Turning compost into food

Barren sandbars can be used to grown crops such as pumpkins by filling pits with household compost.

Every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna to swell, resulting in devastating floods. These wash away fertile land and destroy homes and livelihoods.  Every year hundreds of families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.

Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede, but the ‘char’ – the silted sand plains that the floods leave behind – are too infertile for even the most skilled farmer to tend.

But the barren soil can be made production again by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops.

Practical Action worked with farmers to develop a simple and effective solution. Holes.

Thousands and thousands of holes. Each no more than a metre across, dug into the sand bars, then filled with compost.

Into these, farmers are able to plant seeds; from which can grow crops that the families can eat, store, even sell to make money. They can then put this money towards medicine, clothes, livestock or schooling for their children.

Flickr gallery

Pumpkins Against Poverty

Anwar ul Islam, his wife Afroza and two children live in Rangpur District, an area afflicted by land erosion caused by heavy monsoon rains swelling the rivers from June to October. Anwar lost everything when floods swept away his house and land. He was earning less than £2 a day working as a cycle mechanic.

But with the help of Practical Action, Anwar has found a way to feed his family, improve their health and earn a good income.

Once the rainy season ends and the monsoon waters drain away, large sandbars appear in the rivers. This land is common property but, prior to Practical Action’s intervention, had never been used productively. Working alongside communities who live on the river embankments, our teams have shown it’s possible to grow pumpkins in small pits dug into the sand filled with compost.

Last year Anwar produced 600 pumpkins. After selling 450, he had enough to feed his family as pumpkins can be stored for over a year. With the income he bought a cow and some chickens and can now afford to educate his children. They have a secure home and he is passing on his knowledge to others.


Mozahar Ali describes the impact that sandbar cropping has had on his family and livelihood.

In Bangladesh, families whose homes and land have been washed away in the monsoon rains, face months of hunger and malnutrition.

A pumpkin can provide a nutritious, year round supply of food - and can be grown in the sandy, barren soil left behind when flood waters recede. It’s a practical solution to poverty.

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You can download  technical briefs and manuals on other various topics at Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action, or you can submit an enquiry to the Practical Action staff via the online form

Pumpkin Growing using Sandbar Cropping

This technical brief describes a way of growing crops on the sandbars, created by river deposits in Bangladesh, and how this can be used to increase crop production for marginalised farmers.

Find out more

Sandbar Cropping: Hope for millions living on the edge of mighty rivers in Bangladesh

This document describes pumpkin production in sandbar with the support of SHIREE project Pathways From Poverty Project in four erosion-prone districts of North-west Bangladesh.

Find out more

Pathways from Poverty (PFP) phase 2

Building economic empowerment and resilience for extremely poor households in areas of Bangladesh affected by river erosion.

Read more

St Andrews Prize for the Environment

An innovative project using the simple and cost effective technology of sandbar cropping in North West Bangladesh to transform lands that have become silted and barren by flooding, has come runner up in this year’s St Andrews Prize for the Environment.

Read more


This report on our countering flood and river erosion impacts in Bangladesh was shown on German television channel DW-TV in June 2011.


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