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Toward sustainable water use for irrigation in Barind Tract, Rajshahi, northwest Bangladesh

Posted by: Clare Brandon

March 12, 2018

Water resources management with the support of government was on the agenda for the members of the Bangladesh Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP) team visiting the Barind Tract, Bangladesh in January 2018.

The team is working with water management authorities and end users to understand the availability and sustainability of groundwater for agricultural developments in the Barind region. The project work will enhance understanding of the water resources needed for the long-term food security of the region.

The Chairman of the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA), who is also an ex-member of parliament for the region, pledged the unreserved support of the BMDA for the SDIP Bangladesh project. Recommending that young engineers get involved in the project for training and knowledge transfer.

The CSIRO team met with the BMDA Chairman, Dr Akram H Chowdhury (2nd from the left) and Executive Director, Abdur Rashid (1st from the left)
The CSIRO team met with the BMDA Chairman, Dr Akram H Chowdhury (2nd from the left) and Executive Director, Abdur Rashid (1st from the left)

The CSIRO team met with over 20 senior engineers and agriculturists from the BMDA
The CSIRO team met with over 20 senior engineers and agriculturists from the BMDA

Barind Tract in northwest Bangladesh has about 532,000 hectares of suitable land for agricultural use but the area receives relatively less rainfall compared to other regions of Bangladesh. Therefore, groundwater has been used to compliment surface water irrigation since the inception of the Barind Multipurpose Development project in 1985.

Agricultural village of the Barind Tract, Bangladesh
Agricultural village of the Barind Tract, Bangladesh

The River Ganges: Water is pumped from the river into natural water courses to augment irrigation supply
The River Ganges: Water is pumped from the river into natural water courses to augment irrigation supply

Policy reforms, since the 1960s, that supported the use of groundwater for irrigation, resulted in nearly a three-fold increase in rice production. Since 1985 the BMDA have installed over 11,000 deep tube wells as well as re-activated around 4,000, meaning the total number of operating deep tubewells is around 15,000.

Under the umbrella of SDIP Phase 2 Bangladesh project, CSIRO has developed a partnership with the Institute of Water Modelling (IWM), BMDA, Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).

In this project we aim to identify sustainable water use to enhance agricultural productivity in northwest Bangladesh (Barind region). Preliminary analysis by the CSIRO team in conjunction with IWM and BMDA shows declining trends in groundwater level in parts of the Barind area.

To address this issue to some extent, the BMDA has established metering of groundwater extraction from their deep tube wells using a pre-paid water usage card.

Metering system for purchasing groundwater from the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority for crop irrigation
Metering system for purchasing groundwater from the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority for crop irrigation

Groundwater meter card for metering system for purchasing groundwater from the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority for crop irrigation
Groundwater meter card for metering system for purchasing groundwater from the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority for crop irrigation

Using the metering system farmers can purchase the volume of water required for irrigating at various stages of crop development.

Together with agricultural crop productivity research, the surface water and groundwater modelling teams from CSIRO, will provide data that can be used for quantifying the efficiency of irrigation water use and recommendations for improved irrigation practices and management strategies.

The data and models emerging from the CSIRO research will be available in an easy-to-use format using freely available and open source software that can accessed and applied for future modelling and scenario analysis by the BMDA and other stakeholders.

The chairman suggested that the research wing of the BMDA is keen to implement this as part of the transfer of knowledge from the CSIRO project.

This work is part of a portfolio (SDIP) of investments supported by the Australian Government addressing the regional challenges of water, food and energy security in South Asia.

About SDIP

The SDIP2 aims to improve the integrated management of water, energy and food in the Himalayan river basins, addressing climate risk and the interests of women and girls. It seeks to:

  • Strengthen practices for regional cooperation
  • Generate and use critical new knowledge to enhance regional cooperation
  • Improve regional enabling environment for private sector engagement.

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