encroachment. The model can be replicated along other coasts and in low-lying areas of Bangladesh where land is not suitable for cultivation because of flooding. It could also be practiced in other areas around the world.