Rising Sea Levels Threaten Bangladesh Farmers. Hybrid Seeds Could Help Save Them.

An innovative company is using hybrid seeds to increase crop yields — and opportunity — for vulnerable family farms.

Sajeda Khatun is a family farmer who lives with her son and husband in the village of Dumuriain, Bangladesh. In years past, the vegetable farm she runs with her family was modestly successful, bringing enough income just to get by. But more recently, the vegetable seeds she and her husband normally planted, such as bottle gourd and chili peppers, were not producing the yields they once did. Frustrated, Sajeda decided to go ask other farmers if they had any solutions to her family’s farming problems.

Like Sajeda and her family, millions of Bangladeshi farmers are finding it harder and harder to grow vegetables. This is mainly due to the increased levels of salt water in farmland not usually exposed to it. Rising sea levels have pushed salt water further inland — a process called “saline intrusion” — causing crops to wither and endangering the livelihoods of the families who rely on them. If farmers like Sajeda and her husband can’t adapt to saline intrusion, their crops will perish and leave their family without a source of food or income.

When Sajeda approached other local farmers and seed dealers in her village, they told her about new hybrid seeds that grow in saline conditions, that is soil with high levels of salt. Hybrid seeds are produced by purposefully cross-pollinating plants. Companies combine the traits of both parent plants, one of which could be saline-tolerant, into a single seed. Back in Bangladesh, the seed dealers didn’t know much about how to grow hybrid seeds, but they knew where Sajeda could learn more.

Sajeda Khatun using Lal Teer Seed’s salt-resistant seeds to feed her family and make an income in Dumuriain, Bangladesh.

The knowledge the women gain with our trainings enhances their existing farming skills and cultivation practices.

Sajeda traveled to a nearby village for a public demonstration of the hybrid seeds from Lal Teer Seed Limited—a research-based seed company in Bangladesh—and saw for herself how Lal Teer’s hybrid seeds performed well in saline conditions. The seeds yield a much larger harvest for farmers because of their adaptability, generating profit that farmers use to support their families and invest back into their land.

The difference in productivity can truly change farmers’ lives. “The average income for a Bangladesh farmer is $2 USD per day,” says Faisal Ahmed, Head of International Business & Projects at Lal Teer Seed. “Our hybrid seeds can help them generate an additional $3 or 4 USD per day.”

The company’s hybrid seeds can produce 52 varieties of vegetables, including eggplant, chili, pumpkin, tomatoes and others. Lal Teer Seed’s public demonstrations show local farmers techniques they can easily apply to their own plots of land.

“Farmers’ enthusiasm for hybrid cultivation is very high,” says Ahmed. “However, they are not aware about new technologies and are somewhat reluctant to adapt unless they are trained with a hands-on approach.”

Sajeda received hands-on training from Lal Teer Seed staff after attending the demonstration and purchasing the seeds. The staff taught her how to raise plant beds, mulch, sow, harvest, and use water more efficiently. They also connected her and her husband to local retailers they could sell their crops to, and showed her how to prepare for the upcoming season using hybrid seeds.

This involvement, says Ahmed, helps “farmers realize our seeds and techniques are simple to use and do not impose a huge cost.”

The knowledge farmers gain from Lal Teer Seed’s trainings enhances their existing farming skills and cultivation practices.

Sajeda’s family has already benefited from using the seeds. After just four months, their hybrid seeds produced crops that sold for $150 USD. With the extra income, Sajeda bought herself a new sari, a shirt for her husband, books for her son, and all the supplies she needed for the next season.

Her success has also inspired other women in Dumuriain to attend Lal Teer Seed demonstrations. Sajeda now recruits women in the village to use Lal Teer seeds and includes them in trainings to learn how to improve their harvest and use resources efficiently. The village’s women are taking the lead, and their enthusiasm is inspiring many of their husbands to attend the trainings as well.

“The knowledge the women gain with our trainings enhances their existing farming skills and cultivation practices,” says Ahmed. “More importantly, it allows their families to earn more income — and be better prepared for the next harvesting season.”

The saline-tolerant vegetable seeds are helping a vast group of farmers who previously were losing hope to continue in their profession. Lal Teer Seed’s model is reigniting vegetable cultivation in Bangladesh’s family farms by making it profitable once again.