Bangladesh – Farming and Fertility

Bangladesh is one of the most fertile areas on Earth, yet it is often plagued by natural disasters on a scale most of us cannot even imagine. For example, Hurricane Katrina was responsible for the deaths of nearly 2,000 people, yet the devastating Bhola Cyclone of 1970 killed roughly 250 times as many in Bangladesh. Cyclones, floods and droughts bring death and disease to the people of Bangladesh, yet they also bring life by renewing the fertility of the land. The Monsoon floods that cause the country’s rivers to overflow their banks spread rich and nutrient-packed soil over the low-lying islands that constitute the broad river deltas where most of Bangladesh’s crops are grown. To compare, the historic floods of the river Nile in Egypt allowed farmers to build one of earth’s first great civilizations, yet since the construction of the Aswan High Dam the floods have stopped and farming in the valley and delta of the Nile has become much less productive.

Bangladesh owes a significant portion of its land area to the actions of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. From time immemorial, these mighty rivers have brought silt down from the Himalayan highlands to the north as the spectacular mountains have slowly eroded. Over 70% of Bangladesh’s land is arable, meaning able to support farming and crops. It is the great fertility of the land and its warm, well-watered climate that continually attracts people, even after devastating floods and cyclones have wrought such great devastation. To the people of Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest and densely populated countries, the risks of farming are worth taking. These risks have become greater in recent years due to deforestation and the influences of global warming.

It is global warming that poses perhaps the greatest threat to Bangladesh and its long-suffering farmers. Reliable estimates indicate that should the worldwide sea level rise by 3 feet, Bangladesh will suffer the loss of about 10% of its land. The areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels are those fertile lowland islands bordering the Bay of Bengal where much rice farming is now conducted.