Permaculture on the Highways and Roadsides – a new dimension for Food Security

Roads and highways comprise 20,947.73 km of which national highways: 3,478.42, regional highways: 4,221.52 km and roads 13,247.79 km have occupied a significant arable land of the country. Roads and highways are constructed mostly above the normal flood level. Considering width 2 m X2 for the highways and 1 m X2 for the roads, the total available land area along the roads and highways stands 5,730 hectare can be utilized with Permaculture. Other than these, there are huge road networks throughout the country where we can grow some crops for the benefit of our livelihoods and food security.

Permaculture means intensive cropping without disturbing or damaging the natural habitat and biodiversity and is widely practiced in the modern world for growing crops with little or no disturbance of the soil and landscape using little or no tillage practice. It is also called as sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and very recently Climate-smart agriculture. Permaculture considers soil and biodiversity conservation, optimum use of water and its conservation, wind and storm protection, nutrient and short-cycled biomass recycling, multiple and multistory cropping culture for maximum land and productivity. It also considers “right crop at right place in right time”. For choosing the crop, land should dictate the crop but not by the crop. Possibly, Permaculture is the modern version of our early twentieth century’s homestead farming of the Brahmaputra and Ganges deltaic region. However, roadside plantation was done during the period of the great Emperor Sher Shah Suri, along the Grand Sonargaon-Delhi-Peshawar Trunk Road.

Before 1980’s, Bangladesh and eastern Indian region was very rich in Permaculture especially in the homesteads and the avenues. Still, the rural homes are rich with homestead farming. Every home is considered as an eco-niche; provides shelter for family members and domestics, vegetations for food, fodder, shade, fuel, fence, medicine, beautification etc., and also shelterbelts to protect the storms and winds. With the growing development of road transportation infrastructure, we need to design a planned roadside-permaculture for land utilization and crop production with provision for windbreaks, shade, aeration, light penetration, and ensures recycling of the refuses without disturbance of the adjacent cultivable land. Permaculture will also help to protect artificial lights emit from the transports at night towards the adjacent field crops.

Roadside Permacultutre should be designed considering the following criteria:
• Greenery for beauty and shade and carbon sequestration
• Protection of adjacent field crops from transport lights
• Windbreaks and shelter belts
• Dust, sound and erosion control
• Economical land utilization
• Food security

For roadside permaculture, multipurpose tree crops (MPTCs), hedges, fruit and vegetables, fibres, oil seeds, grams and peas, medicinal plants etc. are to be selected according to their habit and habitats. The preferred MPTCs are:

Mango: for fruit, timber, shade, windbreak, microclimate and soil improvement; plant to plant distance should be 6 meter; suitable varieties (Jat) should be selected for different regions. Propagation is done by seeds and grafting.

Jackfruit: for fruit, timber, windbreak, vegetable and fodder; plant to plant distance 6 meter; flood free terraces with red soil are preferred. Propagation: by seeds and grafting. Pruning of young shoots or branches of the mature trees are needed to be done in the month of Bhadra.

Black berry: for fruit, timber, shade, windbreak, microclimate and soil improvement; plant to plant distance should be 6 meter; high humus soil with high water-table are preferred. Propagation: by seeds.

Palmyra palm: for fruit, toddy, timber, canoe, windbreak, microclimate and soil improvement, erosion control; leaves are used as thatch, fans, mats and handicrafts, and brooms; plant to plant distance should be 4-6 meter; it is cosmopolitan and can withstand strong winds with speed 300 km even more. Propagation: by seeds.

Dates: for fruit, Juice and toddy, timber, windbreak, microclimate, erosion control, leaves are used as thatch, fans, handicrafts, and brooms; plant to plant distance should be 4-6 meter; it is cosmopolitan and can withstand strong winds with speed 300 km even more. Propagation: by seeds.

Coconut: green coconuts are for drink, mature fruits are for oil, cooking, cakes; timber, canoe, windbreak, microclimate and soil improvement, erosion control; leaves are used as thatch, fans, mats and handicrafts, and brooms; plant to plant distance should be 6 meter; it prefers high water-table zones and can withstand strong winds. Propagation: by fruits.

Drumstick or Sajina: Sticks and leaves are used for vegetables and have a great medicinal value especially for sexual dysfunction and products are used for increased energy and vitality, mental and emotional wellbeing, bursting with anti-aging nutrients, healthy blood naturally, organic nutrients for mother, clarity, focus, and concentration, skin and viral diseases etc. Propagation: by seeds and branch cuttings. Plant to plant distance should be 3-4 meter.

Kul: a very important nutritious fruit crop; propagation preferred with bud grafting. Plant to plant distance should be 2.5 – 3 meter. Yearly pruning immediately after harvesting of the fruit is recommended.

Small fruit crops: the most important fruit crops are:

Guava: Important fruit crop rich with calcium and vitamin C; propagation by seeds and grafting, plant to plant distance is 2 to 2.5 meter; pruning at alternative year is better but no mulching.

Lemons: Important citrus fruits, very rich with vitamin C, flavorful. Mulching is highly required especially is dry season.

Banana: very suitable fruit crop for roadside permaculture and intercropping with lemons. 3-4 shoots are optimum in a clump. Green banana and inflorescence are used as vegetables. Banana leaves are used for thatch, fence and peels are rich with potassium, and the ashes are used for washing cloths and as potash source. Propagation by sucker; best planting time is Baishak-Jaistya and Bhadra and Ashwin.

Papaya: a very important fruit and vegetable crop. Early cropping, propagation by seeds, plant to plant distance is 2 meter and can be grown throughout the year. Dry season Irrigation is required.

Other seasonal vegetable and fruit crops like Shim, Jingha, Purol, Kakrol, pumkin, gourds, arums, pineapple and musk melon etc. can be planted with or without small supports.

Hedge plants: the suitable hedge plants are Mehedi (Henna), Ixora, Lantana, Akanda can be planted along the roadsides especially to protect the other crops from the transport lights. Mehdi, Lantana and Akanda should be pruned regularly. Mehdi leaves are good cosmetic dye, tattoos and also prevent dandruff. Lantana and Akanda are very important liquid pesticides especially for Biodynamic preparations.
Annual and biannual pulse crops like Black gram, Mung bean and Pigeon pea can be grown along the roadsides.

Some important cash crops like silk cotton, mulberry, Jatropha can also be grown along the roadsides. However, some important commercial medicinal plants like Bohera, Neem, Amloki, Horitoki, Nishinda, Kalomegh, Tulsi, Nayantara, Stinging nettle, Sarpagangandha, Aloe vera (Gritokumari) etc. can be grown with little or no care and most of them are self propagated.

A few ecofriendly tree crops like Chateem, Tetul, Kadamba can also be planted along the roadsides.

The roadside permaculture should consider the healthy environment and eco-friendly habitat with fruit and multipurpose tree crops, vegetables and spices, arums and medicinal plants. However, now-a-days many people have started to grow some exotic trees tike Sissoo, Rain tree, Mahogany, Acacia, Epil-epil and Eucalyptus etc., influenced by some so-called experts’ propaganda “Plant tree and save the environment”. These plants do not allow good undergrowth, affects surrounding area giving shade or withdrawing huge soil nutrients and water, and some invite wildfires and cause more damages during storms and cyclones. Their leaves are not readily decomposable even sometimes take more than 2 years for decomposition. Moreover, thousands of Sissoo, Rain tree and Acacias are dying every year due to water-logging and acid rains.
Therefore, no such plants must be planted along the roads and highways.

Although Bangladesh is considered as an agriculture rich economy-based country with very little land per capita but land use and productivity is very poor. Therefore, we must look into the matter and should try to utilize our land in a very productive and efficient way for our livelihood materials, food security and employment and also for natural protection mechanism. The permaculture technique is a new dimension for growing crops; emphasizes the daily management of natural resources with rigorous and complex agrosilvipastoral systems for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, resource management and production towards food security. An urgent policy planning is needed to implement permaculture for the benefit of the nation.

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Director, CGEC International University of Business Agriculture and Technology Bangladesh

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2 thoughts on “Permaculture on the Highways and Roadsides – a new dimension for Food Security

  1. …An absolute imperative if we are going to establish food security –we
    must devote all public land towards perennial food trees/food forests
    and every home, roof top, and appropriate surface must be devoted to
    food gardens by law! All of those things are easy; we can do it, no
    problem. The questions arise are about the people systems, management
    systems, power structures, distribution and so on; those are the hard
    questions that we need to solve. Personally, I don’t believe any
    centralized, hierarchical power structure can manage such systems. It
    has to be small scale, local, community managed.

  2. I mistakenly commented on a different post. My comment was actually meant for this post. “An absolute imperative if we are going to establish food security –we
    must devote all public land towards perennial food trees/food forests
    and every home, roof top, and appropriate surface must be devoted to
    food gardens by law! All of those things are easy; we can do it, no
    problem. The questions arise are about the people systems, management
    systems, power structures, distribution and so on; those are the hard
    questions that we need to solve. Personally, I don’t believe any
    centralized, hierarchical power structure can manage such systems. It
    has to be small scale, local, community managed.”

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