In Bangladesh, various studies suggest that by 2050, worsening soil salinity could cut production of high-yielding rice varieties by 15.6% in coastal areas, while total rice production could fall by 17% due to overall climate impacts.

Earlier this month, in the Pankhali area of Khulna, farmers were testing the salinity level of the soil and water with an EC metre – provided by the Dutch development organisation Cordaid – with the devices helping them to choose the right crops to grow.

More broadly, Cordaid said it works with 10,000-odd farmers in 15 districts to adopt salt-tolerant varieties of seeds of vegetables including bottle gourd, pumpkin or red beet.

“We try to support coastal farmers, from finding the right seeds to getting their produce to the market so that they get a proper price,” said Razibul Kader, a coordinator at Cordaid.

One such farmer is Josna Ray, 30, who has adopted the sorjan farming method, which involves planting vegetables on elevated ridges around an area that stores rainwater for the dry season.

During the dry spells, Ray uses earthen pitchers to drip rainwater brought from reservoirs into the soil without wasting it, and uses manure as well as gypsum, a cheap fertiliser that enriches soil quality and helps bring down the salinity level.

“The fallow lands are now filled with veggies,” she said, showing off her crops from beans and bitter melons to malabar spinach, which she sells to local traders. “The added income helps us run my six-member family and send our kids to school.”

Ray supplements her earnings with four cows and a few sheep.

“I also used to rear goats, but I abandoned goat-rearing as they easily get sick in a hot, humid, saline climate,” she said.

Cordaid representatives said water management techniques such as the sorjan method could enable farmers to be more efficient and save some water to help sustain their livestock.

Water scarcity, salinity, farming methods and animal-rearing must be considered in tandem rather than individually, while the impact of accelerating urbanisation on agriculture cannot be overlooked, said NGOs and researchers working on these issues.

“We have to balance the various interests of growing food for people, fodder for animals, as well as the growth of cities,” said Catharien Terwisscha van Scheltinga, a senior researcher at the Wageningen University and Research Centre.

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