Bangladeshi farmers revive ancient hydroponics

Efforts to encourage a return to floating bed cultivation in the region began in 2017 through a government-run pilot project. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 November 2021

Bangladeshi farmers revive ancient hydroponics

DHAKA: In the lowlands of Bangladesh, where the changing climate brings floodwaters that remain for months, farmers are reviving an ancient form of hydroponics to stay afloat.
As the annual flood season is now twice longer than in the past, vast areas of Barisal region — the southern part of the country which lies in the Padma River Delta — are now submerged for more than half a year, making the traditional rice crop no longer a viable source of livelihood and employment.
Forced by climate change and encouraged by the government, thousands of farmers in the flood-prone region have turned to a centuries-old form of hydroponics, known as “floating gardens,” to reduce their financial exposure to extreme weather.
The “gardens” are artificial islands up to 35 meters long and 3.5 meters wide, made from weeds like water hyacinth. Farmers plant seedlings on the beds and float them into flooded parts of villages. The organic rafts last and bring yield for several months, rising and falling with the swelling floodwaters.
“The tradition of floating bed farming began around 250 years ago in the Barisal region,” Dolon Chandra Ray, agriculture officer of Agailjhara, Barisal district, told Arab News earlier this week.
But it was not widely used until several years ago, he said. The flood season used to peak between June and August, but with a changing climate, flash flooding now hits the region from May through November.
Efforts to encourage a return to floating bed cultivation in the region began in 2017 through a government-run pilot project, which provided farmers with training, seeds, pesticides and logistical support.
“Our target was to increase vegetable and spice production up to 10 percent in the region and we have already achieved this target,” Bibekananda Hira, monitoring evaluation officer of the project, said.
“About 25,000 farmers in 24 districts received our training,” he added. “The government is now planning to expand the program.”
Some 2,000 hectares are now used for floating bed cultivation, with farmers growing vegetables such as pumpkins, tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, bitter gourd and beans, as well as various spices like chili, turmeric and coriander.
For many of those who do not own land, the method offers incomes they would never have dreamed of otherwise.
“Landowners don’t ask for any charges for this because we keep the land clean ... and it helps the landowners to grow rice when the water recedes,” Obaidul Mollah, a farmer in Barisal, said.
Tending to six floating gardens earns him about $1,500 over the course of the flood season.
“It costs me about $70 from the preparation to production of crops on a floating bed, and with the produce I earn about $200 from each bed every four to six weeks, depending on the crops,” Mollah said.
The revival of the ancient cultivation method has made a great difference to the lives of farmers like Nurul Islam from nearby Pirojpur district.
“This floating bed farming has made our lives easier since we don’t have any other option to earn a living during the flood season,” he said. “Now, we can earn and maintain the family and also spend on the education of our children.”
As the impacts of climate change are unlikely to abate, the ancient form of hydroponics may be there to stay, offering a sustainable solution to traditional rice farming in the country’s flood zones.
“In the last two years, the country has faced flooding three times per year, which is one of the impacts of climate change causing huge environmental hazards for Bangladesh,” Dr. Atik Rahman, climate scientist and executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies, told Arab News.
“Floating gardens have become a sustainable way out for the farmers in the flood-prone areas,” he said. “It’s helping the nation also in maintaining food supplies for about 170 million people.”

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Mozambique declares polio outbreak linked to Pakistan

Updated 18 May 2022

Mozambique declares polio outbreak linked to Pakistan

  • The case in Mozambique is the second imported case of polio in southern Africa this year
  • Sequencing indicates the case is linked to a strain of polio spreading in Pakistan in 2019 

JOHANNESBURG: Health authorities in Mozambique declared a polio outbreak Wednesday after confirming that a child in the country’s northeastern Tete province had been paralyzed by the disease.

The case in Mozambique is the second imported case of polio in southern Africa this year, following a case discovered in Malawi in mid-February. It’s the first case of wild polio in Mozambique since 1992, although cases linked to a mutated virus from the oral vaccine were detected in 2019.

The latest case in Mozambique was found in a child who experienced signs of paralysis in late March, according to a statement issued by the World Health Organization.

Sequencing indicates that the case in Mozambique is linked to a strain of polio spreading in Pakistan in 2019, similar to the case reported in Malawi earlier this year.

WHO declared Africa free of the wild polio virus in August 2020 even though numerous countries across the continent have reported outbreaks linked to the vaccine in recent years. There is no difference between the disease caused by the wild virus or the mutated virus from the vaccine.

“The detection of another case of wild poliovirus in Africa is greatly concerning, even if it’s unsurprising given the recent outbreak in Malawi. However, it shows how dangerous this virus is and how quickly it can spread,” said Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Africa director.

In response to the case in neighboring Malawi, Mozambique recently carried out two mass vaccination campaigns in which 4.2 million children were vaccinated against the disease, said WHO.

Disease surveillance is being strengthened in five countries: Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Vaccination campaigns in the coming weeks are planned to reach 23 million children aged five years and below.

Polio is highly infectious, spread mostly via water and largely affects children younger than five years. There is no cure for polio, and it can only be prevented by immunization. WHO and its partners began an effort to eradicate polio globally in 1988 and have missed numerous deadlines to wipe out the disease. 


Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

Updated 18 May 2022

Swiss woman indicted over ‘extremist knife attack’

  • The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano
  • She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups

GENEVA: Swiss prosecutors said Wednesday they had indicted a woman for attempted murder on behalf of Daesh group over a brutal knife attack in November 2020.
The 29-year-old unnamed woman allegedly attacked two women in a department store in the southern city of Lugano.
She has been charged with attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, Daesh and related groups, according to the indictment. She was also charged with unlawful prostitution.
The attorney general’s office said the indictment related to an ‘extremist knife attack’ and the alleged assailant, a Swiss citizen, “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of Daesh.”
“The suspect acted willfully and with particular ruthlessness. She brutally attacked her randomly-selected victims with a knife, with the aim of killing them and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Daesh’,” it said.
One of the two victims sustained serious neck injuries while the second victim, with help from others at the scene, managed to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.
The attacker was arrested and detained.
Police quickly discovered she had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.
The woman had formed a relationship on social media with an extremist fighter in Syria and attempted to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, police alleged at the time.
She was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, they said, adding that the woman had suffered from mental health problems and been admitted to a psychiatric clinic.


Hindu groups file fresh petitions to stop Muslims from entering historic Indian mosque

Updated 18 May 2022

Hindu groups file fresh petitions to stop Muslims from entering historic Indian mosque

  • Hindus say court should decide on plea to approve looking for Hindu relics in 17th century mosque
  • Muslims vow to fight legal battles against Hindu groups disrupting sanctity of mosques and tombs

LUCKNOW: Members of hard-line Hindu groups filed petitions in a court in northern India to stop Muslims from entering a historic mosque, until the court decides on an earlier plea seeking approval to look for any Hindu relics which may be on the site, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Judges of a local court in Mathura, a Hindu religious town in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, allowed the new petitions but have yet start hearings in the 2020 case aimed at securing permission to film and survey inside the 17th century Shahi Eidgah mosque.

“We suspect that Hindu symbols could be removed inside Shahi Eidgah mosque so we want the court to suspend entry of Muslims,” said Mahendra Pratap, a lawyer involved in the case.

This month, another local court in the state allowed a team to inspect and film inside one of the most prominent mosques in Varanasi, an ancient town, also the political constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Tuesday, the country’s top court overturned a ruling imposed by a Varanasi court to limit large Muslim prayer gatherings in the Gyanvapsi mosque, but allowed the local court to continue proceedings. read more

Members of hard-line Hindu groups tied to Modi’s party believe that Islamic invaders destroyed Hindu temples during their 200-year rule.

“We believe that idols of Hindu gods were lying inside the mosque built after a temple was destroyed by Muslim rulers to prove supremacy,” said Ranjana Agnihotri, a lawyer appearing on behalf of Hindu groups questioning the legitimacy of the Shahi Eidgah mosque in Mathura.

Surveyors involved in the Varanasi case said they found a large relic of the Hindu god Shiva inside the Gyanvapsi mosque, but Muslim groups said that a fountainhead was being misrepresented to stir religious tension.

Reports of idols found inside the mosque have further emboldened Hindu groups in western and southern states to demand searches in other mosques.

Police in Aurangabad city said they had intensified security around the grave of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb after members of MNS, a regional political party, threatened to destroy the tomb, which they believe was anti-Hindu.

The same party recently succeeded in forcing the Maharashtra government to ensure the decibel levels of the Muslim prayer calls were lowered after its leaders threatened to chant Hindu prayers outside mosques. read more

Leaders of Muslim political and religious groups said they will fight legal battles against Hindu groups disrupting the sanctity of mosques and tombs.

“We (Muslims) will not let Hindus insult our faith and our mosques,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a federal lawmaker and leader of a regional Islamic political party.


Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India

Updated 18 May 2022

Wall collapse at salt factory kills 12 in west India

  • The workers stocking salt in bags were found buried in the wall debris in the factory
  • The injuries of 13 workers, mostly fractured bones, were not life-threatening

NEW DELHI: A wall collapsed in a salt packaging factory in western India on Wednesday, killing at least 12 workers and injuring another 13, a government administrator said.
The workers stocking salt in bags were found buried in the wall debris in the factory in Morbi district, 215 kilometers (135 miles) west of Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, said J.B. Patel, the district officer.
The injuries of 13 workers, mostly fractured bones, were not life-threatening, Patel said.
He also said that the rescue work was almost over. Other details were not immediately available.
Authorities are investigating the cause of the wall collapse.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the deaths as heart-rending. “In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover soon,” he said.
Building collapses are common in India as many of them are poorly constructed using sub-standard material. A building collapse in 2013 killed at least 72 people in Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital.


Afghanistan’s Taliban mediate cease-fire between Pakistan, local militants

Updated 18 May 2022

Afghanistan’s Taliban mediate cease-fire between Pakistan, local militants

  • A TTP statement confirmed that talks were underway in Kabul and that a cease-fire has been put in place will May 30

KABUL: The Taliban in Afghanistan have mediated a temporary cease-fire between Pakistan and a local Pakistani Taliban militant group following talks between the two sides in Kabul, an official said on Wednesday.
The Pakistani Taliban — known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — has carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007. It is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them.
“During the talks, in addition to significant progress on related issues, a temporary cease-fire was also agreed upon,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter, confirming the talks in Kabul.
Pakistan carried out a number of operations against the TTP, but, despite reducing the militant group’s footprint, it has not been able to fully stop attacks, which, in recent months, have begun to rise again along its western border.
A TTP statement on Wednesday also confirmed that talks were underway in Kabul and that a cease-fire has been put in place will May 30.
It was not clear who was representing Pakistan’s government in the talks. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman did not reply to Reuters’ request for comment.
Islamabad says the TTP have been able to find safe haven in Afghanistan over the years — a charge both the Taliban and the previous US-backed governments have denied.
Last year, the two sides had agreed to a cease-fire but talks failed. The talks, also held inside Afghanistan, broke down due to a disagreement over the release of TTP prisoners held by Pakistan, according to local media.
Pakistan is also currently dealing with a surge of attacks by separatist insurgents in its southwestern province of Balochistan, which also borders Afghanistan.

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