IN: growing hydroponic vegetables on a floating island

Majuli is the largest river island in the world. Majuli, in the northeastern state of Assam, is a 553-sq-km island in the Brahmaputra River. Around 1,70,000 people belonging to 11 ethnic groups live on the island.

Irshad Ali, the sub-divisional agricultural officer for Majuli, said that around 9,270 hectares of land are cultivated on the island, with 31,420 people dependent on this for their livelihood. About 18% of Majuli was affected by flooding in 2017. In 2019, around 1,875 hectares of cropland were damaged due to floods.

In response, the South Asian Forum for Environment, a non-profit working to advance sustainable development, has introduced new methods to help people cope with the increasingly unstable climate. In 2017, it introduced floating agriculture in Majuli.

“Initially, we adopted a hydroponics method of farming that involved floating rafts for cultivation,” said Chiranjeet Chatterjee, the director of programs at South Asian Forum for Environment. Vegetables were grown in water-soaked, non-biodegradable sponge material on rafts made of bamboo. “Farmers were able to grow some vegetables, but it was not a long-term solution,” Chatterjee explained because the rafts tended to rot.

In April this year, South Asian Forum for Environment introduced rafts made of bamboo that are kept afloat using drums, “which are more durable”, Chatterjee said. Instead of growing plants in sponge beds, vegetables are now cultivated in grow bags on the rafts. These are filled with compost, coco peat, biochar, sawdust, and organic fertilizers.

As the platforms rise with the water level, flooding does not damage the produce grown on them. In conventional agriculture, crops are washed away or rot from being waterlogged during flooding.

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