Sustaining Rice Productivity, Soil Fertility, and Income from Prawn-Rice Joint Culture in the Gher System in Bangladesh

This paper examines the long-term impacts of joint prawn-rice gher farming system on agricultural and household incomes, soil fertility, and productivity of modern variety (MV) rice in southwestern Bangladesh based on socioeconomic data of the gher farmers and soil fertility data of their gher plots. In 2005, 20 farmers operating on 30 plots were randomly selected from the Bilpabla village of Khulna from whom prawn and MV rice production data were collected using a questionnaire; soil samples were also collected and tested. In 2011 and 2017, the sustainability of the gher system over time was assessed through another survey of farmers following the same methodology. Results revealed that although the nominal income from gher farming increased by 59 percent in 2011 and 23 percent in 2017, the real income and per capita household income remained unchanged over time. Agricultural income has contributed about 65 percent to household income and household income of gher farmers was about 200 percent higher than the rural people of Bangladesh. Rice productivity declined slightly from its 2005 level. However, the productivity of MV rice under prawn-rice gher farming is substantially higher than the conventional MV rice farming system. The positive estimates of the Mean Soil Quality Index and Soil Degradation Index for land used for MV paddy production within the gher indicate an increase in soil nutrients. Thus, the joint prawn-rice gher farming system is relatively sustainable as it has improved soil fertility and stabilized real income. To promote agricultural growth in the southwestern region of Bangladesh, policy implications include research on developing varieties of MV rice suited to prawn-rice gher farming system and the development of commercial feeds and markets for prawn to increase productivity vis-à-vis income of gher farmers.

Vol. 17 No. 2, December 2020

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