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Food - Sustainable supplies of food in Bangladesh

An example of a local scheme in an LIC or NEE to increase sustainable supplies of food – Rice and fish farming in Bangladesh

Much of the world’s hunger and poverty exists in either Low Income Countries or Newly Emerging Economies.  There are many things that can be done to reduce hunger and poverty, in a sustainable and appropriate manner.

Practical Action are a charity that works to try and improve the lives of people across the globe through direct, people led, practical projects.  One such project is the use of a rice-fish agriculture project designed to help farmers in the Bangladeshi district of Jamalpur.  This is a very poor part of Bangladesh north of the capital city Dhaka, and is a very agricultural area.  You can see how Bangladesh compares to the UK in the table, and that Jamalpur has a massive 65.5% of its population in agriculture.

Map of Jamalpur in Bangladesh

Rice fish farming

In this project farmers are introducing another 'crop' into their rice fields - small, indigenous fish that can live in flooded paddy fields whilst the rice is growing.  This technique is good for both the fish and the rice. Safely hidden from birds, the fish thrive in the dense rice plants, while they in turn provide a source of fertilizer with their droppings, eat insect pests and help to circulate oxygen around the rice field. Keeping fish in rice fields can increase rice yields by up to 10% – plus they have the additional supplies of fish.

A diet of fish is an excellent source of protein and so improves people’s health. Extra rice yields, meanwhile, not only put meals on tables but enable families to sell surplus food at market.

Indicator Bangladesh Jamalpur UK
Population 156 million 2.29 million 64 million
GDP per capita ppp $3600 (a lower middle income country by World Bank)   $37,700 (A HIC by the World Bank)
% working in agriculture 47% 65.5% <1%
People living in poverty (less than $2 per day) 31.5% of the population   16.2%
Access to Clean Water 86.9% of the population   100%
Life Expectancy  73.2 years   80.4 years
Literacy Rate 61.5% 38.4% 99
People Per Doctor 3,255 people per doctor   355 people per doctor


First, Practical Action works with a farmer to identify a suitable site: one that is less likely to be washed away should a flood occur. Together we then build a dyke or bund approximately 60cm high around the outskirts of the field. This has a dual purpose – to keep the fish in the rice fields and enable vegetable cultivation around the field. The next step is digging a ditch for the fish to live in during the dry season – this is something the whole family can get involved in.

Planting and stocking

The farmer plants the rice in rows that are roughly 35cm apart, then fills 50% of the ditch with water. The water is purified with a small quantity of lime, and a little organic fertiliser is added. Then, when the rice starts to shoot, the water level across the field is increased to 12–15cm, and small fish or ‘fingerlings’ are released into the ditch. As soon as they have acclimatised to the rice field water, the farmer releases them into the field and raises the water level as both the fish and rice grow.

How rice-fish farming works



Come the first harvest, approximately 4–5 months later, the farmer will harvest the rice first, and then drain the rice field to collect the fish into the ditch where they can easily be caught. In areas where Practical Action has helped people to develop rice-fish culture, farmers have reported a 10% increase in rice yields, plus enough fish to provide regular, high-protein meals for their families.

Every year, Kamrul Barik’s family was faced with starvation, but thanks to rice-fish culture he has been able to turn their lives around. Once he could only produce enough food to last two thirds of the year, now he’s able to grow more food for his family to eat and some to sell at the local market. His story can be seen opposite.

This scheme is good because it is sustainable, involves using local people and expertise, improves the diet of these people and is relatively easy to establish.  This is a good example of appropriate technology.  Other schemes include the use of floating rafts where vegetables can be grown, the use of livestock and even how to keep bees.

 “My name is Kamrul Barik and I live in a village in the Jamalpur Sadar district of Bangladesh. It’s a small village and I have very little land to live on or to farm – my home is just 15 square metres with 48 square metres of rice fields. I have two sons and one daughter, and my parents are old so they live with us too. In the past it was very hard to grow enough food to feed us all. I could grow enough rice for perhaps 8 months, but the other months I struggled to find food. I had to scrape together money by borrowing from money lenders at a very high interest. I could not afford to send my children to school and we often went hungry for days. Things were very bad.

“Then in 2006 Practical Action taught me all about rice-fish culture. I learnt how to choose rice that was more resistant to floods. I also learnt how to protect the fish in my fields. Soon I was able to grow more rice and fish and earn money from selling them – 26,200 tk (£195) from my fish and 18,000 tk (£135) from my rice. Practical Action also showed me how I could farm bananas and vegetables on the dykes, which meant I was able to earn another 10,200 tk (£75).

“The extra money has made a very big difference. We can now buy fruit and vegetables at the market so my family can eat better – and of course the fish also give us important nutrients and vitamins. My children are now going to school and I hope they will now be able to find good jobs. I have been able to install a new latrine in our home and I hope to lease another piece of land to start rice-fish culture in another plot. Now the future looks much brighter.”


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