Integrated Floodplain Management in Bangladesh (Research Into Use Asian Innovation Challenge Fund)

Funded by UKaid (DFID) through the RIU programme managed by NRInternational
Duration: June 2008 to June 2011

Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association

Banchte Shekha

Marine Resources Assessment Group (MRAG), UK

Middlesex University, UK

Flood Hazard Research Center

What? This initiative works with existing community-based organisations to promote a balanced integrated approach to agriculture, fisheries and water management in floodplains through adaptive learning. The project has helped diversify and enhance fisheries and agriculture in floodplains and strengthen the voice of the poor through community-based organisations.

Why? Floodplain wetlands in South Asia are complex systems providing diverse products and services that have been utilised by communities for generations.  Over half of the population of Bangladesh live in floodplain ecosystems and depend on their services for their livelihoods particularly through agriculture and fishing.

But these environments are also hazardous and regular exposure to river floods, cyclone/storm surges, flash floods, drought, etc. contributes significantly to the vulnerability of floodplain communities resulting in the loss of life as well as livelihoods on an all too regular basis. Furthermore it is predicted that these shocks and stresses will be amplified in the future as a result of climate change and hence the vulnerability of floodplain communities will increase. 

Embankments and sluice gates have been erected to control the impact of flooding in these systems, but while these result in water management that favours rice farming they have also resulted in conflicting demands on water use and raised questions over the equity of distribution of benefits. 

Previous DFID funded research identified ways of managing floodplains that tackle these competing uses and demands on floodplain ecosystems by diversifying cropping to enhance farmer incomes while allowing water to be managed and protected for the natural fisheries that many poor people depend on. Wider promotion of these approaches encourages income generation and growth in floodplain communities while ensuring that the poor are not disadvantaged.

IFM focus

  • Participatory planning that is inclusive of the poor and disadvantaged.
  • IFM innovations and local institutions that benefit the poor including women and enable their participation.
  • Adaptive learning between CBOs to continually innovate and improve resource management.
  • Securing access to floodplain resources for CBOs.
  • Reaching other floodplain communities by influencing wider adoption of these approaches by other agencies and projects.

Who benefits directly? Members of about 250 existing community-based organisations and the communities they represent including poor households in villages in floodplain ecosystems, estimated at 440,000 households in all, are involved in learning about and benefiting from resource management options that increase overall returns from natural resources while reducing vulnerability to natural disasters. Both rich and poor developed consensual plans for rational use of resources.  Training and peer pressure have encouraged women’s involvement in decision making and IFM options.

Who benefits indirectly? Approximately 500 other community-based organisations in the floodplain ecosystems of Bangladesh, and government departments such as the Department of Agricultural Extension, could benefit indirectly through dissemination of good practices through the relevant agencies.

Where? The project covers floodplain environments in Bangladesh.

Links? The project is directly linked with the IDRC supported project on Improving Floodplain Management through Adaptive Learning Networks

Integrated floodplain management concept
Floodplains cover about half of Bangladesh where large areas of private farmland become seasonal common fisheries when inundated for up to half the year. Conflicts over use have been worsened by dividing development support into sectors.

A 'systems approach' can produce win-win outcomes and an adaptive learning framework is being used to link a large number of community based organisations (CBOs) to innovate.

Communities that have already organised to improve agriculture, water use or fisheries, can coordinate these floodplain uses to complement rather than compete with one another, increasing joint benefits from floodplains.

Known as “Integrated Floodplain Management” (IFM), this approach recognises the floodplain as a system where the uses and amounts of surface water in the dry season critically affect the two main products – crops and fish.

Initial research identified scope to maximise floodplain productivity by better balancing agriculture with capture fisheries, which would benefit the poor who depend more on common pool resources.

Key IFM strategies include dry season refuges for fish supported by adoption of shorter duration and less water hungry crops to conserve dry season water and enable sluice gates to open earlier in the pre-monsoon when fishing is closed to allow migration and spawning.

Piloting in 2003-5 in a 350 ha seasonal floodplain in southwest Bangladesh brought together in a central committee existing separate institutions involving fishers, farmers and sluice operators. Farmers gradually replaced 20% of dry season irrigated rice with pulses, potatoes and garlic.

These crops were profitable and left more surface water in the dry season, which the community protected as a fish sanctuary. This enhanced fish survival and reproduction resulting in higher fish catches. During this process the systems approach was expanded to include options such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and the community accessed government extension services for techniques to reduce water pollution from processing jute fibre.

Duck rearing as part of duck-fish system

Duck rearing by Ramchandrapur CBO

demonstrating stripping green jute fiber before retting

training in ribbon retting of jute

Bee keeper trained through the project

bee keeping in Veluar Beel helps to pollinate crops

CBOs have planted trees along waterbody banks to stabilize soil and generate additional income

CBOs have planted swamp trees in wetlands to restore habitat for fish and wildlife

IFM has been scaled up through projects supported by IDRC and DFID’s Research Into Use (RIU) programme


(Click here fore more information and download project documents)


(Click here fore more information and download project documents)


(Click here fore more information and download project documents)



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