Sustainability of Changing Agricultural Systems in the Coastal Zone of Bangladesh
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Transformations of the various agricultural systems have been taking place in the coastal zone of Bangladesh. While some farmers continue to follow traditional practices, in recent years, others have become involved in massive shrimp cultivation, shrimp-rice cultivation, a rice-based improved agricultural system or a shrimp-rice-vegetable integrated system. All these types of agriculture are being practiced under highly vulnerable environmental conditions. The long-term livelihood, food security and adaptation of the coastal people largely depend on the sustainability of these agricultural practices. In this context, assessing the level of sustainability is extremely important and will be essential for developing future policy options in Bangladesh. This study attempts to examine the sustainability of agricultural practices in the coastal region of Bangladesh. A field study was carried out in 2011 in five villages of five upazilas in the mature and active delta areas of the country. The data were collected through in-depth questionnaire surveys, focus groups discussions, field observation, key informants and secondary materials. A comprehensive suite of indicators was developed considering productivity, efficiency, stability, durability, compatibility and equity of the coastal agriculture. The categories and the indicators were weighted using Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) to measure the sustainability level of five study sites. The integrated agricultural system (shrimp-rice-vegetable) of Dumuria appeared to be the most sustainable system among agricultural practices, and other integrated systems (rice-based improved agricultural system) of Kalaroa were also found to show a good level of sustainability. The massive shrimp cultivation system of Shyamnagar and Kaliganj appears to be least sustainable. A traditional agriculture system with some improved methods followed in Bhola Sadar also performed in a satisfactory manner, but there were limitations in terms of its location in the active delta. The level of the sustainability measured in this study allows for a comparison among agricultural practices of the five study sites. The information generated from the study may be used in formulating policies for this part of the country. Measuring agricultural sustainability in this way produces a useful summary of sustainability issues and also provides some vital learning experiences. A holistic and interdisciplinary approach is attempted in this study for assessing and comparing the sustainability level of coastal agricultural systems. It has the potential to become useful as one of the frameworks for sustainability assessment.