Rice versus fish revisited: On the integrated management of floodplain resources in Bangladesh


Bhavani Shankar is Lecturer at the Department of Agriculture and Food Economics, University of Reading. Email: b.shankar@reading.ac.uk.


Disproportionately little attention has been paid to the dry season trade-off between rice and (inland capture) fish production on the floodplains of Bangladesh, compared to the same trade-off during the flood season. As the rural economy grows increasingly dominated by dry-season irrigated rice production, and floodplain land and water come under ever-increasing pressure during the dry winter months, there is an urgent need to focus attention on these dry months that are so critical to the survival and propagation of the floodplain resident fish, and to the poor people that depend on these fish for their livelihood. This article examines three important dry-season natural resource constraints to floodplain livelihoods in Bangladesh, and finds a common factor at the heart of all three: rice cultivation on lands at low and very low elevations. The article articulates the system interlinkages that bind these constraints and the long-run trend towards irrigated rice cropping on lower-lying lands, and suggests a management approach based on locally tailored strategies to arrest this trend. Apart from its direct relevance to the floodplains of Bangladesh, which support more than 100 million people, these lessons have relevance for river floodplain systems elsewhere in the developing world, notably the Mekong Delta.