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Organic sack gardening in Bangladesh

By growing different vegetables, Ainob Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money (© FIVDB)
By growing different vegetables, Ainob Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money

Living in Vabanipur village in Bangladesh's Malulavi Bazaar District, Ainob Bibi has struggled to feed her four children. Without land, and living close to Hakaluki Haor - a large wetland area in eastern Bangladesh that is flooded for five to six months of the year - Bibi could not grow vegetables or other crops. After hearing about a new 'sack gardening' technology from the NGO Friends in Village Development Bangladesh (FIVDB), Bibi started with five sacks containing green spinach seedlings. After only 20 days she harvested six kilos, harvesting another five kilos a week later. Today she also grows naga chilli, which she can sell. By growing different vegetables, Bibi is able to supply her own family and earn money. As a result, a number of her neighbours have also taken up the practice.

Maximising space

Vegetables are an essential source of nutrition for a sound and healthy body, but in Bangladesh two out of every three children born are underweight due to malnutrition; millions also suffer from night blindness, each year vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affecting 300,000 people. Malnutrition also reduces a person's ability to do sustained work. In Kenya and Uganda, the French NGO Solidarités developed 'sack gardening' where tall, earth-filled sacks sprout kale, spinach, herbs and onions from the tops and sides. In 2010, with help from Solidarités, the 'garden-in-a-sack' concept was introduced in Sylhet, Maulvi Bazar, Brahmanbaria and Dhaka districts by FIVDB.

In Bangladesh, most poor people, like Bibi, don't have enough land to cultivate vegetables conventionally. Sack gardening does not require much space and vegetables can be grown according to demand and taste. The bags are also easy to move, which is important for families living on 'char' lands (flood prone areas) and riverbanks, who are often forced to move as villages are inundated.

Sack gardening does not require much space (© FIVDB)
Sack gardening does not require much space

Costing roughly US$3 to prepare each sack, FIVDB has calculated that to guarantee a regular supply of vegetables for a household of four to five people, eight to ten sacks are required. FIVDB found that short-cycle, indigenous, leafy vegetables such as amaranth, kangkong (water spinach) and Indian spinach grew well, particularly in the sides of the sack, with very few disease problems. The leafy vegetables are very nutritious and are an important contributor to household food security. Another benefit is that these vegetables are grown without the use of any inorganic fertilisers. In contrast, chemicals are often used on fruit and vegetables during transport and storage, while waste water is often used in urban markets to keep vegetables looking fresh.

Economic empowerment

In 2011, another woman, Parveen, began growing brinjal (aubergine), tomato and naga chilli in the top of her sacks and green spinach, kangkong and coriander leaf in the sides. With three sacks she found that she could eat vegetables at least once a week. In 2012, she had five sacks, enabling her to provide vegetables to her family two to three times a week. She was also able to sell some in the local market, earning 2,000 Taka (US$25). This additional income enabled her to cover some basic needs and contribute to her children's education. Parveen has now expanded her garden to seven sacks, which is the maximum she can fit in the land available to her.

In addition to enabling families to consume vegetables more regularly, sack gardening has also empowered women, who most often organise and take care of the gardens. Women are able to contribute to the economic stability of their families through increased income and make sure that their children consume nutritious food. It has also been found that households with sack gardens, who are saving money they would have spent purchasing vegetables, can afford to consume more vegetables than before.

Soil and seeds

Sack gardening has also empowered women, who most often organise and take care of the gardens (© FIVDB)
Sack gardening has also empowered women, who most often organise and take care of the gardens

The main challenges communities face in implementing sack gardening has been access to soil and seeds, and in haor (marshy) areas, which are frequently flooded, sack gardeners have to ensure that they collect enough soil before the rainy season. An additional constraint is that the average life-span of a sack is 9-12 months. Nutrients in the soil are also used up so production drops after a couple of months. To overcome this limitation, FIVDB is looking into the effectiveness of applying liquid fertilisers and exploring alternative low-cost bags that are more durable.

Around 500 households are now practising this technology, which is also becoming popular in urban areas. Mass media is playing an important role in disseminating information about the technology and the benefits of sack gardening on rooftops and in vacant spaces. FIVDB is working towards expanding the technology into other areas of Bangladesh, including slum areas in cities and in schools, to encourage children to become learn more about agriculture.

Written by: Dr Shaikh Tanveer Hossain, FIVDB

Date published: May 2013


Have your say

It is always appreciated when someone learns a technology fr... (posted by: Reazul Haque)

I am interested to know the protocol of the technology, mean... (posted by: Mahbubur Talukder)

Dr. Tanveer, thank you very much for the nice article. We kn... (posted by: Md. Jashim Uddin)

Off course, the technology was started in 2009 (research) in... (posted by: Dr. Shaikh Tanveer Hossain)


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