Sagir Ahmad, a farmer from Chattogram's Banshkhali upazila, used to cultivate paddy and vegetables throughout the year on his 40 decimals of land. But after the 1990s there was an influx of salt water which increased the salinity of the soil, making the land barren. Sagir, like other farmers in the area, could do nothing with the land.
"This land became unsuitable for cultivation because of high salinity. Only salt could be collected from here after the winter. This land remains barren from the monsoon to the winter every year," said Sagir Ahmad.
But for the last three years, farmers have been cultivating salt-tolerant paddy on this land with some success.
The Banshkhali Upazila Agriculture Office says there is 2,080 hectares of salty land in Banshkhali. Among the unions in the upazila, Chanua has 1000 hectares, Puichari has 400 hectares, Shekherkhil 150 hectares, Gondamara 200 hectares, Sorol 180 hectares and Baharchara has 150 hectares of salty land. It is possible to cultivate paddy on this land during the Boro season, but at other times it only produces salt.
"I have cultivated salt-tolerant paddy on 80 decimals of lands. I got around four tonnes of paddy," said Abul Kalam, a farmer from Gondamara union.
The upazila agriculture office said that various varieties of salt-tolerant paddy are being cultivated on 1300 hectares of land in Banshkhali. The varieties include BRRI-47, BRRI-55, BRRI-67 and BINA-8, BINA-10. The yield has been around three to four and a half tonnes of paddy per hectare.
Abu Salek, an agriculture officer in Banskhali, said, "The land in Banshkhali is very salty because it is a coastal area. As a result, it is barren. The agriculture office initiated the cultivation of salt-tolerant varieties of paddy here."
"At first the farmers were not interested. They used to collect salt from the land. But later they were convinced and agreed to cultivate paddy. They had a good harvest this year with around 5,000 tonnes of paddy," he added.
Abu Salek said, "The farmers are hopeful now because of the high production. We will try to encourage other farmers to cultivate salt-tolerant paddy."
Nasir Uddin, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension's Chattogram office said, "Much of the land in Banskhali was uncultivable because of salinity. But we encouraged farmers to produce salt-tolerant paddy there. The farmers will benefit if they can improve the cultivation."
Abdur Rahman Rana, a climate and environment researcher, said, "We need to invent new ways to face the challenges of climate change. That's why innovation in agriculture is necessary."