Integrating rights in floodplain resource management

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Integrating rights in floodplain resource management

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Community based initiatives to enhance sustainable productivity of floodplain systems by targeting secure access rights for the poor. Restoration of dry season surface water can benefit agriculture and fisheries through cooperation among local stakeholders, and a federation of community organisations advocating secure rights to water and fisheries.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The overall productivity of floodplain natural resources in Bangladesh is less than is possible while ensuring a sustainable environment-friendly system based on better use of scarce dry season water. The constraints behind this are inappropriate access and tenure arrangements that act as a disincentive for cooperation and collective action. Short term leasing of public waterbodies has encouraged over-exploitation (resource mining) of fisheries and control by local influentials and moneyed people. The absence of support to maintain small water channels in coastal areas has left large areas fallow in that season and brood fish with nowhere to survive. Linked with this has been a sector-based development approach that focused on rice production and more recently fish farming. The landless poor dependent on wage labour, sharecropping land and catching wild fish and other aquatic resources have consequently lost.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Community based management is by now a well established approach to natural resource management. What is unique here is going beyond to support and enable resource management through changes in access rights to resources that combine private, seasonal and year-round commons. And by supporting this vertically from working to formalize access for the poor to land and water with individual landowners and local groups, up to linking together community based organizations holding use rights, to learn from one another and benefit from strength in numbers. Upwards we are working to federate the many existing community based organizations that already have responsibilities for water and fishery resources in Bangladesh but have operated in isolation and are scattered across the country. The first benefit from this is shared learning from one another resulting in faster spread of good practices and systematic testing of innovations, the second benefit is cooperation to advocate sustainable pro-poor arrangements in national and sub-national forums and to jointly protect one another CBO’s interests and rights in waterbodies and natural resources. Downwards by supporting local participatory planning and identifying opportunities where through small investments, cooperation and recognizing rights for the poor, land and water can be made more productive.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Since 2007 we have brought 250 CBOs together into a federation, registered as the “Society for Water Resource Management”. With over 51,000 members (over 10,000 women) they represent about 480,000 households who use floodplains. 110 CBOs established fish sanctuaries and report increased natural fish catches and species diversity, benefiting all who catch fish. 72 CBOs have demonstrated dry season crops that give at least as good returns and use 25% or less water than irrigated rice. Chanda Sen is a housewife and cashier of a CBO managing a floodplain. Their CBO chairperson heard from other CBOs about crops that need little irrigation and passed on the information. After seeing garlic grown when flood water recedes she adopted this, and then innovated intercropping, achieving three times the return of irrigated rice. Chanda said “the adaptive learning workshops are a productive way of bringing CBOs together to share experiences … We are managing our cropping pattern so that conserving water for crops and fish during dry season is possible.” The federation has taken initiatives to resolve conflicts faced by member CBOs and raised with senior government officials security of access to waterbodies and pollution. For example, a politically backed group tried to grab the right of a CBO to manage and use Beel Gawha. The CBO consulted the federation and neighbouring CBOs mobilized a demonstration by over 1,000 members. Subsequently the outside group offered to negotiate, but the CBO insisted they only participate if they shared investing in the fishery.
About You
Flood Hazard Research Centre
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name




Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Organization Name

Flood Hazard Research Centre

Organization Phone

+880 1711 432205

Organization Address

House 107 Mosque Road, Banani DOHS

Organization Country


How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, XX

Do you have a patent for this idea?


At the pilot level we support in some coastal floodplains participatory planning for communities to re-excavate dried up channels so they can hold fresh water in the dry season. Helping these CBOs protect fish there, and allocate some water for irrigation of low water demand crops. Facilitating long-term share-cropping agreements between landowners and landless to cultivate crops where the land was fallow earlier, and helping the poor organize for collective water management. At the wider level we facilitate the CBO federation holding regional workshops to share lessons, plan testing new ideas and then compare the results across CBOs; also promoting to government the results and the need for continued access to common resources for CBOs. Threats include the extent that government policies favour CBOs and their leasing of waterbodies, influence of elites to capture local resources, and the trend for private landowners to enclose areas of floodplain for aquaculture.


During the first two years we expect the CBO federation to encourage wider adoption of good management practices through regular workshops, and to advocate through local and national forums and media for longer secure access, and for government support (for example in re-excavation). We also expect a substantial spontaneous spread of low water demand crops among farmers where these have been demonstrated, and for more farmers to agree longer-term sharecropping with the landless for new dry season crops. We also expect to facilitate at least two agreements between the CBO federation and private enterprises related to inputs or products, generating benefits for CBOs and their members. By year three we expect to attract support for excavation of several canals in the southwestern coastal zone based on community management, also that the recommendations of the CBO federation regarding long term access to waterbodies and a coordinated approach are incorporated into policy.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?


If so, how?

Firstly, permanent waterbodies in Bangladesh are public property where use rights (for fishing) are leased out on a competitive basis or through local influence by the Ministry of Land against payment by individuals or cooperatives. Through different earlier projects 10 year agreements were made by the land administration to reserve waterbodies for demonstrating community management. This has helped communities to restore fishery productivity and enhanced fisher livelihoods. However, these arrangements for CBOs are coming to an end. Our project seeks to help the CBOs advocate for policy change in favour of longer term access rights for well functioning community management, and to demonstrate this responsible management through peer pressure among CBOs.

Secondly, particularly in the coastal floodplains there are extensive areas that suffer increasing drought as well as storm impacts. Many of the small channels here have dried up and these public lands are encroached. Surface fresh water in the dry season is the key resource for crop and fish productivity. By demonstrating that this resource can be renovated (through re-excavation) and the benefits targeted to poorer households by formalizing and modifying traditional share-cropping agreements and encouraging cultivation of innovative low water demand crops, we seek to change public policy and support in this sector. These changes will demonstrate practical measures and institutional arrangements that are better adapted to climatic variation and change and ensure sustainable pro-poor production systems.

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your innovation.

Information has been completed for FHRC, which since 2005 has a Bangladesh office. The key partnership is with Society for Water Resources Management - a registered federation of community based organizations (CBOs) managing floodplain resources, that we have helped establish. It is a grass roots civil society federation of 250 CBOs, each with 50-800 members representing several villages and managing a defined area of floodplain or wetland. We help facilitate this process and for example link CBOs with NGOs and lawyers to address disputes over access to waterbodies. We also help the CBOs access services from government agencies, and through workshops and a central steering group to inform and influence government policy in favour of participatory resource management and long-term rights. We are also exploring potential business links to add value for CBOs and their members, for example as buyers of new crops such as sunflower oil.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

Support to date has helped establish the CBO federation, conduct action research, and make small grants to CBOs and community groups to take up integrated floodplain management. The aim is to establish processes, agreements, rights and institutions that will sustain when funding ends. Sustainability in this initiative has four aspects:

1 At the individual participant level, households will continue when the innovation brings improvements to their livelihood and they have the incentive of secure rights through agreements with CBOs and landowners.
2 In individual CBOs good practices and innovations in natural resource management (fish sanctuaries, alternative crops) are already continuing and can be expected to sustain where they result in benefits for the community and its members. The CBOs have been continuing for up to 10 years without significant external support, and are also strengthening their individual finances through this process.
3 The ability of CBOs to network as a way of advocating secure access to resources, and benefiting from adaptive learning has depended on external project funds and small subscriptions from member CBOs. SWRM and FHRC will continue to pursue such funds, but will also seek to strengthen links with private sector enterprises where this offers beneficial access to quality inputs and/or marketing of products as environment-friendly community products. There are also opportunities for the SWRM to access services on behalf of member CBOs, for example credit. In any case through the widespread use of mobile phones the personal links between CBOs will continue.
4 Agreements for longer term access of the poor to land will depend on win-win solutions and formal agreements that are supported and recognized by local champions. For waterbodies this depends on agreements with the government land administration and local influences, the strength of the SWRM (CBO federation) in advocating and defending this is vital.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

There are two. The main one is after working with different projects and seeing how the different partner NGOs each worked with their locations and each project with its locations, to develop community based organizations both in the fisheries and water resource sectors. But none of them really talked with one another, and when project funding ended the community based organizations (CBOs) were left on their own. Because I was regularly in contact with many of the CBOs they would ask me for advice and information, but were unaware of what other CBOs even ones not so far away were doing. It seemed an obvious step to help CBOs network. Initial attempts at this brought interest from the CBOs, but didn’t; sustain and needed a focus. The innovation then came from seeing how several small research projects that we were involved in could fit together – taking an integrated or system view of floodplain natural resource management, an inclusive structured approach to participatory planning, and the potential gains from learning between CBOs and from peer pressure among the CBOs.

The second one is from CBOs inviting to visit Patuakhali and Barguna districts in the coastal region and seeing vast areas dry and devoid of crops in the dry season when most of the country is green with irrigated HYV rice. From what the communities said it was apparent that climate change was already affecting the area and with no suitable groundwater resources and the main rivers too saline, there was little scope for agriculture except for a risky monsoon rice crop. Consequently many poor households there depend on seasonal migration by men to towns, leaving women and families in a vulnerable situation. We had already been working with other communities to test and encourage use of low water demand crops, but here even those crops would need some water. Also some CBOs elsewhere had excavated dried up waterbodies to make fish sanctuaries. So the idea came to merge and revise this into an approach suitable there – excavating some dried up small channels to hold rainwater for crops and fish, and to help the poor organise for collective irrigation and to access land that was lying fallow. Rather than come into conflict with local elites it as better to encourage them to be champions and to offer land to lease to the landless as a win-win solution.

Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.

Parvin Sultana has been working in different aspects of rural development and associated research for 35 years. She has a PhD from Colorado State University, and originally trained in zoology and wildlife management. For 15 years she worked as a scientific officer in the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute in areas such as homestead production and vertebrate pest control. Between 1991 and 2004 she worked with a range of projects and organisations, including water and flood management, consultancies, a spell as sustainable development advisor for UNDP Bangladesh, and two years as a research scientist in the WorldFish Centre based in Malaysia. Since 2004 she has been a Senior Research Fellow at Middlesex University’s Flood Hazard Research Centre in the UK, but spending most of her time in Bangladesh in several research projects.

Since the early 1990s she has focused on impact assessment, monitoring, participatory natural resources management (fisheries, water, forests) and gender analysis. Recent work has included enabling, assessing and networking among community organisations of poor fishers and other floodplain users, research and development on integrated floodplain management by men and women, assessing impacts of micro-credit, rural development and water management projects, developing methods for consensus building and participatory planning for natural resource management, socio-economic and agricultural surveys, assessing household consumption patterns, and gender training. She has professional experience in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, India, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, USA, and UK.

In recent years her passion has been action-research working with local communities to organize, plan and take up improvements in their natural resource management. She has published extensively on these issues. In particular since 2007 she has designed and then taken up projects to work with about 250 of the existing community based organizations managing water and fisheries in Bangladesh floodplains, to see how they can network to learn from one another and thereby take a more integrated approach to improving management of crops, water and natural fisheries. This integrated or systems approach, and earlier work on participatory planning are all driven by the view that there are potential win-win approaches that can improve fisheries and agriculture, and that benefit poor people and can encourage support from the not so poor.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Email from Changemakers

If through another source, please provide the information.

Approximately 50 words left (400 characters).

Which (if any) of the following strategies apply to your organization or company (check as many as apply)

Policy advocacy to strengthen property rights or increase security of tenure, Other.

Please explain how your work furthers one or many of the above strategies (if you selected “other”, please explain your strategy)

We work with the rural poor to formalize access to land and enhanced dry season water, in a system that benefits all parties. We are also strengthening the capacity of a federation of community organisations so it can advocate for secure rights to floodplain water and fisheries for member communities.