The inhabitants of 26 remote villages in Patuakhali have brought about a change in their lives by freeing a local canal from illegal grabbers.
Village elders united the villagers, engaged the local chief executive in their movement and freed the water body from encroachment. They also raised funds to build an embankment to channel the water for agriculture.
Earlier the men of the villages used to migrate to other parts of the country for their livelihood. They now have turned into being happy farmers as the canal provides them with irrigation facilities — an essential for farming.
More than 500 acres of land in about 26 villages have been brought under cultivation in Nilganj union this year, basically owing to the available irrigation from Jugirkhal, said Abdul Mannan, upazila agriculture officer.
The farmers said their village elders in 2005 took an initiative to free the 2.5-kilometre long canal from grabbers but could not succeed. In 2018, another initiative was taken to convince people about the importance of the water body.
"In that year, several hundred people from three villages gathered at a meeting to voice their protest against the local influential group that had been encroaching on the water body," said Zakir Gazi, an elderly villager.
"Influential families used to fish in different parts of the canal, barring the natural flow of the canal. The villagers could only cultivate Aman paddy in the monsoon as we did not have alternative sources for irrigation," said Zakir.
The villagers' movement in 2019 gathered pace when the new Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) joined the farmers. The demand for a freeing of the canal thus got louder.
In the wake of growing protests by the villagers and regular drives by the upazila administration, Jugirkhal was finally freed of encroachment.
But then another problem arose. The sluice gates of the canal, being worn out, let the tidal saline water into the croplands.
This time too the UNO came forward, making Tk25,000 available from governments fund for the construction of an embankment on the canal. The villagers also contributed as per their ability to build the embankment.
The construction of the embankment brought about a massive change in the agriculture of the villages. Nearly 500 acres of fallow land came under cultivation, as farmers have said.
They have cultivated watermelons, gourds, beans, tomatoes, cauliflowers, radishes, chilies and other vegetables on the land. Boro is also being cultivated on about 50 acres of land.
Nilganj union has gradually turned into a model for vegetable farming alongside its agricultural pursuits.
"I did not bother to try for jobs. I have instead taken up agriculture and cultivated vegetables and crops on my family land, said Hemayet Uddin, a masters examinee from Kumirmara village in the area.
Hemayet has also taken a lease of 10 decimals of land on which he has planted Bombay chillies. He hopes to earn Tk2 lakh from chilli cultivation.
Another villager, Liton Hawlader, said he used to go to Dhaka and Barisal in search of a livelihood. Now he is a share-cropper and cultivates vegetables.
The people in the union have achieved unprecedented success in agriculture after coming by irrigation facilities. Earlier the lands used to stay fallow, said Nasir Uddin Mahmud, chairman of Nilganj Union Parishad.
Kalapara Upazila Nirbahi Officer Munibur Rahman said, "The villagers have overcome serious adversities through their collective efforts. People in rural Bangladesh can change their socio-economic conditions if they unite, and the Nilganj villages are a glaring example of this."