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An interdisciplinary analysis of the current food system in rural Munshiganj, Bangladesh and how community gardens fit this system to enhance the local diet, thereby reducing the health effects of arsenicosis.

(Derived from PhotoPhilanthrophy.org)

Berghuis, H.S. (10165320) Biology Midde van, R.Y. (10006192) Physics

Middelaar van, J.C. (10423966) Earth Sciences Veen van der, T.J. (10346481) Sociology

Supervisor: Rammelt C. Tutor: Rothuizen J.


livestock, and its tendency to diversify its risks, has managed to persist in competitive economies when many huge, highly leveraged, mechanized, and specialized corporate and state farms have failed. In a sector of the economy where local knowledge, quick responses to weather and crop conditions, and low overhead (smallness) are more important than in, say, large industry, the family farm has some formidable advantages.”



This paper describes how community gardens can reduce the effect of arsenicosis, due to polluted groundwater, by improving diets in Munshiganj, Bangladesh. This is done by an interdisciplinary approach combining Social-sciences, Biology and Earth-sciences perspectives. A System thinking approach provides insight in the complexity of the problem. At first the current food system is described. The second part discusses practical implementation. Due to the green revolution Bangladeshi people are dependent on foreign resources. This combined with the current power structures creates an inequity in land distribution, this results in a loss of food sovereignty. Due to the dependency on this food system, the poor suffer from an uniform diet and malnutrition. An improvement of the diet can reduce the effects of arsenicosis. Community gardens are able to achieve this effect, by enhancing the diversity of nutrient intake. The implementation of the community garden should meet several requirements. However, these requirements are location dependent. A possible implementation is given: tree-vegetable combinations growing underneath existing trees.


2.4 Common ground...10

3. System approach and research focus...13

3.1 System thinking...13

3.2 System approach in this research...14

4 Current Situation...17

4.1 Current situation of agriculture in Munshiganj...17

4.1.1 Climate...17

4.1.2 Agriculture after the green revolution...18

4.2 Food sovereignty...20

4.3 Effect of Bangladeshi diet on arsenicosis...23

4.3.1 Ability to get right nutritions...23

4.3.2 Effect on arsenicosis...25

4.3.3 Nutrients and health condition...25

4.3.4 Arsenic contaminated food...26

4.4 Subconclusion...26

5 Guidelines & suggested solution...29

5.1 Guideline: Traditional crops and methods...29

Application: Tree dependent...29

5.1 Guideline: Use of little space...30

Application: Underneath pre-existing trees...30

5.3 Guideline: Nutrients...30

Application: Suitable trees, vegetables...30

5.4 Guideline: Little as possible irrigation...31

Application: No irrigation...31

5.5 Guideline: Sustainable for soil and climate...31


5.6 Guideline: No use of chemical pesticides...32

Application I: Natural pesticide...33

Application II: Crop rotation...34

5.7 Guideline: No use of chemical fertilizer...34

Application: Gain nutrients by making use of natural processes/sources...34

5.8 Guideline: Independent...35

Application: Education and providence of seeds...35

5.9 Guideline: Social reformation in local power structure...35

Application: Tree-vegetable garden (benefit all stakeholders)...36

6 Conclusion/Recommendations...37

6.1 Conclusion...37

6.2 Recommendations...37


Appendix 1: nutrient content of food stuff...42


1. Introduction


The surface water of Bangladesh is contaminated with microorganism, causing a significant burden of disease and mortality (Smith, 2000). Therefore, in the 1970s health organizations decided that Bangladesh should shift to groundwater, then shallow tube wells were installed. Unfortunately, it turned out that the bulk of groundwater from shallow aquifers was contaminated by arsenic, a toxic element (Rammelt et al., 2011) (see figure 1). Regular ingestion of arsenic can lead to several skin disorders, cancer, peripheral vascular disorders and neurological disorders (WHO, 2001). Different approaches of accessing clean drinking water are investigated and implemented, of which the deep tube wells are the most popular. However, this solution is not sufficient, there are still people without access to clean drinking water. Moreover, arsenic is a slow poison; the stock of arsenic remains in the human body. People who were exposed to contaminated drinking water are and will still be suffering from the health effects. Therefore additional approach is required, with the emphasis on the flow of arsenic out of the body rather than the flow inwards. There are indications that a healthy diet may reverse the poisoning in early stages (Ahsan et al., 2006). This is especially interesting while the people who do not have access to clean drinking water, are the same people who are suffering from an unhealthy diet, due to poverty (Atkins et al., 2007).


Figure 2. Integrated approach (Repko, 2006)

2.1 An interdisciplinary research question

Within this research report we assess the following research question: “How could a community garden improve the situation of the Bangladeshi people -who are suffering from the health effects of arsenicosis- and how this can be implemented in the Munsiganj district?”

Our understanding increases markedly if insights from different disciplines are integrated. Implementing community gardens involves several social and ecological aspects -current agricultural system, social relationships, daily diet, nutrient intake, effects of arsenicosis- which have to be studies in order to study if these gardens can be successfully implemented.

In order to study the suitability and implementation community gardens there was a strong cooperation among the involved, especially to examine the central questions in the report:

- What is the current agricultural and social situation in Munshiganj, Bangladesh? - What is the daily diet and nutrient intake of the citizens in rural Bangladesh? - How can we decrease the potential negative effects of arsenicosis?

- How can community gardens be optimal implemented in the Munshiganj district?

2.2 Research methods

The core method which is used in this research report is a literature study. This study is executed by different disciplines, namely Sociology, Biology, Earth sciences and Physics. Moreover, interviews were conducted to get a more detailed and local overview of the situation in rural Bangladesh. The persons who were interviewed were: Martin Bos, Crelis Rammelt and Fariba Masud. As well as


Crelis Rammelt as Fariba Masud works on the project “People and Water1”, this project is conducted in the district Munshiganj. By interviewing them we gained a more local view of the situation in the district. Martin Bos worked from October, 2011 till October, 2014 for the Dutch embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In this period of time he inter alia worked on the development of the delta plan and set up the Blue gold project. Due to this interview a broader and better understanding of the social, political and institutional environment was gained.

Additionally, case studies have been used to compare with our research study. The two case studies which have been used to compare with, are the People and Water project which is implemented in the district Munshiganj, Bangladesh (to gain local knowledge) and a case in India, in which citizens of the rural area set up a self-sustaining community garden (to gain insights in the social process of implementing a community garden).

This article is divided in two parts. The first explains the current agricultural system in Bangladesh and its consequences. In the second part of this article, we will discuss the implementation of community gardens in Munshiganj, Bangladesh.

Our approach is based on the concept of mētis, as posed by Scott (1998) and the concepts that Atkins et al (2007) describe as enabling community based initiatives in Bangladesh. The perspective view of the former is used in the latter. Mētis is an ancient Greek word and can be understood as skill and local knowledge (contrary to epistemological knowledge). Scott describes a high modernist view in which scientific (epistemological) knowledge is the basis of policy design. The people that are object of the policy are regarded as replaceable, as in the scientific reality, they are normalized and thus have the same needs and dispositions. This way of predesigning policy tends to fail as it fails to append the local reality in the implementation.

Both Atkins et al. (2007) and Scott (1998), describe some ‘rules of thumb’ to enhance this mētis and thus enable community-based initiatives.

For Scott (1998) these rules are: 1. Take small steps

2. Favor reversibility 3. Plan on surprises

4. Plan on human inventiveness

Atkins et al. (2007) name factors that enable community-based initiatives:

1 http://www.peopleandwater.org



Similarly, the community garden itself cannot be entirely predesigned. The design-guidelines are sensible to traditional ways of farming and builds on the knowledge that people have of crops already present and used in the area. The implementation must append to the local situation rather than change it fundamentally.

The goal of this scientific paper is to gain insight in the social and natural situation, which will generate a method which has the potential to decrease the effects of arsenicosis in Bangladesh.

2.3 An interdisciplinary approach

Arsenic contamination, which causes poor water quality, thereby generating negative health effects, is a complex subject. Our research complies the definition of an interdisciplinary research, stated by Repko (2012):

“Interdisciplinary studies are a process of addressing a topic that is too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline, and draws on the disciplines with the goal of integrating their insights to construct a more comprehensive understanding.”

By analyzing the possibilities for implementing a community garden, already existing gardening systems were studied and researched how these systems fit in our proposed solution. This is done in response to the concept of metis.

All of these concepts and integrations will be clarified by making use of system thinking. Relations between the disciplines will be visualized in a diagram and this will explain how a community garden may stave in certain relations and thereby improve the nutrition status.

2.4 Common ground

According to Repko (2012) it is necessary to create common ground between disciplines if multiple theories can be used from various disciplines to analyze a situation or problem. In our case, several


theories are used to analyze the current system of food supply (part 1) and the practical implementation (part 2) (see figure 3).

In this research report common ground between the disciplines is found in the following theories: Green Revolution (Sociology – Earth Sciences), Daily diet (Sociology – Biology), Arsenic intake through food (Biology – Earth Science). Hereby, system thinking (Physics) is used to gain a better insight in the complexity of the system and it conjoins and consolidates disciplinary findings.

By integrating these studied principles we produce an interdisciplinary understanding of the problem and additionally provide a solution to enhance the current health situation.


3. System approach and research focus

This section contains a short introduction to the system thinking tools used along the research. The initial problem dynamics are contained in a stock and flow diagram. This is combined with causal loop diagramming to show relationships between variables that affect the initial problem.

“Stocks change only slowly, never suddenly, even if the rates flowing into or out of them change suddenly. Therefore stocks act as delays in systems.”

– D. Meadows

3.1 System thinking

As described in the introduction this research uses an interdisciplinary approach to a complex problem. To gain a better insight in this complexity and to conjoin and consolidate disciplinary findings, two branches of system thinking are combined. a) Stock and flow diagramming helps in understanding the dynamics of a system. It is important to realize that stocks change over time, and the inflow and outflow both contribute to the future of a stock. b) Causal loop diagramming is a way to show cause and effect relationships between individual system variables (Systemdynamics, 2014). The dotted links represent dependencies between variables. A green link shows that an increase of the pointing variable leads to an increase of variable pointed to. A red link shows the opposite, an increase of the pointing variable leads to a decrease of the one pointed to. A loop itself can be either positive or negative. A positive loop defines a self-reinforcing process, while a negative loop defines a system that stabilizes itself (Positive and Negative loops diagram) (Systemdynamics, 2014). Therefore a change in one variable had much more effect in a positive loop. Both tools combined helps in understanding the total complexity and uncover relationships and feedback loops.


3.2 System approach in this research

In this research the initial problem is the accumulation, or stock, of “Arsenic in the human body”. The inflow is mainly drinking arsenic contaminated water and eating food which is contaminated during cultivation.

Error: Reference source not found

In recent history the main focus was lowering the inflow by providing clean drinking water. Just lowering the inflow is insufficient to detoxify lots of people in time because the arsenic stock has increased too much by years of accumulation (Rammelt, Masud, Masud, & Boes, 2011). According to Rammelt, Masud, Madud and Boes (2011) it is therefore also important to spend more

Figure 4. Positive and Negative Loops

A green link defines an increasing effect from the variable pointed from to the variable pointed to while a red link defines the opposite, a decrease for this. As one can see by following the links for each loop, a positive loops (left) defines an self-reinforcing process, that is, an increase of variable X leads to more increase of variable X. A negative loop thereby defines a self-reestablishing process, an increase of variable X leads to a decrease of variable X.


effort in health improvement for existing patients (Loop A). How improvement of health condition can accelerate the breakdown of arsenic in the body, is elaborated on in paragraph 4.3

Error: Reference source not found The poor people are often also the ones that suffer from malnutrition (Atkins et al., 2007). A way to improve their ability to get right nutrients would influence the outflow of the arsenic stock in their bodies (Loop B1). People who suffer from arsenicosis are less able to work, due to physical limitations and social exclusion thereby having less money to spend to buy a diverse meal (Atkins et al., 2007).

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Error: Reference source not found According to Atkins et al. (2007) poverty is linked to the access of clean water (Link I). Although the focus lies with the outflow, this shows that the ability to get right nutrients will in general also lead to a decrease of the inflow in a more complex way (Loop B1 and C). Error: Reference source not found

4 Current Situation

4.1 Current situation of agriculture in Munshiganj

This chapter will briefly list and elaborate the climatic properties and its influences on the soil conditions of the district Munshiganj. Moreover, it will describe the effects of the Green revolution on the agricultural system of Bangladesh.

4.1.1 Climate

The district Munshiganj is endowed with a semi-humid climate, which is suitable for cultivating both tropical and temperate crops (Hug and Shoaib, 2013). The district covers two different geo-morphological regions: the deltaic region and the flood plain. It has climatic properties of the south western region and the central northern region. (See figure 7). These typical climatic seasonality


creates typical soil textures; silty loam & clay in the Deltaic region and clayey to clay loam & sandy loam in the Plain (Millate-E-Mustafa et al, 1996).

Common soils in this area are alluvial soil. These are formed due to the typical climatic properties:semi-humid climate, including a monsoon season (Huq and Shoaib, 2013). Around 80% of the annual rainfall falls from June till September. Due to these heavy rainfall rivers overflow, thereby spreading nutrient rich sediments over land (Majumder, 2013).

Not only soil forming processes are affected by climatic properties, also the biochemical cycle, an essential phenomena to all ecosystems, is influenced. The climatic conditions, humid and high temperatures, cause a relatively rapid decomposition and subsequent high recycling. Diverse bacterial and fungal communities are essential in the nutrient recycle process, those of particular importance are mycorrhizae (Kricher, 2011).

Figure 8. Location and climate diagrams (Millate-E-Mustafa et al, 1996) 4.1.2 Agriculture after the green revolution

The Green revolution started in 1943, transforming the agricultural sector tremendously. Due to this green revolution, agricultural yield has tripled (Sala & Bocchi, 2014). Moreover, a decrease in soil fertility is noticeable. This process occurs due to an unbalanced use of pesticides and fertilizers and high intensified monocultures (Banglapedia, 2014). Noticeable effects of these modern agricultural


Currently, solely hundred varieties of crops are growing (this is little for a sub-tropical area, which is suitable for a much more broader, diverse range of crops). The main cultivated crop is rice, which covers about 77% of the total cropped area (Banglapedia, 2014). Because rice is by far the main cultivated crop, the crop availability is mainly rice, this may lead to a unilateral food pattern. [link X & XI]. In paragraph 4.3 will be further elaborated on the diet of the Bengal citizens. Crops

Figure 9. Impact of the green revolution on the ability to get right nutrients

Due to intensified use of monocultures the yield increased while the food diversity decreased. The use of monocultures thus has a bilateral effect on the ability to get right nutrients.


grow under both irrigated and rain fed conditions, representing 70% rain fed agriculture (Hossain, 2001). Associated with rain fed agriculture are the traditional ways of farming; local varieties and low level of exogenous inputs (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) and management. Hereby, productivity is generally low and fluctuating due to floods, cyclones and drought (Majumder, 2013). In contrast, irrigated agriculture is generally associated with high productivity [link, IX, XII, XIII], this is a consequence of applied improved technologies like high yielding variety crops, high doses of fertilizers and pesticides and improved management practices.

As is stated before, large-scale farmers use high doses of chemical pesticides. But many pesticides are toxic and can be harmful when they reach unintended targets. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). A lot of chemicals are persistent and insoluble in the environment. This results in an accumulation of chemicals in fatty tissues. Concerns about long-term effects; Pesticide residue bio magnification in humans and animals (negative health effects), destruction of predators that control pests or pollinators of fruit trees, resistance development, workers who handle synthetic organic pesticides (>20 days/year) have an increased risk on developing certain types of cancer [link IV].

Also high doses of pesticides are used by large-scale farmers. This is a result of their growing system: only one or two crops are grown on a field. Several nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosporus and Potassium) are essential for crop growth, but depleted in these agricultural system which are based on monocultures. To counteract this nutrient deficiency farmers make use of high doses NPK fertilizers. However, some nutrients are extracted from finite sources, this is the cause with phosphate exploitation. These reserves only exist on a few places on Earth and it is stated that, if we continue at this extraction rate, these sources will be depleted in 50 till 100 years (Cordell et al., 2009). An alternative source of phosphor comes from the fungi Mycorrhiza, which form a mutualistic relationship with most plant species. Mutualism is a relationship which is beneficial for both (Sullivan, 2001). This mutualistic relation provides phosphate to the plant, which provides the phosphate to the plant, which provides the fungus with a relatively direct and constant access to carbohydrates (sucrose, glucose). It is seen that this symbiosis is negatively affected by the use of fungicides, seed coating and intensive tillage.

To recover this mutualistic system, use of inoculants can be made: Agricultural amendments, which make use of beneficial microbes to improve plant nutrition. Most of the microbes used in inoculants form a symbiotic relationship which is beneficial for both, mutualism (Sullivan, 2001).


The ‘green revolution’ has, apart from its impact on nature, a social effect as well. Let us define the concept of ‘food sovereignty’ first and then show how this can function as an approach to describe these social effects.

“Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced Through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems” (Declaration of Nyéléni, 2007)

Agriculture is the most important economic sector in Bangladesh, with over 60% of the people still depending on agriculture for their livelihoods (Ministry of Agriculture, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 2006). As mentioned in the previous chapter, the agricultural yield has tripled since the green revolution. As Bangladesh is the most dense non-city state in the world (BBS, 2010), one could say that this increase in rice production was necessity. It had, however, negative effects on the food sovereignty of the Bangladeshi people.

Production growth for Bangladesh does not mean that the wealth is evenly distributed. As Rammelt (2009) explains:

Early proponents of the green revolution believed that poor and excluded farmers would profit as they were drawn into global agricultural markets through the import of inputs, and through the export of cash crops. However, only the better-off strata of rural society were able to participate and maintain themselves in this change. Output did increase, but so did farmers' dependence. Compared to traditional practices, new crops required intensive protection against disease, weed control, and frequent and precise irrigation and drainage; not everyone could afford this. […] At first glance the green revolution provided a good opportunity for increasing food production and income after selling the products at local markets. However, a large part of


farmers’ income was immediately spent on the inputs needed for the next harvest. Dependence on rainfall during monsoon months shifted to a social dependence upon the owner of water supplies for irrigation in the dry season. Once these dependencies were in place, the subsidies fell. In rural areas prices went up, and within two years the cost of a bag of fertilizers doubled or tripled […] The application of fertilizers had to increase each year in order to produce yields similar to the year before. From the 1960s to the 1990s, fertilizer use has increased more than tenfold. Many could not absorb such shocks; the 1977-1996 period saw a staggering tenfold increase in the number of functionally landless households.

Rammelt shows that the people with little or no resources, do not profit as much as people with those resources. The profit is used to re-invest for the next harvest. In this system, the gap widens between the people with resources and those who have little or lack them. This process is shown in Figure 10.

Error: Reference source not found

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force required. So people are mostly “hanging around”.

In this scarcity of land, it is not surprising that rice is the main crop – as it has high yields per surface area. The people need the land to prevent them from starving. McIntyre et al. (2011) show an example of Bangladeshi woman that sells her chickens to buy rice, because she can feed her family twice as long with that money spent on rice. Not only because of this poverty, increased food sovereignty -in which people control their own food supply- will contribute to the people’s diet. When natural disasters, e.g. droughts and floods, will hit Bangladesh, which they increasingly do (Sala & Bocchi, 2014), people will not be entirely depending on the current food system. When the risk of disasters is apparent, the need for food sovereignty increases.

As shown, people in Munshiganj are not food sovereign. The two main reasons are the green revolution and the corrupt elite. Both lead to a land shortage and rural people depend on the current food system, because they have no land to farm on.


4.3 Effect of Bangladeshi diet on arsenicosis

In this chapter the effects of the current agricultural and socio-economic situation are discussed– described in the previous chapters- on the nutrition of Bangladeshi people (figure 11). Thereafter will be discussed how this diet affects arsenicosis in two ways. First, it shows the relation between ability to get right nutrients and health condition, [figure 11, loop B]. Second, it shows the relation between contaminated water and arsenic contaminated food [figure 11, loop C].

4.3.1 Ability to get right nutritions

Figure 11 shows the average diet in rural Bangladesh (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 2010). To gain insight in the quality of their diet it is compared with a recommended diet for Indian people, this diet is recommended by Gopalan et al. (1984). The average relative food intake of a balanced diet is calculated. This average shows a general malnutrition, as expected.

Unfortunately, the data is not specifically for the district Munshiganj and there is no distinction been made between groups of income. Interviews, with Crelis Rammelt and Martin Bos, revealed that the poor inhabitants do not have access to expensive products: pulses, meat, fish, eggs and milk. It was also stated that the diet of the poor consist mainly of rice, three times a day. Especially fish and meat are not affordable for the poor. There is livestock (chicken, duck, goat, cow) kept in rural Bangladesh, whereof mainly chickens are also kept by the poor. Although, their products are most of the time sold on the market. Furthermore, the table shows that the fruit intake is sufficient. This is confirmed by both Crelis Rammelt and Martin Bos: there grow a lot of fruit trees (mango, lychee, banana, apple, papaya) round about the villages. Also, Millate-E-Mustafa (1996) recorded the different species in home gardens, which turn out to be mainly fruit trees.


Figure 12. Nutrition of rural Bangladesh

*Food intake in rural Bangladesh (gram per capita per day) in 2010 **Balanced diet for adult man, heavy work, non-vegetarian

***Balanced diet for adult woman, heavy work, non-vegetarian ****Percentage average food intake/average balanced diet

Note 1: Meat, fish (30 gr.) and eggs (30 gr.) can be replaced with extra pulses (15 gr.) and milk(100 ml) Note 2:There is no data available of fats and oils, sugar and jaggery and groundnuts intake

Note 3: There are no guidelines for protein and calorie intake.


4.3.2 Effect on arsenicosis

Food intake, as described above, influences arsenicosis in two ways. First, the nutritive value of food can reduce the negative health effects. Second, arsenic intake through food increases the content of arsenic in the body. Both factors will be discussed in this section.

4.3.3 Nutrients and health condition

The food system influences the effects of arsenicosis, because arsenic has greater effects on malnourished people (Kapaj et al., 2014), thus inhabitants of rural Bangladesh, -especially the poor-are suffering from great health effects. Intake of specific nutrients could improve their situation. These are described below.

Exposure of inorganic arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin and various internal organs as well as hyperkeratosis, pigmentation changes and effects on the circulatory and nervous system (Flora et al., 2007). According to Liu et al. (2001), the effects of arsenic intake can be explained by the increase of free oxygen radicals in the human body, which damage the cells. Free radicals are produced by oxidation. Antioxidants prevent the oxidation of molecules, such as arsenic. Therefore, antioxidants may reduce the effects of arsenicosis. There are several vitamins and minerals which are antioxidants. Vitamin A, C, E and the mineral Selenium has proved to improve the skin lesions: melanosis and keratosis (Khandker et al., 2006; Verret et al., 2005). The mineral Zinc is also many times suggested as an arsenicosis improving nutrient (Howard, 2003; Ahsan et al., 2006). This is not yet experimentally confirmed.

Besides the antioxidants, low intake of calcium, animal protein, folate, and fiber also increases susceptibility to arsenic-caused skin lesions (Mitra et al., 2004). Interestingly, this research confirmed the positive effects of the intake of vitamin C, but according to this research, vitamin A and zinc barely seem to have any impact on arsenicosis. The nutrients all have a different function. Folate includes a methyl group, this probably promotes arsenic methylation. Arsenic methylation is a detoxification process, that leads to accelerated excretion of arsenic (Gebel, 2002). Fiber might reduce arsenic absorption from the gastrointestinal tract, but there is no evidence. It is suggested that calcium may inhibit arsenic absorption, because the absorption of copper and zinc can be inhibited by calcium (Agte et al., 1994). Finally, the specific function of animal protein is unknown.

The above mentioned researches are all focused on the skin lesions. This is probably because the other effects are hard to measure. It is expected that these compounds have a


exposed to arsenic by food, such as rice grains and stems (Rahman et al., 2008). Crops take up arsenic from the surface soil. The content of Arsenic in the natural surface soil of Bangladesh(2.6 – 7.6 mg As/kg) is comparable to the content in soils of other countries (0.1 – 40 mg As/kg). But, for soils which are irrigated with contaminated groundwater, a content is measured of up to 83 mg As/kg (Uddin, 1998). That explains why the concentrations of Arsenic in food correlates directly with the concentration of Arsenic in the irrigation water (Alam et al., 2003). Arsenic is taken up by rice grains and stems for soil concentrations of 57 mg As/kg or more (Alam and Sattar, 2000). The uptake varies between and within crops, the highest As concentrations were always recorded in old leaves and in roots. (Kabata Pendias and Pendias, 1992) Leafy vegetables contain higher concentrations than fruits. Besides, the irrigation has also a negative influence on the plant growth (Hossain 2008). Abedin et al. (2002) studied the effect of Arsenic rich water on rice. It turned out that it causes reduction of plant height, root growth and a decreased rice yield.

In figure 11it is shown that the main content of the diet of the people of rural Bangladesh is cereals, including rice. This may result in arsenic uptake through food, provided that the rice is irrigated with arsenic contaminated water. This is the case: as mentioned above, 30% of the agriculture is irrigated, this irrigated agriculture is generally associated with high productivity monocultures, which is mainly rice (Ahmed, Zander, Garnett, 2011). The other possible source of arsenic are leafy vegetables. However, this is not a great source of arsenic, while they have a deficiency in leafy vegetables (see figure 12).

4.4 Subconclusion

The current agricultural system is tremendously transformed by to the green revolution. Because these new agricultural techniques were not accessible for everyone it increased not only the yield, but also the national inequity. Maximizing and intensification of the system resulted in an unilateral agricultural system based on monocultures (mostly rice). Thereby, reducing the food diversity and thus quality of the daily diet: a decreased ability to get the right nutrients. Which in


turn negatively effects the health condition: arsenic is accumulating in the body, instead of broken down by Vitamin A, C, E, selenium, zinc, fiber, folate and calcium.

To break this vicious circle, the implementation of a community garden is suggested as a possible solution for this problem. The suitability and possibility of this garden will be researched in the following chapters.

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Figure 13. Suggested solution: Community gardens

During the green revolution new techniques raises inequity between farmer A and B (D1 & D2) and made the country more dependent on foreign sources (III). The use of new techniques led to monocultures that decreased the food diversity. The traditional farmers (B) lose their ability to generate yield (D2) and the large-scale farmers (A) gain control of the production input (D1). Leading into a decrease of the traditional farmers to be food sovereign. Community gardens can increases food sovereignty (II) and could therefore contribute to a healthy diet (VII). As community garden are used, loop B2 supports loop B1 positively, making it a valuable way to address the problem.


5 Guidelines & suggested solution

In this research report we can impossibly give an concrete, detailed proposal of an community garden. This is impossible for two reasons: Firstly, lack of scientific local knowledge. Secondly, the composition of the garden depends on the location. However, it is possible to give general guidelines that a garden must meet.

Based on the literature and interviews we propose a garden which consist out of a tree and several vegetables. In the guidelines are the general requirements given, in application is showed how community gardens in the form of tree-vegetable combinations meet these requirements and/or which additional measurements should be taken to meet the requirements.

Figure 17 describes which disciplines are involved by the creation of these guidelines and thereby the importance of an interdisciplinary approach towards the implementation.

5.1 Guideline: Traditional crops and methods

There should be made use of traditional crops. Firstly, because these crops are suitable for the climate. Secondly, due to the high availability of these local seeds. It is stated by Bos (2014) that it is almost impossible to get (relative cheap seeds) from foreign sources, this emphasizes the importance of traditional crop use. Moreover, as is mentioned in the methodology (métis concept), the suggested solution must append to the local situation rather than change it fundamentally.

As described in paragraph 4.2 land is very scarce in Bangladesh. Thus, the garden should use little land. An interview (Bos, 2014), confirmed that land is formally a big issue. However, in between houses and villages and alongside roads, there is useable land.

Application: Tree dependent

As mentioned in paragraph 4.3.1 there grow several fruit trees round about villages. Depending on which trees this are, the associated vegetables should be cultivated underneath these trees. Ahmed (2004) has recorded different combinations of tree-vegetable associates (figure 5) in the homegardens of the Gazipur district (figure 14). Both the district Munshiganj, as the Gazipur district are endowed with a semi-humid climate (Huq & Shoaib, 2013). Thus, these trees and vegetables will also be suitable for the climate area of Munshiganj and more or less append to the local situation.

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Figure 14. Map of Bangladesh, Munshiganj district and Gazipur district. source: adapted version of

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gazipur_Distric t#mediaviewer/File:BD_Gazipur_District_loc ator_map.svg


Figure 15. Tree-vegetable associates (Ahmed et al., 2004) 5.1 Guideline: Use of little space

In Bangladesh land shortage is one of the difficulties for all kind of projects (e.g. building infrastructure). This problem should be avoided.

Application: Underneath pre-existing trees

Instead of making use of a large (predesigned) garden, there will be make use of the (already free) space underneath pre-existing trees.

5.3 Guideline: Nutrients

As is stated in paragraph 4.3.2, arsenicosis is reduced by several nutrients. However, zinc, selenium and animal protein content will neglected for the selection of the crops. This is neglected because: There is lack of experimental evidence for the function of zinc; the selenium content of a plant is determined by the selenium content in the soil (Mitra et al., 2004), which is unfortunately very low in Bangladesh (Spallholz et al., 2008); Logically, plants do not contain any animal protein.

Moreover, there will not be given much attention to vitamin E, because there are barely data available about the content in food (Gopalan, 1984). In conclusion, for the implementation of the garden will be emphasized on the nutrients vitamin A, C, folate, fiber and calcium .

Application: Suitable trees, vegetables

The most important vegetables, in terms of nutrients, are underlined in Figure 16. See the appendix for the nutrient content of all mentioned foodstuffs. The combinations with Jackfruits, Mango, Date palm, Coconut and Drumstick contain all the recommended nutrients (each combination has one or more ‘high-content’ fruits for each nutrient, see appendix I). The combination with Jujube, Lichi and Mahogany lacks fiber. It varies per location what are the highest lacks of nutrients, which should be determined in the field, subsequently based on these shortages should be determined whether a specific plant should be cultivated in large numbers.

Chowdhurry (2007) researched the effect of garlic (Allium sativum) on arsenic toxicity through in vitro cell cultures and in rats. It turned out that intake of one till three cloves of garlic per


day the worst health effects can be prevented, especially the effects on liver and kidneys. The function is not completely clear yet, but it is attributed to a combination of functions: antioxidant function, the oxidation of toxic As3+ to the less toxic As5+ and the sulfur compounds which fixate arsenic ions in the form of sulfurs. The results of this research shows the significance of implementing this vegetable in the daily diet of citizens which are exposed to arsenic. Although the tree-vegetable combinations do not include garlic, it is still recommended for the garden because of its important function.

5.4 Guideline: Little as possible irrigation

It is proposed to make as little as possible use of irrigation. As stated before, irrigation with arsenic contaminated water causes arsenic uptake by the plant and thereby arsenic is taken up in the food chain and the plant growth is reduced, especially for rice and leafy vegetables. So ideally, the crops of the garden should not be irrigated.

Application: No irrigation

Currently, 70% of the agriculture is rain-fed against 30% of irrigated agriculture (Hossain, 2001). This indicates that there are crops which do not need irrigation for the climate of Bangladesh. Furthermore, crops which takes up high levels of nutrients (e.g. rice) will not be cultivated.

However, we make use of leafy vegetables nevertheless these can contain relative high levels of arsenic (see paragraph 4.3.4).

5.5 Guideline: Sustainable for soil and climate

To counteract the negative social and natural effects of the currently practiced way of farming, there have to be made several adjustments. The counteraction of the current system can be done by implementing systems which are small-scale, labor intensive, eventual income generating and with low capital costs (Schumacher, 1973, referred to in Rammelt, 2014).

Application: Agroforestry land-use system

The garden is based on the currently practiced tree home gardens, an agroforestry land-use system with multipurpose shrubs and trees which stand in intimate association with perennial and annual agricultural crops and livestock. There are several factors which make these systems so eligible, their influences will be singly elaborated

Soil erosion

A multilayer of plant cover reduces soil erosion: Less direct impact of natural elements like precipitation, wind and sun. These eroding forces are reduced by the above-ground plant cover and the dense root system which bind the soil particles, thereby reducing erosion and weathering processes (Torquebiau, 1992).


allopathic effects can exist (Torquebiau, 1992). Soil moisture

Litter and plant cover intercepts and holds water, decreases run-off, reduces the soil temperature (interception of solar radiation) which decreases evaporation. Together all these factors increases soil moisture levels and enhance biological activity (Ninez, 1985).


Downwards in the canopy of an agro forest garden, the photo-synthetically active radiation decreases. This results in a lower temperature and a lower availability of light, which makes the microclimatic conditions near the surface suitable for the growth of seedlings.

Plants and animals

Due to the high diversity of plants and animals which are used in the garden, a high genetic diversity is sustained. Thereby reducing the risks of pests and diseases (Torquebiau, 1992).

5.6 Guideline: No use of chemical pesticides

The use of pesticides should be diminished in order to lower the general crop costs and reduce the dependence on pesticide providers (see paragraph 4.2). Additionally, this method preserves the indigenous natural enemies. It helps conserve the soil and environment (PAN, 2014).

Moreover, pesticide residue bio magnification in humans and animals (negative health effects), destruction of predators that control pests or pollinators of fruit trees, resistance development, workers who handle synthetic organic pesticides (>20 days/year) have an increased risk on developing certain types of cancer.

Application I: Natural pesticide

Pesticides could be replaced by natural pesticides. Planting of trap crops protects the main crop from a certain pest. It is a crop which is more attractive to a pest. The trap crops which are applicable on the vegetables of the garden are shown in figure 16.


Trap crop Main crop Pest Desmodium (ICIPE, 2003) Corn Cowpea Millet Sorghum Stemborer Striga

Basil and marigold (MMSU, 2003)

Garlic Thrips


(French and African marigold) (Krueger, 2013; Earles, 1998)

Solanaceous Crucifers Legumes

Cucurbits (the four Vegetable families) Nematodes Neem (Ozone, 2014) Applicable to almost all vegetables A broad spectrum of leaf-eating insects, (most effective on grass hoppers and leafhoppers), nematodes, fungi, viruses

It is reported that the last mentioned trap crop, the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), is already in use by farmers who live in inter alia Bangladesh among their gardens to protect their fruits and vegetables from insect attack. They believe that leaves of the species are poisonous to all species of insects (Millat-e-Mustafa et al., 2000). This is also scientifically proved by inter alia Ozone (2014).

Application II: Crop rotation

The rotation of crops is one of the most effective and oldest cultural control strategy. By growing year after year the same crop, a pest population can become established and build up to damaging levels. Through rotating different crops on the field this cycle can be broken.

Rotating is most practical and efficient against pests that: Attack biennial or annual crops, have a relatively narrow host range, cannot spread easily from one field to another, are present before the crop is planted. By altering the time of year for planting/harvesting crops can remain ‘out of phase’ which pest populations, known as phonological asynchrony (Meyer, 2003; Altieri, 2014).

Moreover, it is shown that mixed crops produce more biomass in comparison to monocultures (Reich, 2012). Complementarity between species in resource use, like soil resource

University Of Amsterdam December 2014 33


Application: Gain nutrients by making use of natural processes/sources


By optimizing the soil conditions the activity of the fungi mycorrhizae can be enhanced. As is clarified in chapter 4.1 these fungi form a mutualistic relationship with most plant species. Thereby, providing phosphate to the plant. It is seen that this symbioses is negatively affected by the use of fungicides, seed coating and intensive tillage, so we have to avoid this in our community gardens. It is stated by Nair (1985) that the Rhizosphere microbial activity under home gardens is high, which includes the fungus.

Moreover, it is stated that termites, which feed on soil, help release phosphorus and nitrogen. Thereby improve the drainage of the soil, increase the humification and aeration level, as well as to improve the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of cations (Calcium, potassium). Leading to strong evidence that these animals could be essential in the mechanisms of soil fertility (Ackerman et al., 2009). Moreover, termite nests form sites of high nutrient level in the tropic and subtropics. These nest and their feces can be used as natural fertilizer (Kricher, 2011). However, currently a lot of pesticides are used to control this organism instead of deriving the benefits which it adds to the system (Alam, 2012). To decrease the damaging influences of these organisms, trap crops can be used (Sugar cane).


Some bacteria can convert gaseous nitrogen to forms which are usable for organisms: Biological nitrogen fixation. This can be done in two different manners: free-living or in a symbiotic way. Free-living fixation occurs in soil with bacteria such as the Azotobacter, and is also associated with epiphyllic microbes and lichens. Most of the symbiotic nitrogen fixation is associated with plants of the legume family (Fabaceae). They acquire N through their nodules in the root system. These nodules contain the Rhizobium bacteria; both benefit from this interaction. Normally, this bacteria is present in the soil. However on cultivated land when a new crop is introduced, these bacteria have to be add to the seeds before sowing.


Almost all legumes from the legume family (Fabacea) can fix nitrogen. Legume who fix inter alia nitrogen: clover, alfalfa, soy, peanuts, chickpeas, cowpeas, et cetera (Dalton, 2007)


Proposed as source of organic potassium are compost and wood ash. It is seen that in traditional gardens in Bangladesh mostly endogenous inputs are used: mulch, wastes, manure, bio-control of pests (Torquebiau, 1992).

5.8 Guideline: Independent

In an interview Bos (2014) noted as biggest obstacle for the implementation of community gardens and projects in Bangladesh in general, that they rely on the NGO’s that initialized the projects. There is a flow of money and an organizational structure in the beginning of these projects. Once the organizations leave, the project collapses. The reliance on organizations is another factor to take into account. The guideline is that the implementation should be independent of organizations, apart from the initiation of the project.

Application: Education and providence of seeds

NGO’s could focus on, for instance, education and the distribution of seeds. In this way, no organizational structure or continues flows of money are required. People can re-use the seeds every period. As we focus on traditional methods and crops, the clients should be able to maintain the garden.

5.9 Guideline: Social reformation in local power structure

As Atkins et al. (2007) state, social reform should benefit all stakeholders. The elite want to hold on to their power positions and have shown to use violent methods to do so (Feldman & Geisler, 2012). Rammelt added to the statement of Atkins et al. (2007) that smaller types of social reform may remain ‘under the radar’. As a guideline, the implementation should not be noticed by the elite as a threat to their positions.

Application: Tree-vegetable garden (benefit all stakeholders)

In line with our general approach of appending rather than changing, making use of existing trees as a site to farm on, would not be seen as a threat to the elite. The people making use of the community gardens, will still work on the farms but use their spare time, of which they have a lot, to grow vegetables etc. for themselves. This creates a healthier population without harming the power positions of the elite. This application does, indeed, benefit all stakeholders.


Figure 17. Common ground in guidelines

6.1 Conclusion

The research question is: “How could a community garden improve the situation of the Bangladeshi people -who are suffering from arsenicosis - and how this can be implemented in the Munsiganj district?” In this article, we have shown that the use of community gardens has a positive influence on food sovereignty. The food sovereignty applies to the crops that contain the right nutrients for accelerating the breakdown process of arsenic. Another requirement for the crops is that they are traditional. This builds on the concept of metis, which was our focus in the second


part of the implementation. Using this approach turned out to be insightful. As did the methodology of system thinking.

Community gardens can improve the situation of the Bangladeshi people by improving their food sovereignty and thus their nutrient intake. This, in its turn, accelerates the breakdown of arsenic in the body. The implementation should enhance metis and append to the current situation rather than fundamentally change it. This research provided several guidelines for the implementation. After each guideline is shown how it can be applied. It is important to note that the application we name, is a possibility, not the only option.

6.2 Recommendations

This research was conducted outside of Munshiganj, Bangladesh. We have put emphasis on the fact that the local situation differs and this variety influences the implementation. We recommend that more research is conducted at the local level. The focus, then, should be on the local diet – as we used a more general one – as well as on local power relations and the influence of gender, religion and family ties.

Furthermore, we have not included the fact that three to four months a year, the greater part of Munshiganj is flooded due to the monsoon. In part we accounted for it, because we build on their traditional model that in turn accounts for the monsoon season. It could, however, have a greater or different influence than we expected.

Lastly, our system thinking model works with positive and negative relations. We recommend to quantify this system. When a value can be added to each relation, the precision of the model would increase and different relations can be compared to each other. This could be a basis for prioritation in the implementation.


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Date Palm (dried/fresh) arecaceae Phoenix dactylifera 26/.. 3 120/22 - 3.9/3.7 Coconut (dry/fresh)

aracaceae Cocos nucifera 0 7/1 400/10 15.3/



Jujube rhamnaceae Zizyphus jujuba

21 76 4 - ..

Litchi Sapindaceae Litchi chinensis

0 31 10 - 0.5

Drumstick Moringaceae Moringa Oleifera 110 120 30 - 4.8 Chili(dry/gre en) solanaceae Capsicum annuum 345/175 50/111 160/30 -/6.0 30.2/6.8

Turmeric zingiberaceae Curcuma longa

30 0 150 10.0 2.6

Sweet gourd cucurbitaceae Momordica cochinchinesis - * - 64 - 1.1 Amaranth Amaranthace ae Amaranthus gangeticus 5520 99 397 41 1.0 Spinach Amaranthace ae Beta vulgaris 5580 28 73 51.0 0.6

Country bean leguminosae Dolichos Lablab

0 0 60 - 1.4

radish Criciferae Raphanus Sativus

3 15 35 - 0.8

Indian spinach

Chenopodiace Basella rubra 7440 87 200 - ..


Bitter gourd cucurbitaceae Momordica Charantia

126 96 23 - 1.7

Egg plant solanaceae Solanum melongena 74 12 18 5.0 1.3 Ribbed gourd cucurbitaceae Luffa acutangula 33 5 18 - 0.5 Pointed gourd cucurbitaceae Trichosanthes dioica - - 531 - 4.2 Sponge gourd cucurbitaceae Luffa cylindrica 120 0 36 - 2.0

Soy bean Fabaceae Glycine max 426 .. 240 8.65 3.7

cabbage brassicaceae Brassic

oleracea var. capitata

120 124 39 13.3 1.0

tomato Solanaceae Lycopersicon esculentum

351 27 48 14.0 0.8

potato Solanaceae Solanum tuberosum

24 17 10 3.0 0.4

Aroids araceae Colocasia


Not used as food Mahagony Chinaberry Swietenia


Not used as food

- - -

-Koroi Fabaceae albizia procera Not used as food

Sissoo Fabaceae Dalbergia


Not used as food

Babla Fabaceae Acacia


Not used as food Garlic (dry) amaryllidacea


Allium sativum

0 13 30 - 0.8

Appendix 1. nutrient content of food stuff, the occurence of vitamin A, C, folate, fibre and

calcium per 100 gram of the edible portion food. Source: Gopalan (1984)



their high nutrient content. However, there is not an exact boundary drawn, while there is not enough data



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