In Bangladesh, there is a need for socioeconomic sustainability in land management systems. An exploratory study was conducted in the southern part of Bangladesh (Nesarabad) to evaluate the successful strategy of sustainable land management (SLM), where swampy land is transformed, using ridges and ditches. Approximately 25 agro-based sites were studied to evaluate their relevant land use, management, and economic aspects. We determined that nearly 100% of the cultivated lands adopted this technology, representing a combination of SLM measures. The technology was based mainly on structural measures, combined with other conservation measures. The maintenance and recurring activities increased the efficiency of the technology and improved the land quality, making it more useful for various agricultural practices. Most of the lands were cultivated with fruit trees and vegetables, which provided high net average profits with low effort during cultivation. Land users claimed some weaknesses in establishment cost, marketing, transportation, etc. This study assesses these constraints and recommends some suggestions to generate a more suitable scheme for more SLM measures.

INTRODUCTION

Sustainable land management (SLM) is now a global imperative priority. While enhancing livelihood and food security [1], SLM helps in integrating land, biodiversity, and environmental management [2]). There has been a dramatic increase in agriculture in the twentieth century [35], along with land degradation as a result of farming expansion [68]. Degradation of land is a vital issue throughout the world and Bangladesh in particular, and it is a threat to agricultural productivity [9]. Degradations such as water erosion, fertility decline, salinity, and others not only affect the quality and quantity of arable land but also severely affect socioeconomic conditions. For example, due to intensive farming practices, water erosion and reduced soil fertility have resulted in a decrease in the total cereal production loss of 1.06–4.27 t/year [9]. Furthermore, Bangladesh has a high population density per square kilometer (1,246 in 2009) [10], and the country has been struggling to feed this huge quantity of people. For this reason, Bangladesh cannot grow enough food to feed her own population [11, 12]. Therefore, large quantities of arable land are required to feed the burgeoning population as well as to increase the rate of the country’s economic progress [13, 14]. This study offers a novel land management technique to develop more agricultural terrains in a sustainable way, which provides a positive socioeconomic impact in one of the poorest regions of Bangladesh.

Soil of the southern part of Bengal basin developed from alluvial sediment deposits from the Ganges-Brahmaputra river system but the region remains low [15, 16]. There are numerous swampy regions in the southern coastal and eastern areas of the Bengal region of the country [17, 18]. Farming is the major economic activity of this region [19], and it is affected by floods almost every year [20, 21]. Floods and long-term water logging are the main problems that severely damage the agricultural sector [22]. It is estimated that approximately 12.5% of the total potential rice production is lost due to water inundation [23]. That is why the coastal south and southwest are some of Bangladesh’s poorest areas [24]. To overcome this situation, various groups among the local population in Bangladesh have adopted some beneficial practices [25]. The general populace is considering resolving these water-logging issues; however, few scientific assessments have been made of the effectiveness of these attempts [16]. One such initiative is being undertaken by a small community in southern Bangladesh, where tidal, swampy lands have been converted to ridge and ditch management in order to increase production. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, a small community was inspired from Guwahati (India) to convert their land into guava garden as there wasbefore. They invented the ridge and ditch technique of land management at small scale. But in recent year, it has greatly expanded. This land management technology is a combination of diversified components of SLM measures. Land conversion into ridge and ditch is mainly a structural measure, which is often combined with other measures (vegetative, agronomic, and management measures) to develop a stabilized cultivable region. Sustainable development is achieved through significant and measurable improvements in the environment [26]. This ridge and ditch technique significantly improves soil conditions by protecting the ground from regular tidal inundation, increasing soil fertility, and conserving moisture and organic matter.

In addition to land scarcity, Bangladesh is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change [22, 27]. The coastal region of Bangladesh has seen some relative sea-level rise [28]. SLM provides local mitigation benefits and reduces the negative effects of climate change [29]. As an economic system generally focuses on conserving resources, the socioeconomics of poorest territories are greatly influenced and depends upon soil and land management [30]. This study focuses on SLM and yet is always conscious of socioeconomic sustainability as well.

METHODOLOGY

Study Area

The study area in the southern Bangladesh Nesarabad (Swarupkati) is one of the popular upazilas (subdistrict) of Pirojpur district. It occupies an area of 199.14 km2, with 124.6 km2 of cultivated area. It spreads between 22°44′N latitude and 90°06′E longitude (Figure 1), and it is bounded by Banaripara upazila on the north, Jhalokati sadar upazila on the east, Kawkhali upazila on the south, and Nazirpur upazila on the west (Figure 1). The mean annual maximum and minimum temperatures are 25.0°C and 10.9°C, respectively. The annual rainfall was 1,990 mm, and the humidity was 79.2% in 2011 [31] (Figure 1).

FIGURE 1.

Location of the study area.

FIGURE 1.

Location of the study area.

Site Selection

A multistage sampling process was applied to locate unique land management areas for this study; five villages (primary units) such as Mahamud-kathi, Khayer-kathi, Atghar, Kuriana, and Harihar-kathi were selected from 137 villages in the first stage. During continuing studies, every farm, guava garden, or other cultivable lands of a village adopted ridge and ditch technology. From each village, five sites (secondary unit) were selected as the actual sampling units. Ten to fifteen sites present in each village. We selected five sites as secondary units from each village. Therefore, more than 35–50% of sites in each village were sampled.

Survey

A preliminary survey was conducted to ascertain the important socioeconomic parameters of the study areas and to select the respondents for the detailed study. A structured questionnaire was pretested, and after this preliminary survey the socioeconomic parameters of potential value were chosen and cross-checked. The survey was conducted in the selected villages on May 20, 2017. Based on the information from that study, a semi-structured questionnaire was developed and finalized. Information was collected between June 1, 2017, to July 25, 2017. The final survey was completed with the participation of site owners, land users, and experts with expertise on various crop cultivation activities who were familiar with the land management strategy of each selected site. The replies open questions revealed information about various cultivation procedures, land management, sustainability indicators, limitations, etc.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Technology Process

This cultivation process was developed by converting large area of swampy land into ridge and ditch areas. Ridges were elevated beds 4–6 ft high from surface and 7–9 ft wide. The length of each bed is variable according to the size of the land. In addition, ditches were canals 5–6 ft wide and deeper than the normal surface area (Figure 2). At the initial stage, elevated areas were not stable enough to start cultivating trees such as guava, plums, lemon, or other fruit plants. Therefore, they were used as nurseries of diversified plants, fruit trees such as banana and vegetables, or as seedbeds (rice). Several activities such as vegetative cover, organic matter recycling, soil surface conservation by minimum tillage, cultivation mixed cropping, etc. (agronomic and management measures) are conducted every year to develop the ridges and make them stable. After 4–5 years, the land becomes suitable for planting various trees such as guava hog plum, plums, lemons, areca nuts, and various timber-producing trees such as teak (Tectona grandis) and mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni). After approximately 7–8 years, the soil becomes appropriate for fruit trees as physical and biological conditions such as soil structure, drainage condition, water table stability, organic matter content, and vegetative cover of the sites improved. Then, land users start to cultivate various vegetables and other agricultural products on the ridges. Furthermore, some farmers establish platforms for creeper crops on the canals, which serve as support for pumpkins and gourds. Trees and vegetables are irrigated from ditches/canals, where water is collected over the year, even in the dry season. The ultimate results were increased biomass, reduced soil degradation, and increased soil fertility.

FIGURE 2.

Schematic illustration of SLM technology.

FIGURE 2.

Schematic illustration of SLM technology.

SLM Measures: The Constituents of the Technology, Ridge and Ditch System

Where the data were collected, it was observed that 100% cultivators or farmers used these kinds of technology. The technology was adopted easily by the people because of its potential and sustainability. About 47% of farmers have their own land to cultivate, and 35% of farmers lease the land from owners on a cropping season or annual basis. Other farmers work as expert labors. The ridge and ditch technique utilizes a combination of SLM measures, including structural (reshaping of the surface), which is the main technique applied on farms and vegetative, agronomic, and management measures; all of which together increase the site’s potential over time.

Structural Measures

Structural measures, either permanent or long term, often required substantial inputs of labor in the initial implementation. In the swampy land where the technology of ridge and ditch system was used, the whole area was reshaped. Before the adoption of this structural shape, stagnant water remained for at least 3 months every year, which was the main constraint in crop cultivation. Ridges were vertically high enough (1–2 ft from water level) to be free from stagnant water year-round and provided enough space for crop cultivation. Additionally, they also provide shelter for nursery plants. Seedling and saplings are very sensitive [32] and require well-nourished, more favorable conditions. Cultivable ridges presented a landscape with good drainage, uniform moisture content, and adequate organic matter for nursery plants. About 5% of the land was used to produce nursery plants, which met the local and national demand. Furthermore, ditches conveyed water during the year and retained a high water table, limiting water demand and increasing crop performance stability. Seventy-eight percent of lands did not need any irrigation, because it did not increase guava yields [33]. A low lift pump (LLP) or hand pulling system draws water from nearby ditches or other channels onsite for use in crop establishment. Channels or waterways were also used for crop harvesting. Mini boats (Dinghies) drove through the channel to harvest crops and carry them to market.

Vegetative Measures

Vegetative measures generally involved using perennial shrubs and trees. About 88% of cultivated lands were covered by crops such as guava, hog plum, lemon, papaya, and wood-producing trees. Sixty percent of the land was cultivated in guava, a perennial single crop. Perennial mixed crops such as lemon, papaya, and plum were grown on about 10% of the land. Vegetative measures helped by stabilizing the soil and reducing erosional impacts. During the initial period of technology establishment, herb, vegetables, and nursery plants, along with shrub vegetation were planted. After 3–4 years, cultivable ridges became stable enough to produce all types of crops. Gradually, the guava monocrop was replaced by mixed crop cultivation. In the beginning of the implementation of the technology, most of the land was used for guava cultivation. People have changed their land use system in order to maximize their income; however, most of the land still occupied with guava (Table 1).

Agronomic Measures

Agronomic measures were usually associated with annual cycles. They repeated routinely each season or in rotational sequences. Active maintenance such as compost application, mixed vegetable cultivation, and using minimum tillage was conducted each year. Residues from crop plants and weeds were accumulated in ditches throughout the year. In the dry season, the farmers moved decomposed organic residue from the ditch to ridge. These management activities helped to conserve soil fertility, suppress weeds, recycle nitrogen and carbon, and provide good tilth, thus enabling farmers to use minimum tillage in their operations. Soil fertility was high with organic matter content up to 13.20%. Most of the land did not require any fertilizer. They typically applied 100–150 kg/ha of chemical fertilizer in vegetable-producing farms.

Management Measures

Management measures involved a fundamental change in land use, which often resulted in improved vegetation growth. There was a large afforestation effort, using fruit and woody plants to mimic forest ecosystem. In addition to products, this type of afforestation has been shown to assuage annual greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) and increase organic carbon stocks, while reducing salinity in coastal area [3436]. About 88% of the cultivated land is covered with shrubs and trees, and it is an entirely man-made phenomenon. Waste material from every farm was commonly organic. These waste materials were usually accumulated in the ditches. Land users reuse and recycle them in the form of compost as a natural method of waste management (Table 1).

TABLE 1.

Sustainable land management measures related to the ridge and ditch system technology

Types of measureSubcategoriesExamplesFarm numberPercentageCommentsObjectives
Structural measure Graded ditches, channels, waterways waterway to convey water 25 100 Users graded ditch one bed (cultivable ridge) after another sequentially. Ditch conveyed water during the year and ridge remained free from stagnant water Improve drainage condition, remain water table stable 
 Shelters for plants Shelter for planting nurseries Several sites producing seedlings that contribute remarkably to countrywide demand Improve soil structure, covering soil 
 Energy-saving measures Conserve enough water and reduce irrigation demand 17 68 Ditches conserve enough amount of water and keep water table high in dry season Limit water demand, increase crop performance stability 
 Others Reshaping of surface 25 100 Whole swampy land transformed into cultivable by reshaping into ridges and ditches Improve soil structure, produce high-income cash crop 
Vegetative measure Tree cover Agroforestry 22 88 Most of the cultivable land covered with shrub and trees (guava, plum, lemon, and various wood-producing trees) Cover soil, host biodiversity 
 Replacement Cutting of undesired/unprofitable trees 28 Guava is being replaced by lemon, plum, papaya, banana, and various vegetables day by day Increase vegetative diversity, limit pest and disease pressure 
Agronomic measure Organic matter Conservation agriculture, application of compost 25 100 Cultivation process conserved soil fertility and accumulated compost (waste product from plant and weeds) in channel which are put in cultivable area Improve soil structure, supply nitrogen (N), improve plant resources condition 
 Soil surface treatment Minimum tillage 21 84 The land is not usually plowed, maintenance actives such as put muck from channel to ridge make a good tilth Conserve soil, improve soil structure 
 Improve variety Production of seedlings and sapling, production of improved variety 10 40 Seedlings from this area fulfill noticeable countrywide demand. Farmers also used local improved variety of fruits from long time ago and conserve it uniformity Favor to supply better quality seedlings, Increase crop performance stability 
 Vegetation Mixed cropping 12 Papaya, banana, plum, and various vegetables cultivated in combination Limit pest and diseases pressure, Increase crop performance stability 
Management measure Change land use type Change from wetland to cropland, afforestation 25 100 Huge afforestation by planting fruits and wood-producing crops Mimic forest ecosystems, produce high-income cash crops 
 Waste management Reuse compost material from ditch 25 100 Reuse plant and weeds waste as compost and organic manure Control weeds, Recycle N 
Types of measureSubcategoriesExamplesFarm numberPercentageCommentsObjectives
Structural measure Graded ditches, channels, waterways waterway to convey water 25 100 Users graded ditch one bed (cultivable ridge) after another sequentially. Ditch conveyed water during the year and ridge remained free from stagnant water Improve drainage condition, remain water table stable 
 Shelters for plants Shelter for planting nurseries Several sites producing seedlings that contribute remarkably to countrywide demand Improve soil structure, covering soil 
 Energy-saving measures Conserve enough water and reduce irrigation demand 17 68 Ditches conserve enough amount of water and keep water table high in dry season Limit water demand, increase crop performance stability 
 Others Reshaping of surface 25 100 Whole swampy land transformed into cultivable by reshaping into ridges and ditches Improve soil structure, produce high-income cash crop 
Vegetative measure Tree cover Agroforestry 22 88 Most of the cultivable land covered with shrub and trees (guava, plum, lemon, and various wood-producing trees) Cover soil, host biodiversity 
 Replacement Cutting of undesired/unprofitable trees 28 Guava is being replaced by lemon, plum, papaya, banana, and various vegetables day by day Increase vegetative diversity, limit pest and disease pressure 
Agronomic measure Organic matter Conservation agriculture, application of compost 25 100 Cultivation process conserved soil fertility and accumulated compost (waste product from plant and weeds) in channel which are put in cultivable area Improve soil structure, supply nitrogen (N), improve plant resources condition 
 Soil surface treatment Minimum tillage 21 84 The land is not usually plowed, maintenance actives such as put muck from channel to ridge make a good tilth Conserve soil, improve soil structure 
 Improve variety Production of seedlings and sapling, production of improved variety 10 40 Seedlings from this area fulfill noticeable countrywide demand. Farmers also used local improved variety of fruits from long time ago and conserve it uniformity Favor to supply better quality seedlings, Increase crop performance stability 
 Vegetation Mixed cropping 12 Papaya, banana, plum, and various vegetables cultivated in combination Limit pest and diseases pressure, Increase crop performance stability 
Management measure Change land use type Change from wetland to cropland, afforestation 25 100 Huge afforestation by planting fruits and wood-producing crops Mimic forest ecosystems, produce high-income cash crops 
 Waste management Reuse compost material from ditch 25 100 Reuse plant and weeds waste as compost and organic manure Control weeds, Recycle N 

Cost-Benefit Estimation

The technology of ridge and ditch system has made a great positive change in the socioeconomic condition of the area. Approximately 95% of the people are connected with that technology. Most of them are farmers cultivating crops such as fruits, vegetable, seedlings, and woods. Correctly, not only farmers but also a large portion of the general population are interacting with that technology, and their lifestyles have changed. Many people are now working in manufacture nursery products such as seedling bags, earthen pots, creeping materials such as bamboo, string, yarn, net, seedling, and other products for use in plant nurseries, fruit garden, and mixed agroforest. Other people work to transport products from the area to the consumers, and some people work to manufacture vehicles such as boats and local vans. Local communities have even developed the largest floating market of Bangladesh.

Most of the observed study areas were farms greater than 1 ha, but some vegetable-producing sites were comparatively smaller. Production on guava-producing sites was markedly higher than similar area in other region with total yield of about 480 USD/ha. Moreover, mixed crops provided comparatively high yield of more than 840 USD/ha. Although wood-producing sites were more profitable with lower investment, they required a great deal of time to recuperate costs. The majority of financial investment went to establishment procedures and management activity costs. About 1,600 USD/ha was required in the installation of the technology, which is quite difficult to raise. These costs were mainly carried by the land owners. Farmers who leased only had to carry rental money of about 120 USD/year/ha (Table 2). Skilled labor was expert worker used for fruit or crop harvesting, fertilizer application, irrigation, seed sowing, tillage, and weeding. Chemical fertilizers (urea, Triple Super Phosphate (TSP), Murate of Potash (MoP), Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) were used mainly in vegetable-growing sites and cost about 90 USD.

TABLE 2.

Value of sites (farm): size, income, expenditure, and savings of surveyed farm by group of farmers in the study area

Specifications of input and outputUnitsSingle crop (guava)Guava and hug plumMixed crop (vegetable, guava, hug plum, banana, papaya, lemon, etc.)Wood-producing plant and seedling-producing sites
Area of each site ha 1–3 0.5–2 0.25–1 0.25–2 
Production per year t/ha >2.0 1.5–2.5 1.5–2.0  
Yield per year USD/ha 480 600–840 >840 ≥540 
Cost per year USD/ha <300 360–420 420–480 <240 
Skilled labor required Person/ha 50 50 70 20–50 
Fertilizer kg/ha N/A >90 100–150 N/A 
Management cost USD/ha ≥180 ≥180 ≥240 >180 
Irrigation cost/ha USD/ha N/A N/A 6–12 N/A 
Specifications of input and outputUnitsSingle crop (guava)Guava and hug plumMixed crop (vegetable, guava, hug plum, banana, papaya, lemon, etc.)Wood-producing plant and seedling-producing sites
Area of each site ha 1–3 0.5–2 0.25–1 0.25–2 
Production per year t/ha >2.0 1.5–2.5 1.5–2.0  
Yield per year USD/ha 480 600–840 >840 ≥540 
Cost per year USD/ha <300 360–420 420–480 <240 
Skilled labor required Person/ha 50 50 70 20–50 
Fertilizer kg/ha N/A >90 100–150 N/A 
Management cost USD/ha ≥180 ≥180 ≥240 >180 
Irrigation cost/ha USD/ha N/A N/A 6–12 N/A 

Note: Cost per year includes management, irrigation, and management cost, but it does not include rental money.

The water supply in the cultivation process can be considered as rain fed but an irrigation program may be applied usually only in Robi (dry) cultivated season. If the size of the site is comparatively smaller, the cost per hectare in irrigation is greater. This ridge and ditch technique remains sustainable from the socioeconomic perspective. Moreover, socioeconomic sustainability may have a positive relationship with the conventional crops [37]. Local communities are gradually changing cropping varieties and production systems according to the demand or profitability to make their strategies more economically profitable.

Major Challenges and Obstacles of the Technology

There are some challenges to overcome during the establishment and continuation of the ridge and ditch system technique. One of the major limitations is technology establishment cost or initial investment. Initial establishment of the ridge and ditch system required about 1,500 USD/ha, and agronomic and management measures required about 100 USD/ha. In total, owners were required to pay1,600 USD/ha, which is a substantial obstacle. Nongovernmental agencies such as BRAC (an international development organisation based in Bangladesh), ASA (Association for Social Advancement) (Non-profit, self-sufficient microfinance institution), and Grameen Bank provide micro-credit loans with higher-level interest, which is very onerous for farmers. Root-level peasants cannot afford that expense. Fertilizers and pesticides are available here, but prices are comparatively higher, and they are applied by the traditional broadcast method. Furthermore, land users have a limited perception about the appropriate materials. Skilled labors are available, but in the growing season, their demand becomes high, and the cost per laborer is increased. Local governmental and nongovernmental agencies do not provide enough financial loan, insurance, or infrastructural supports. In addition, experts such as scientists and agricultural researchers rarely share valuable information about land management systems with farmers and landowners.

Furthermore, limitations in marketing are a big problem in this study area. There are limited market places, so people have to sell their product in local markets to brokers or traders who send them to larger markets. Locally, there is only a floating market, which opens in early morning and closes early. If farmers are not able to present their product in time, their goods remain unsold. Transportation is the most important obstacle in this area. People mainly use waterway to transport their goods. These routes are not large and deep enough to allow entry for bigger vehicles. During the dry season, people have to use road transport systems which are not developed enough (Figure 3). Fortunately, natural calamities such as floods, salinity, riverbank erosion, and other types of erosion do not usually lead to remarkable damage on land cultivated with this technology; however, in the dry season, drought may reduce crop production. If farmers can supply water for irrigation from ditches in time, this problem will be reduced.

FIGURE 3.

Images of several state of the ridge and ditch technology in the study area. A) Fruit collection by using a boat. B) Sites without proper management measure. C) Precise management measure to stabilize the ridge. D) Labor work to stabilize ridge and ditch as well as input nutrient from the ditch to crops. E) Derive management measure (reuse compost material from ditch) after collecting fruits during dry season.

FIGURE 3.

Images of several state of the ridge and ditch technology in the study area. A) Fruit collection by using a boat. B) Sites without proper management measure. C) Precise management measure to stabilize the ridge. D) Labor work to stabilize ridge and ditch as well as input nutrient from the ditch to crops. E) Derive management measure (reuse compost material from ditch) after collecting fruits during dry season.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION

Ridge and ditch system technology is an important component for agricultural, socioeconomic, and environmental sectors of the southern part of Bangladesh. This technology not only provides a vast amount of cultivable land but also continuously sustains the regional environmental and socioeconomic condition through productive agroforestry and vegetation. The number of people in SLM is increasing daily, and conversion of swampy land into ridge and ditch technology is spreading very quickly as land resources are interconnected with regional environmental and economic progress. This technology is also diversifying sources of income and providing employment opportunities for poor people. People’s economic conditions have changed, and they are deeply concerned about their land, and limitations such as marketing, transportation, and establishment cost are the major obstacles to operating this technology in full form. However, those limitations can be overcome by the following recommendations: (1) improving infrastructure by reconstructing the roads and waterways, (2) developing potential markets with excellent marketing strategy, (3) increasing support from governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and (4) reconnecting the creeks with main river streams for drainage and navigation.

More research, documenting, exploring, and correlating farmer’s traditional knowledge with scientific technology, could easily improve SLM. It might be an eye-catching opportunity to adopt this technology in other swampy areas of Bangladesh, assess the potential of these land management practices, and to expand cooperation to support related conservation measures and practices.

CASE STUDY QUESTIONS

  1. Describe how this case is about social and economic sustainability in the face of population growth and climate change.

  2. Conduct background research on climate change impacts to Bangladesh. What are the limits and/or drawbacks to the agricultural approaches presented in the case as they pertain to sustaining agricultural practices with sea-level rise?

  3. What are the strategies for addressing the farm to market challenge facing farmers in this region, improving their economic sustainability?

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

Rahatul Islam contributed to initial case study plan, site selection, data collection, manuscript writing, analysis, graphical files, figure preparation, contact with publisher, submitting, and other formalities. Donia Jendoubi contributed to manuscript writing, analysis, and data correction and assessed the findings. Jalal Uddin Md. Shoaib contributed to site selection, case study plan, and manuscript writing. Wendy Peterman identified grammatical errors and made writing quality better. Sayeda Sabrina Ali contributed to data collection.

We wish to express our profound thankfulness to contributor (site owner, land user, and skilled labor) for their cooperation. The authors also give special thanks to Dr. Sayma Akhter, Dr. Rima Mekdaschi Studer, and Mr. Abu Hassan for their valuable suggestions.

COMPETING INTERESTS

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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