The groundwater level in Dinajpur, a district in the Rangpur division of northern Bangladesh, has been falling for several decades now, which has adversely impacted agriculture in the area, threatening the livelihood of farmers and fishermen in the district.
But, one rubber dam some 18 kilometres away from Dinajpur city has been a source of relief for many farmers for the last decade. The dam – Mohanpur Rubber Dam – was inaugurated on 22 October 2013 on the River Atrai between two upazilas, Sadar and Chirirbandar.
Iqbalur Rahim, a member of parliament (MP) and whip of parliament, was the initiator of the project. He believed the dam could make the lives of farmers in nearby areas considerably easier, and he was right.
For the past nine years, the rubber dam has helped many farmers produce more paddy, lowered their irrigation costs, and helped them cultivate other vegetables. The fishermen in the area have also benefited greatly from the abundant flow of water.
But that is not the case for countless other farmers across Dinajpur. According to the Department of Public Health Engineering, the groundwater level in Dinajpur falls three to six feet every year during the dry season. And, every five years, the level goes down practically for good, by one to two feet on average, down not only in the dry season, but also during the monsoon.
The department says the groundwater level in Dinajpur has dropped two to four feet in the last 10 years and the lower the level went, the higher the cost of irrigation, increasing by 6% to 8% in some places.
But for the past nine years, farmers of Sadar and Chirirbandarupazila have enjoyed some relief despite the declining groundwater level, thanks to the Mohanpur Rubber Dam.
According to the Dinajpur Agriculture Extension Department, about 1,000 hectares of land are currently benefiting from the dam and the dam has increased cultivation in the area by 10%. In other areas of Dinajpur, Boro paddy yield is six metric tons per hectare, but in the areas near the dam, it is 6.6 metric tons.
The dam has also made irrigation cost effective for farmers. Earlier, farmers had to spend Tk20,500 per hectare on irrigation, but now it is half that. Farmers only spend about Tk10,300 to Tk12,800 per hectare on irrigation, according to ASM Abu BakarSaiful Islam, deputy director (acting) of the Dinajpur Department of Agricultural Extension.
Ultimately, farmers cultivating the 1,000 hectares of land near the Mohanpur Rubber Dam end up saving more than Tk1 crore in production costs. And, the dam is not only good for Boro paddy but also helps with the farming of various other produce, including potatoes, tomato, and mustard.
On a recent visit to the area, The Business Standard spoke to some of the beneficiaries of the dam.
Dikritu Chandra Das, a farmer from Dakil village in Chirirbandarupazila, said, "We did not have any water in this river [Atrai] before but now, thanks to the dam, we can cultivate a lot of different vegetables and rice." He said the dam has improved both the quality and quantity of the crops.
Ainul Islam, a farmer in Bhabki village, said, "It used to cost around Tk4,000 to irrigate one bigha of land but now the dam provides enough water, and our irrigation cost has come down to Tk2,000-Tk2,500 per bigha of land."
Another farmer from Bhabki village, Jahidul Islam, said, "Before we had the dam, we had to use shallow tube well machines for irrigation and had to dig canals through the sand to reach water to the field but now, it has become much more convenient."
The dam is not only putting smiles on the faces of farmers, but fish production has also increased in the area due to the availability of water. The dam has created opportunities for fish farming in about a 10-kilometre area in the Atrai and Kakra rivers.
The fisheries officer for the district, Muktadir Khan, said fish production in the last few years has increased in the district as has the number of fishermen.
"In 2016, the district had some 11,057 fishermen which increased to 11,912 in 2021. And, in the FY2016-17, fish production in the district was 42,551 metric tons which increased to 56,965 metric tons in FY2019-20," he added. He said the demand for fish in the district is 62,000 metric tons so, even with the increased production, there is a scarcity.
"We have 12 fish sanctuaries and three rubber dams in the district and if more dams are set up, fish production will increase and there will be fewer endangered fish as well," he added.
Ratan Das of Mohanpur, who is a fisherman by profession, said even though there was hardly any fish in the river earlier, the situation has improved a lot now. "We get a good price for our fish at the market as demand for river fish is quite high," he added.
Another fisherman, Subir Kumar, said different types of fish, including Kakila, Pabda, Bourani, Banshpata, Gulsha, Kachki, and Gajal, thrive in the river now, among many other varieties.