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Agro economy of coastal Bangladesh: The geomorphology


The prosperity of a nation or a region depends on how the gifts of nature are utilised. Economic and social order of any region, as history suggests, is shaped by the natural endowments which might not be always favorable or human friendly. Economics deals with production apart from other factors, which thus can not ignore the nature. Natural features are relatively more significant for agricultural activities. In a sense, they are prerequisite for agricultural activities of any region or country, the nature and types of agricultural sector and its development are highly sensitive to (natural) geographical condition of the region. By agriculture, we generally mean crop sector, needless to add crop cultivation activities are dictated by geographical factors. It has not been possible to grow tea or apple in coastal region profitably.

The coastal area of Bangladesh is complex delta of vast network of river systems comprising the mighty Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. In general, the river systems have their origin in India –the Ganges from the Himalayas and the Brahmaputra from Khashi Jayantia hills in the northeast of the country.

While flowing through Bangladesh on their way to the Bay of Bengal, these rivers carry an estimated annual sediment load of about 2.5 million tonnes. These sediments are subjected to coastal dynamic process and lead to recreation and erosion in the coastal area of Bangladesh. This complex geographical phenomenon introduces slow mutative changes in coastal region of Bangladesh; of various effects, new land formation is a significant factor in influencing socio-economic scenario of the coastal zone.

The Ganges river system originating from northwest of the country influences the southeastern part of the coastal zone from the southwestern borderdistricts of Khulna, Bagerhat, Pirojpur, Barisal and Patuakhali and part of Barisal in the middle of coastal line. The Brahmaputra and Meghna, on the other hand, influences coastal districts of Noakhali, Bhola and parts of Patuakhali and Barisal, middle portion of coast, generally referred as south-central coast.

Coastal area is infested with vast network of rivers and estuaries. According of UN ESCAP, the morphology of the coastal region may be better described as ” a vast network of rivers, an enormous discharge of river water heavilyladen with sediments, both suspended and bed load, a large number of islands in between the channels, the Swatch of NO Ground (a submarine Canyon) running NE-SW partially across the continental shelf about 24 km south of the Bangladesh, a funnel-shaped and shallow northern Bay of Bengal, to the north of which the coastal area of Bangladesh is located, strong tidal and wind actions, and a tropical cyclones and their associated storm surges”.

Coastal environment and morphology are relatively less suitable for traditional field crop cultivation. Administration, therefore, with the primary objective to improve crop cultivation, undertook measures to control tidal flows which, has resulted in indiscriminate spread of shrimp culture and in the process, (soil and water) salinity has become an important environmental degrading parameter.

These factors are jointly operating in complicated way to bring about geomorphologic changes in the coastal belts of Bangladesh. Geomorphology of coastal region exhibits special variation, concern is more on variation in eastwest direction. On the basis of available information on geomorphologic variables e.g. land structure, soil salinity etc. The coast of Bangladesh may be, as has been, delineated into several homogenous region. It has more often been sub-divided into regions, namely South Eastern Region (SER), South Central Region (SCR) and South Western Region (SWR).

South Eastern Region (SER)

The South Eastern Region extends from the Feni River to Badar Mokam of the district of Cox’s Bazar. The SER is regular and unbroken and is protected (along) with sea coast by mud flats and submerged sands. A continuous strip of sand runs from Cox’s Bazar to Badar Mokam and forms a long beach.

The coastal districts of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar belong to this region. The Chittagong port is also situated in this part of the coast, which has helped urbanization of the region.

South Central Region (SCR)

This coastal area comprises Pirojpur , Jhalakathi, Barisal,. Barguna, Patuakhali, Bhola, Noakhali, Feni and Lakshmipur district . This region, in the eastwest direction, runs from the Feni to Baleswar river. Along with the mighty Meghna river, other important rivers of this region are Garai-Madhumati, Baleswar, Arail Khan, Kirtonkhalo-Bishkhali; Lohalia, Payra, Sobipur, Lata, Coacha, Shandhya etc. The sediments generated by these rivers together with tidal flows of the Bay of Bengal contribute to shape agricultural sector and more significantly, maintain the ecological balance of the zone.

The region is geographically most volatile. Sediments carried by the rivers and flood waters are primarily responsible, apart from cyclonic sea storms, for the formation of Chars (new land area) on the one hand and erosion of river banks on the other hand, which, in turn, causes (course) change of river flow. These are more or less continuous phenomena of this region. Much of the dynamic nature of this region is due to the fact that the three major rivers – the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna- have joined to form many estuaries.

The coastal line of this region is thus highly broken and consists of a series of islands (formed by sediment deposits). The funnel shaped apex of the Bay of Bengal in this region is relatively shallow and the rivers and channels flowing into the Bay change their course rapidly. Water system is complicated due to direction of river flow and tidal waters. In consequence, erosion and sedimentation pattern is different in nature from other coastal area. However, observation suggests that erosion generally occur on the eastern side and sedimentation along the western part. And over the years, this effect has resulted in the appearance of the larger islands in this area (Hatiya, Manpura, Shahbazpur, etc.) seeming to “bead” westward. The general circulation pattern is different in the north-eastern part of the Bay, however, where water in Hatiya and Sandwip channels flows directly south-east during outgoing tides. As a result, the erosion/sedimentation pattern for the islands in this area is different. In this area, erosion occurs on the northern side of the islands, while sediments are deposited along their southern edge. Hatiya and Sandip are two mentionable agricultural settlements but susceptible to cyclonic storms.

It is worth mentioning that Barisal and Patuakhali are surrounded by many canals. Agriculture of the region thrives on water supplied by the canals. For irrigation purpose, manmade natural canals locally known as Danga are immensely important. Canals are gradually silted up. Thus, availability of water (for irrigation) in dry season has considerably reduced. This phenomenon is also observed in Khulna region. Perhaps, silting of natural channels-canals is the major reason for poor performance of crop sector of Barisal and Patuakhali. It has been observed elsewhere that the Barisal, once famous for production of rice, performed unsatisfactorily compared to other coastal districts. Indeed, irrigating the distant crop fields has more or less been impossible.

South Western Region (SWR)

South western coastal region spreads between the rivers Baleswar in the east and Raimongal, Kalindi and Ichamoti of the country with India and consists of Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat. The world famous Sundarbans forest belongs to this region. Rivers of the zone are Rupsa, Pasur, Shibsha, Madhumati-Baleswar, Kobadak, Kholpetua, etc. River channels are deeper than other two coastal areas. Together with these deep rivers, numerous estuaries in and around the delta of the Ganges-Padma river are primary sources of sweet water.

The Ganges-Padma river system is responsible for maintaining agro-climatic and ecology of this zone. This region has normally been referred to as the Ganges-Padma flood plain, which is the coast line in general and transverse to the structure of the continental margin. Forest is much more abundant in this region as a matter of fact, world famous Sundarbans is situated in this coastal part of Bangladesh, which is again famous for containing the largest mangrove. The dense mangrove forests restrict the adverse effects of cyclone, and substantially help prevent erosion and accretion etc. Forest cover of the region has helped stability of this coastal belt.

The coastal area of Bangladesh is confluence of land, sea and atmosphere. Some changes in the geomorphologic parameters like soil salinity, water, salinity, water flow in rivers and estuaries are adversely affecting coastal agriculture. Rivers and canals, being the source of irrigation water, are not easily available in the coastal area which is surrounded by rivers and estuaries. Increase of soil and water salinity level is also mentionable in this respect. Extension or irrigation is questioned. Indeed, river water irrigation for augmenting productivity may not be

suitable option for coastal zone of Bangladesh. Statistics reveal that soil and water salinity are harmful for cropping and productivity, thus sustainability of agriculture is under threat in coastal zone. The natural calamities like cyclone and abnormal rainfall cause a hostile spell on the coastal agriculture. However, in this vulnerable natural situation, the coastal people are engaged in agriculture activities to maintain their livelihood.

Coastal belt of Bangladesh is one of the depressed regions of the nation. Despite having potentialities to accelerate growth, this region is lagging in many aspects. Primary reason for sluggish growth of coastal agriculture sector is the administrative negligence in making proper response to the agro-climatic factors of the coastal area. The importance of policy issues is needed in this respect.

Climate in coastal Bangladesh is not favorable for agricultural activities. On the other hand, it is natural that the coastal areas of Bangladesh suffer from infrastructure facilities in absence of adequate non-agricultural activities. Thus the development of coastal region and coastal agriculture are synonymous. Share of coastal belt in country’s total agricultural output has more or less, maintained harmony with its share in population and total cultivable area. Unfortunately, during the recent past, the share of coastal zone in country declined from around 24 to 23 percent due to poor performance of the sector.

It will be logical to relate such a picture with the differences in adoption of new agriculture technology across the country, particularly in coastal area. We will need to motivate the cultivators to adopt new agricultural technology with use of fertilizer and administrative measures in this direction.

Ecological balance and future sustainability are related with two significant factors of new agriculture technology — irrigation and use of chemical fertilizer. However, introduction and spread of irrigation-based new agriculture technology may not be beneficial for the coastal belt. Rather, it will bring disaster to field crop cultivation of the zone.


1 Comment

  1. awal sarker says:

    Thank you for the nice post. Coastal area of Bangladesh is very resourceful and the relevant authorities need appropriate steps for proper utilization of those resources. The coastal land use plan (plot by plot) could be the very initial options for identifying the potential of different coastal zone and can be use as baseline for future development.

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