The Drivers and Impacts of Selling Soil for Brick Making in Bangladesh

The Drivers and Impacts of Selling Soil for Brick Making in Bangladesh Soil degradation is an important threat to sustainable agriculture. In Bangladesh, brick production contributes to soil loss as the country relies on clay-rich soil for brick making. An in-depth understanding of why farmers sell soil and the corresponding impacts on agricultural productivity is critical for developing and implementing new policies for utilizing alternate materials and methods in Bangladesh and other areas that continue to rely on fired clay bricks as their primary building material. A team of anthropologists conducted 120 structured interviews and 20 in-depth interviews in two different geographical areas in Bangladesh to understand the incentives for and impacts of selling soil. The primary reason farmers sold soil was pressure from neighboring farmers who had previously sold soil. Once neighboring property owners had sold soil, then farmers felt they needed to sell their soil to level their land with the neighboring plot to avoid future production loss. Short-term monetary gain from selling soil was also a strong motivator helping farmers manage acute financial crises. In addition, farmers are frequently compelled to sell soil for brick making because of coercive practices by brick-owners and their soil brokers. In this study, farmers reported 40–80% reduction in crop production and 40–70% reduction in income due to soil removal. The loss of the soil reduces agricultural yields leading to both short- and longer-term impacts on crop production that influence the country’s food security. ● ● ● ● ● Keywords Bangladesh Brick kilns Crop yields Food security Topsoil Soil degradation Introduction 2.5 micron particulate matter (PM ) in the air in Dhaka and 2.5 throughout Bangladesh (Guttikunda et al. 2013; Hossain Bangladesh’s population growth and increasing affluence et al. 2007). Statistical modeling suggests that the air pol- have contributed to increased construction and demand for lution generated by brick kilns results in between 530 and building materials (BBS 2012). Though bricks are the main 5000 premature adult deaths annually in Dhaka alone construction material in Bangladesh, their production, (Croitoru and Sarraf 2012; Guttikunda and Khaliquzzaman mostly in the form of widely dispersed single small kilns, 2014). contribute substantially to poor air quality and poor com- In addition to air quality problems, brick production munity health (Brunekreef and Holgate 2002; Cohen et al. impacts agricultural production by utilizing fertile topsoil 2005; Guttikunda et al. 2013; Ostro 2004; Pope et al. 2002). from agricultural lands (Brunel et al. 2011; Kathuria and During the dry season when they operate (normally Balasubramanian 2013) and releasing toxins, including November to April) they contribute an estimated 40% of the heavy metals, that influence agricultural productivity (Skinder et al. 2014) and threaten food security (Lal 2013). For example, research in Tamil Nadu, India, found that following topsoil removal for brick production, soil man- * Debashish Biswas ganese was reduced by 35% and zinc by 63%, and on debashish@icddrb.org average, topsoil removal resulted in a loss of about 28 kg of Infectious Diseases Division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal nitrogen, 3 kg of phosphorous and 34 kg of potash per Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), Dhaka, Bangladesh hectare of land. This removal of topsoil was associated with Centre for Environment and Population Health, School of a 124 kg per hectare (3%) reduction in rice yields and 62 kg Medicine, Griffith University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia per hectare (4%) reduction in groundnut yields (Kathuria Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA and Balasubramanian 2013). 1234567890();,: 1234567890();,: Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 793 Fig. 1 Field sites located near two urban areas of Bangladesh: Dhaka and Jessore In developing countries, soil degradation has been of the broader environmental issues relating to the impacts identified as the most important threat to food security of rapid and often uncontrolled urbanization on prime (Chen 2007) and in Bangladesh, brick production is one of agricultural land in the vicinity of urban areas. This broader the main contributors to soil loss (Huq and Shoaib 2013; issue is not unique to Bangladesh, or to low- and middle- Khan et al. 2004). The increasing demand for bricks in income countries, with examples provided by the literature Bangladesh associated with rapid industrialization and from many diverse locations around the world (Bren urbanization has raised the demand for soil as a building d’Amour et al. 2016; Satterthwaite et al. 2010). material. An estimated 5000 brick kilns are currently Despite the use of alternative construction materials and operating in Bangladesh (World Bank 2011) and most of brick designs that reduce the volume of soil inputs used in them are located on fertile agricultural land. Kilns typically other countries like China (Chianga et al. 2009; Raut et al. occupy 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of agricultural land (Luby 2011), no such alternative material or designs are currently et al. 2015) with space required for the firing kiln, storing used in Bangladesh. Other countries including China and raw materials and also making and drying green bricks. In several states in India have developed policies towards brick aggregate, the brick sector in Bangladesh consumes an manufacturing including specifying the use of alternative estimated 45 million tons of clay every year (World Bank materials. For example, the Indian state Chhattisgarh 2011; Guttikunda and Khaliquzzaman 2014). A study (population 25 million) has banned clay bricks for any conducted in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, India, found that construction and the government has introduced an Envir- over a period of 20 years increased brick production onmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirement for mining decreased the cultivated area by 8.9% (Singh and Asgher of brick making material (Chakravartty 2012; Ministry of 2005). While the focus of this research is specific to the Envirionment and Forest MoEF 1998). reasons for soil selling and the consequent impacts on The extent of soil removal in Bangladesh is unknown, landowners in areas of Bangladesh, it raises the importance and only a small number of studies have investigated the 794 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 effect of soil removal on land productivity (Heierli and ranked unions in each of the two study areas. From each Maithel 2008). Better understanding of the system of soil union, 5 villages were randomly selected. Within each vil- mining to supply brick kilns may identify opportunities for lage the anthropology team first engaged in several informal reducing the impact on agricultural productivity. In addi- conversations with farmers (individually and in a group) in tion, a more comprehensive understanding of the broader order to list all farmers who sold soil in the past 10 years. impacts of reliance on clay bricks can inform considerations We categorized all listed soil sellers into three different in Bangladesh and other countries that continue to rely on groups: farmers who sold soil 1–2 years ago, 3–5 years ago fired clay bricks as their primary building material. To and 6–10 years ago. If a farmer sold soil more than once, we address this gap in knowledge, this study explored two key considered the last event of soil selling for categorization. areas: (i) why farmers in Bangladesh sell soil from their Then, four farmers from within each time frame were fertile agricultural land and (ii) the impacts of this soil selected and interviewed, collecting data for a total of 12 removal on agricultural productivity and farmer income. farmers per village, with a target of 60 farmers per union. If an insufficient number of farmers were identified in the randomly selected village, additional farmers from the Materials and Methods nearest village were sought. A minimum of 20 farmers were interviewed across villages for each of the soil selling time Study Site and Population categories. We designed a survey to gather data to estimate crop This study was conducted in two districts, Dhaka and Jes- productivity immediately after soil selling as well as esti- sore (Fig. 1). These two districts were selected to represent a mates of productivity for a number of years afterwards. We flood-prone and flood-free area so as to explore the different used a standard questionnaire developed and pre-tested by incentives for soil selling and impact over time due to soil the research team at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal removal. These two types of area were chosen to represent Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr, b) that included an area that has seasonal flooding (this area generally questions about how participants had learned of the pro- remains under water for 5–6 months during the rainy sea- spect of selling soil, when and how much soil they sold, son) and one that does not. This is based on the assumption how much they earned from selling the soil and estimates of that areas with seasonal flooding would have recharge of agricultural yield from the year before they sold the soil, the topsoil and recovery of agricultural productivity compared year immediately after they sold the soil and the last year with places with no flooding. We selected an area near (the year when data collection had taken place) after they Dhaka as the flood-prone area because the largest number of sold soil and their income from that particular plot of land brick kilns are located in this area. We selected an area near where they had sold soil in these three time periods. Jessore as the flood-free area because its elevation is com- Summary statistics were generated from survey data paratively higher than the flood level and approximately collected from 120 farmers. Pre-and post-selling of soil per 180 brick kilns operated in Jessore during data collection; a plot of land calculations was made for categories of: crop higher number than in the nearby areas. Within these dis- production, area and depth of soil sold, lost agricultural tricts we selected a low-lying area located on Brahmaputra productivity and income. Comparisons of the three time flood plain in the West of Dhaka city that was a seasonally periods associated with the soil sale and agricultural pro- flood-prone area, and a flood-free area of Jessore district. A ductivity loss and income gain were made. The differences field team collected both quantitative (questionnaire survey) in these variables between the flood-prone and flood-free and qualitative (in-depth interview) data between November areas were identified. 2012 to March 2013 and January 2014. Qualitative Data Collection Survey For the qualitative component we purposively selected 15 To meet the requirements of the quantitative component of farmers in Dhaka and 5 farmers in Jessore who sold soil the research, our team of anthropologists asked 10 brick kiln from their agricultural land 12–36 months before the date of owners in each site to identify unions (this is the smallest interview and who were not interviewed for quantitative rural administrative and local government unit in Bangla- information. desh) where they had purchased the most soil for their kilns Anthropologists conducted in-depth interviews with soil during the last 10 years. These owners were chosen on the sellers to explore the incentives that led them to sell soil, basis of recommendation from the Bangladesh Brick asking how the farmers learned of the prospect of selling Manufacturing Owners Association (BBMOA). Based on soil, how much soil they sold, how much they earned from the frequency of responses we selected the two highest selling soil, what they did with the money they earned by Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 795 Table 1 Estimated amount of soil sold by farmers for brick making of the soil sellers reported that they sold soil to make their land level with neighboring plots of land (Fig. 3). Flood-free area (N = Flood-prone area (N = 60) 60) Farmers also explained that sometimes, brick kiln owners Mean (95% CI) Mean (95% CI) themselves purchased land, collecting soil to the maximum depth from that land, hence creating a physical trap that Area (m ) 1675 (1225–2125) 2345 (1832–2859) undermined agricultural productivity of adjoining land Depth (m) 0.5 (0.43–0.58) 1.3 (1.04–1.49) effectively forcing neighboring farmers to sell their own Total soil removed 877 (566–1188) 3380 (1965–4795) 3 soil. (m ) The second most reported reason for selling soil was due to a financial emergency (30/120 (25%); Fig. 3). Study selling soil and exploring the reasons why they sold soil participants explained that soil selling is more profitable and from their fertile agricultural land. All in-depth interviews has a faster return than growing crops. Further, they do not were audio recorded. The team also took detailed hand- need to invest any labor or money to earn a return through written notes where needed. selling soil. One respondent explained: “Now the demand All in-depth interviews were transcribed verbatim, and and price of soil is high, and rising day by day. I can get then summarized and translated into English. They were more money by selling soil than raising rice”. Furthermore, reviewed and manually coded, relationships between dif- when farmers faced a financial emergency and could not ferent codes were identified and examined, and then secure money from other sources they sold soil from their grouped accordingly to summarize the findings from agricultural land to quickly solve their financial problems. interviews. One soil seller said, “My brother went abroad for a job. In that time we needed a large amount of money urgently, but we could not manage it from other sources. So we sold soil Results from our land”. Farmers stressed two issues: firstly, they can earn a large amount of cash at one time without making Soil Removal any investment; secondly, they sell only some soil, not the land, so their land ownership is not affected. For example, The amount of soil sold per farmer was higher in the flood- one soil seller said, “I sold just soil from my land, I am not prone area compared to the flood-free area (Table 1). On losing ownership. I can do everything in that land and even average, 877 m of soil per farmer were removed in the cropping a few years later”. Study participants explained flood-free area compared with more than 3000 m in the that for many farmers or landlords, soil selling has turned flood-prone area. The mean depth of soil sold was also into a profitable business. For example, one soil seller higher in the flood-prone area. explained that, a landowner can earn approximately 100,000 taka (US$1470) by selling 800 m of soil (the Drivers for Selling Soil approximate land area is 134 m or 0.01 hectares). On the other hand, they can produce 650–680 kg of rice on that Farmers explained how the increased demand for bricks in 0.01 hectares of land in a season if the land is located in a nearby fast growing urban areas affected landowners and flood-prone area, with a market price of approximately farmers. The primary reason farmers sold fertile soil from 12,000 taka (US$180). In comparison, they have to wait at their agricultural land was pressure from neighboring least 8 years to earn the equivalent 100,000 taka (US$1470) farmers. The removal of soil from neighboring lands from soil selling by cropping their land. These interview changes the local topography and if the farmer does not results are confirmed by survey results presented in the next remove soil from his own land, it is too high relative to his section. Additionally, farmers’ decisions about soil selling neighbors and it cannot retain water or fertilizer (Fig. 2). are influenced by uncertainty as to whether they will be able This results in markedly reduced productivity and erosion. to earn that amount of money through rice cultivation due to One farmer explained, “They (other soil sellers) cut down climatic events, market price, supply of fertilizers and unfair all three sides beside my land. My land became higher than crop prices. the nearby lands and thus became unsuitable for cultiva- Farmers explained that soil selling and brick manu- tion. As a result, I sold soil too”. This action by neighbors facturing leads to new roads and driving across agricultural also impacts access to land. For example, one soil seller lands because for brick businesses, transportation facilities said, “My land remained high/dry, but there was water all are a pre-requisite. They indicated that when trucks/ around the land due to soil removal from those lands, I motorized vehicles move beside agricultural lands then could not go there easily, also the cattle were not taken these areas are filled by dust which reduces their agricultural there. Therefore, I was forced to sell”. Thus, 61% (73/120) production and income. They further mentioned that due to 796 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 Fig. 2 Photo A represents the soil removal from agricultural land; removed; Photos C and D illustrate the brick making process with clay photo B demonstrates the difference between the surface height of the that was collected from farmland; and photos E and F illustrate the two types of plot—where soil was removed and where soil was not brick burning and release of black smoke into the air Participants also reported that low productivity of land motivated them to sell soil. Though their land is cultivable, due to its low production capacity, farmers have less interest in using it for agriculture. For example, farmers explained that in some areas, soil is mixed naturally with sand making that land less productive, particularly for growing rice. In such cases, farmers consider soil selling as the most prof- itable use of their resource. Third, soil selling farmers reported that many suppliers or agents were working as middlemen along with brick kiln owners for securing soil supply for brick making. These suppliers and/or agents, commonly known as dalal (broker), frequently visit farmland owners pressuring them to sell their soil. For example, one soil seller said, “Brick kiln owners send some people to us; these are dalal of soil. They Fig. 3 Reasons for soil selling reported by soil sellers (N = 120) (multiple responses allowed) tell us, ‘give me some soil, you will get lots of money. Some soil would be sold from your land and you will get huge benefit’.” In the Jessore field site, farmers indicated that not the hot black smoke emitted from the brick kilns, the pro- only the broker, but also the brick kiln owners, encouraged duction rate of crops and fruit in the vicinity decreased, and sometimes forced their employees who own land to sell harming the economic productivity of nearby farmers. soil. Study participants reported that brick kiln owners Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 797 employ farmers on the chance that they can collect soil from them. Participants in the Dhaka area also explained that brick kiln owners sometimes collected soil from their farmland by force. Further to this, sometimes land is stolen and sometimes soil collectors dig soil more deeply without the farmer’s agreement. This happens more frequently to farmers who have limited financial resources and who have no political connections in the community. These examples illustrate the types of coercive behaviors and actions by powerful landlords and brick makers and their agents that exploit poor farmers. Farmers also described the flooding pattern, acknowl- edging that the restorative potential of the floods to renew the topsoil was an important factor in their decision making to sell soil. For example, during the rainy season, land in a flood-prone area is filled with flood-water and large quan- tities of sandy silt are deposited to this land, and thus after a certain period of time following soil removal, the land rejuvenates and fertile soil is replenished. Perceived Impact of Soil Removal on Soil Quality and Agricultural Yields The majority of soil sellers in the flood-prone area (77%) and half of the soil sellers in the flood-free area (50%) perceived that soil quality decreased significantly following soil removal (Table 2). Although they identified that initially soil quality decreased following soil removal, during the in-depth interviews, sellers reported that a few years later the land appeared the same as before, due to being filled by silt through flood-water, particularly in flood-prone areas. Farmers also mentioned that soil removal impacts are dependent on the crops grown. Lowland environments were identified as being good for rice cultivation, while vege- tables required higher land as soil dries out more quickly. Therefore, removal of soil had little impact on rice yields but significantly reduced productivity of vegetables. Moreover, the impact on crop yields depends on the amount of soil removed. Sand is more prevalent at greater depth and this usually reduces agricultural yields. Therefore, deeper soil removal (more than 0.3 m) sometimes resulted in a drastic loss of soil fertility and the land becoming agri- culturally unproductive. Impact on Agricultural Production and Income All soil sellers who cultivated land in the year immediately after they sold soil reported a reduction in crop production compared to the year before they sold soil (Table 3). The differences were larger among the soil sellers in the flood- prone area. In the flood-prone area, farmers produced rice and vegetables such as brinjal, cauliflower, cabbages, bottle Table 2 Perceived impact of soil removal on soil quality and agricultural yields among farmers who sold soil Changes in soil quality/agricultural yields Flood-prone area (N = 60) Flood-free area (N = 60) Soil quality freq. (%) Agricultural yields freq. (%) Soil quality freq. (%) Agricultural yields freq. (%) Soil quality/yields remained the same as previous 5 (8) 2 (3) 5 (8) 3 (5) Soil quality/yields increased to some extent – 3 (5) 3 (5) 6 (10) Soil quality/yields increased significantly –– 1 (2) 2 (3) Soil quality/yields decreased to some extent 9 (15) 8 (13) 21 (35) 23 (38) Soil quality/yields decreased significantly 46 (77) 47 (79) 30 (50) 26 (44) 798 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 Table 3 Average reported crop production per hectare in both sites before and after soil removal Crop Flood-free area Flood-prone area The year before The immediate year The most The year before The immediate year The most soil removal, kg after soil removal, kg recent year, soil removal, kg after soil removal, kg recent year, (SD) (SD) kg (SD) (SD) (SD) kg (SD) Rice 6178 (5189) 5535 (4522) 8649 (5189) 4324 (3706) 2718 (4127) 3459 (4596) Jute 173 (682) 44 (237) 0 3212 (22,042) 0 0 Wheat 104 (593) 49 (366) 49 (366) 0 0 0 Mustard 148 (465) 49 (227) 0 99 (400) 0 0 Lentil 210 (470) 25 (173) 20 (111) 0 0 0 Vegetables 2348 (11095) 141 (1087) 272 (1673) 6054 (11688) 371 (2965) 148 (815) Total 9161 5843 8990 13689 3089 3607 Decline/increase −36% −2% −77% −74% after soil removal gourd, bitter gourd and tomatoes after they sold soil, while of land was higher among the farmers who sold soil most farmers in the flood-free area produced more types of crops recently (between 1 and 2 years previously) compared to the such as jute, wheat, mustard and lentil in addition to rice farmers who sold soil 3–10 years previously (Table 5). and vegetables. In the flood-free area, although rice yields Farmers used income from soil selling mainly to meet their for the most recent year were higher compared to the year daily needs, construction of housing and for health before they sold soil, the other crop yields, e.g. vegetables, treatments. decreased significantly. Reduction of crop yields in the year immediately following soil removal was 36% in the flood- free area and 77% in the flood-prone area. These crop yields Discussion resulted in an average loss of income from crop production of 40% in the flood-free area and 71% in the flood-prone A fundamental resource for agricultural production in area (Table 4). Bangladesh is land, yet agricultural lands are progressively A large percentage (70%) of farmers in the flood-free decreasing. In rural areas as well as in areas surrounding area who sold soil 3–5 years or 6–10 years previously urban centers, agricultural lands are increasingly becoming recovered their pre-soil selling agricultural income. In occupied by housing projects or by other business projects contrast, no soil sellers in the flood-prone area recovered (Akther and Hossain 2011; Quasem 2011). In addition to their prior agricultural income even after 6 to 10 years due the physical loss of land space for agriculture, the sale of to the loss in crop yields. On average, farmers in both areas soil for brick making is reducing soil fertility across large reported that it took at least 15 months to recover their land areas and hence threatening agricultural productivity. agricultural productivity to those before soil selling. How- This study identified two major factors that influence ever, they could not cultivate vegetables as productively farmers to sell soil from their agricultural land for brick after the soil removal which disproportionately affected making and identified coercive practices that further drive their income. soil selling. The number one reason for soil selling is for An examination of estimated net incomes suggests that farmers to keep their land level relative to neighboring lands lost agricultural income following soil selling was com- so as not to lose productivity. This is consistent with that pensated for by income from selling soil. The average soil reported in Tamil Nadu, India (Kathuria and Balasu- selling earnings were US$1050 per hectare and US$9500 bramanian 2013), indicating that it is economically more per hectare in the flood-free and flood-prone areas, respec- rational for farmers to sell soil instead of facing the pro- tively. One reason for the higher income in the flood-prone duction loss associated with soil removal from neighboring area was that there were significant differences in soil price, plots. and a difference in depth of soil sold. This higher price and The second major reason relates to generating income. increased depth may also relate to the area’s proximity to However, while farmers did earn significant money by Dhaka, where there is a larger demand for soil and asso- selling soil, this income was usually used to meet specific ciated bricks due to the rapid urbanization of Dhaka city. living needs such as daily expenses, housing construction or We observed an increasing trend over time of earning by health treatment and was not commonly reinvested into soil selling. The average earning by soil selling per hectare their livelihood. Household financial crises are a common Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 799 occurrence particularly for those with low income. Low- income households face many risks and fluctuations in their livelihoods and adopt a variety of mechanisms for coping with anticipated fluctuations (McIntyre et al. 2006). When a household faces a financial shock, selling household assets is a useful and common strategy to make short-term adjustments (Kabir et al. 2000; Sauerborn et al. 1996; Wilkes et al. 1997). In Bangladesh selling soil can help farmers manage acute financial crises, but also they perceive that the short-term financial gain can offset the mid-term loss of agricultural productivity. Moreover, production and price uncertainty are both very common in agriculture (Moschini and Hennessy 2001). Uncertainty in profitability from agriculture and increasing demand and high prices offered by brick kiln owners means that selling soil becomes a viable decision. However, the farmers acknowledge that despite the short-term economic benefits the soil selling process itself leads to development of roads and driving over agricultural lands which in turn can also reduce crop production and associated profit. Our study confirmed that business owners sometimes coerce low-income farmers to sell soil. This dynamic occurs when people who have money and connections with poli- tical parties and have a level of informal power outside of the formal power-base of officials and use such power to benefit themselves at the expense of those less powerful (Devine 2008; Lewis and Hossain 2008). Farmers in Ban- gladesh are reluctant to take action against such coercive practices of the well-connected kiln owners because of a sense of powerlessness and perhaps a threat of violence that accompanies the unequal power relationships (Lewis and Hossain 2008) or in some cases loss of employment as reported by informants in this research. This coercive dynamic is further compounded by corruption by elected officials (Shah 2006) who have strong connections with unelected elites or may be landowners or kiln owners themselves. Selling soil has a substantial impact on agricultural productivity and agricultural income. This study estimated a higher loss of productivity compared to the study conducted in Tamil Nadu, India. One reason could be the character- istics of the soil that was more fertile in that region (Kathuria and Balasubramanian 2013). Many factors can affect crop yields following soil removal from fertile agri- cultural land. For example Oyedele and Aina (2006) explained that topsoil removal primarily effects physical properties and organic matter of the soil, because con- centration of organic carbon is higher in the first 15 cm of the soil profile (Bauer and Black 1994). Another study showed that topsoil removal reduces nutritional content of the soil, hence reductions in crop yield (Larney et al. 2000). Although in this study farmers perceived that after a certain period productivity would return to normal, according to Table 4 Estimated average income from crop production per hectare of land in both sites before and after soil removal (US$ ) Category of soil seller Flood-free area Flood-prone area The year before soil The immediate year after soil The most recent The year before soil The immediate year after soil The most recent removal removal year removal removal year Farmers who sold soil 1–2 years 2743 1730 2372 3014 1334 1483 previously Farmers who sold soil 3–5 years 2619 1853 4028 4497 1013 1260 previously Farmers who sold soil 6–10 years 3459 1680 3682 3385 815 1334 previously Average income 2940 1754 3361 3632 1054 1359 Loss/profit per farmer −40% +14% −71% −63% US dollars in 2010 800 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 Table 5 Reported earnings from soil selling a a Categories of soil sellers Flood-free area (US$ /hectares) Flood-prone area (US$ /hectares) Farmers who sold soil between 1–2 years previously 1334 16408 Farmers who sold soil between 3–5 years previously 1013 7240 Farmers who sold soil between 6–10 years previously 815 4843 US dollars in 2010 their own recollection of yields, farmers in the flood-prone the risk of floods and droughts and increasing sea-level and area did not regain their agricultural production even 10 associated salinity (Sikder and Xiaoying 2014). Collec- years after selling their soil. Perhaps, one cause could be the tively, these issues have led to a deficit in production of depth of soil they removed from their farmland. Other food grains in Bangladesh that threaten the country’s food studies have reported similar results; for example, Sui et al. security (Kabir et al. 2016; Hossain and Silva 2013). (2009) summarized the relationship between deep soil There are some limitations in this study. The sample size removal and reduction of crop productivity in a study is small and study subjects were not selected using a method conducted in China to identify the impact of topsoil removal to ensure that they were statistically representative of all soil on corn and soybean yield. Although nutrients can be sellers in Bangladesh, but rather to explore the reasons for resupplied to the soil by adding commercial fertilizer the soil selling and its impacts from the perspectives of the productivity remains affected over time (Lal 2006). High farmers. We planned sampling to permit us to estimate dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to productivity immediately after soil selling as well as esti- increase crop yields ultimately reduce profit as farmers must mates of productivity for periods of years afterwards. Sec- spend significant money to buy them (Rasul and Thapa ondly, we selected Dhaka as a study site as it has the largest 2004). Hence, removal of a greater depth of soil has both number of brick kilns and has more options for other works short-term and long-term impacts on crop production instead of growing crops. However, the impact of soil influencing food security for the nation. Furthermore, we removal for other flood-prone areas could be different in found that soil removal affected crop choice for cultivation terms of economic incentives for soil removal due to dif- reducing the nutritional value of crop yields and thus ferent soil types, crop prices and brick demand, and studies influencing food diversity which has adverse impacts on in other areas would be required to determine if the results human health (Lal 2009). For example, rice remained here are similar in other locations. Another limitation was planted in both the areas, but cultivation of other crops like relying on recall of the farmers to establish past crop pro- jute, vegetables and lentil decreased. In Bangladesh, return duction. However, in the absence of more scientific esti- generated from rice cultivation did not support improving mates of crop productivity we believe that these farmers livelihood of the farmers due to the low profitability of rice who are directly involved in small-scale farming can pro- compared to other profitable crops such as jute and vege- vide important information about the impact of soil selling tables previously reported (Hossain et al. 2002). In addition, on agricultural production and the income trade-off between movement of soil particles during transportation of raw selling soil versus selling crops. materials for brick production also causes serious problems Soil is a valuable natural resource for agricultural pro- to human health (Pimentel et al. 2007). ductivity to ensure sufficient food for the growing Bangla- This fertile soil loss in Bangladesh is compounded by deshi population. As bricks are the main construction other factors that threaten food security. Bangladesh is one material for Bangladesh and there is large and increasing of the mostly densely populated countries in the world. Its demand for building materials, brick production will con- very high population density has led to a virtually saturated tinue to grow in the near future and thus the demand for land pattern that has decreased the opportunity to expand material input will increase. Numerous approaches could agricultural land areas (Streatfield and Karar 2008). Due to reduce this loss of quality soil for agriculture that is critical the rapid population growth in Bangladesh, rural areas are to Bangladesh’s food security. One option is to use alter- transforming to developed areas with more infrastructure. native building materials and processes to meet the growing Every year about 1% of crop land in Bangladesh is being demand for housing. For example, several studies have converted to non-agricultural uses (Hasan et al. 2013). This successfully reported using fly ash to produce bricks which change decreases the contribution of agriculture to the gross is effective for recycling the industrial waste and can reduce domestic product and contributes to landlessness and food the use of clay (Cultrone and Sebastian 2009; Lingling et al. shortage for the country (Ahmad 2005; Dewana and 2005). However in India, it was found that the use of fly ash Yamaguchib 2009). At the same time, climate change actually increases the cost of bricks (Kathuria 2006). A threatens to reduce agricultural productivity by increasing recent study conducted in Bangladesh revealed that people Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 801 preferred quality bricks at the lowest possible price (Luby References et al. 2015). There are some other potential approaches Ahmad N (2005) Slip trip tumble: determining landlessness in rural using industrial waste that could be utilized and it would be Bangladesh. 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World Bank (2011) Introducing energy-efficient clean technologies in Moschini G,Hennessy DA,(2001) Uncertainty, risk aversion, and risk the brick sector of Bangladesh. IBRD/World Bank, Washington management for agricultural producers Handbook Agri Econ 1 DC (Part A):87–153. Ostro B (2004) Outdoor air pollution: assessing the environmental burden of disease at national and local levels. WHO http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Environmental Management Springer Journals

The Drivers and Impacts of Selling Soil for Brick Making in Bangladesh

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Abstract

Soil degradation is an important threat to sustainable agriculture. In Bangladesh, brick production contributes to soil loss as the country relies on clay-rich soil for brick making. An in-depth understanding of why farmers sell soil and the corresponding impacts on agricultural productivity is critical for developing and implementing new policies for utilizing alternate materials and methods in Bangladesh and other areas that continue to rely on fired clay bricks as their primary building material. A team of anthropologists conducted 120 structured interviews and 20 in-depth interviews in two different geographical areas in Bangladesh to understand the incentives for and impacts of selling soil. The primary reason farmers sold soil was pressure from neighboring farmers who had previously sold soil. Once neighboring property owners had sold soil, then farmers felt they needed to sell their soil to level their land with the neighboring plot to avoid future production loss. Short-term monetary gain from selling soil was also a strong motivator helping farmers manage acute financial crises. In addition, farmers are frequently compelled to sell soil for brick making because of coercive practices by brick-owners and their soil brokers. In this study, farmers reported 40–80% reduction in crop production and 40–70% reduction in income due to soil removal. The loss of the soil reduces agricultural yields leading to both short- and longer-term impacts on crop production that influence the country’s food security. ● ● ● ● ● Keywords Bangladesh Brick kilns Crop yields Food security Topsoil Soil degradation Introduction 2.5 micron particulate matter (PM ) in the air in Dhaka and 2.5 throughout Bangladesh (Guttikunda et al. 2013; Hossain Bangladesh’s population growth and increasing affluence et al. 2007). Statistical modeling suggests that the air pol- have contributed to increased construction and demand for lution generated by brick kilns results in between 530 and building materials (BBS 2012). Though bricks are the main 5000 premature adult deaths annually in Dhaka alone construction material in Bangladesh, their production, (Croitoru and Sarraf 2012; Guttikunda and Khaliquzzaman mostly in the form of widely dispersed single small kilns, 2014). contribute substantially to poor air quality and poor com- In addition to air quality problems, brick production munity health (Brunekreef and Holgate 2002; Cohen et al. impacts agricultural production by utilizing fertile topsoil 2005; Guttikunda et al. 2013; Ostro 2004; Pope et al. 2002). from agricultural lands (Brunel et al. 2011; Kathuria and During the dry season when they operate (normally Balasubramanian 2013) and releasing toxins, including November to April) they contribute an estimated 40% of the heavy metals, that influence agricultural productivity (Skinder et al. 2014) and threaten food security (Lal 2013). For example, research in Tamil Nadu, India, found that following topsoil removal for brick production, soil man- * Debashish Biswas ganese was reduced by 35% and zinc by 63%, and on debashish@icddrb.org average, topsoil removal resulted in a loss of about 28 kg of Infectious Diseases Division, International Centre for Diarrhoeal nitrogen, 3 kg of phosphorous and 34 kg of potash per Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), Dhaka, Bangladesh hectare of land. This removal of topsoil was associated with Centre for Environment and Population Health, School of a 124 kg per hectare (3%) reduction in rice yields and 62 kg Medicine, Griffith University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia per hectare (4%) reduction in groundnut yields (Kathuria Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA and Balasubramanian 2013). 1234567890();,: 1234567890();,: Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 793 Fig. 1 Field sites located near two urban areas of Bangladesh: Dhaka and Jessore In developing countries, soil degradation has been of the broader environmental issues relating to the impacts identified as the most important threat to food security of rapid and often uncontrolled urbanization on prime (Chen 2007) and in Bangladesh, brick production is one of agricultural land in the vicinity of urban areas. This broader the main contributors to soil loss (Huq and Shoaib 2013; issue is not unique to Bangladesh, or to low- and middle- Khan et al. 2004). The increasing demand for bricks in income countries, with examples provided by the literature Bangladesh associated with rapid industrialization and from many diverse locations around the world (Bren urbanization has raised the demand for soil as a building d’Amour et al. 2016; Satterthwaite et al. 2010). material. An estimated 5000 brick kilns are currently Despite the use of alternative construction materials and operating in Bangladesh (World Bank 2011) and most of brick designs that reduce the volume of soil inputs used in them are located on fertile agricultural land. Kilns typically other countries like China (Chianga et al. 2009; Raut et al. occupy 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of agricultural land (Luby 2011), no such alternative material or designs are currently et al. 2015) with space required for the firing kiln, storing used in Bangladesh. Other countries including China and raw materials and also making and drying green bricks. In several states in India have developed policies towards brick aggregate, the brick sector in Bangladesh consumes an manufacturing including specifying the use of alternative estimated 45 million tons of clay every year (World Bank materials. For example, the Indian state Chhattisgarh 2011; Guttikunda and Khaliquzzaman 2014). A study (population 25 million) has banned clay bricks for any conducted in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, India, found that construction and the government has introduced an Envir- over a period of 20 years increased brick production onmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirement for mining decreased the cultivated area by 8.9% (Singh and Asgher of brick making material (Chakravartty 2012; Ministry of 2005). While the focus of this research is specific to the Envirionment and Forest MoEF 1998). reasons for soil selling and the consequent impacts on The extent of soil removal in Bangladesh is unknown, landowners in areas of Bangladesh, it raises the importance and only a small number of studies have investigated the 794 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 effect of soil removal on land productivity (Heierli and ranked unions in each of the two study areas. From each Maithel 2008). Better understanding of the system of soil union, 5 villages were randomly selected. Within each vil- mining to supply brick kilns may identify opportunities for lage the anthropology team first engaged in several informal reducing the impact on agricultural productivity. In addi- conversations with farmers (individually and in a group) in tion, a more comprehensive understanding of the broader order to list all farmers who sold soil in the past 10 years. impacts of reliance on clay bricks can inform considerations We categorized all listed soil sellers into three different in Bangladesh and other countries that continue to rely on groups: farmers who sold soil 1–2 years ago, 3–5 years ago fired clay bricks as their primary building material. To and 6–10 years ago. If a farmer sold soil more than once, we address this gap in knowledge, this study explored two key considered the last event of soil selling for categorization. areas: (i) why farmers in Bangladesh sell soil from their Then, four farmers from within each time frame were fertile agricultural land and (ii) the impacts of this soil selected and interviewed, collecting data for a total of 12 removal on agricultural productivity and farmer income. farmers per village, with a target of 60 farmers per union. If an insufficient number of farmers were identified in the randomly selected village, additional farmers from the Materials and Methods nearest village were sought. A minimum of 20 farmers were interviewed across villages for each of the soil selling time Study Site and Population categories. We designed a survey to gather data to estimate crop This study was conducted in two districts, Dhaka and Jes- productivity immediately after soil selling as well as esti- sore (Fig. 1). These two districts were selected to represent a mates of productivity for a number of years afterwards. We flood-prone and flood-free area so as to explore the different used a standard questionnaire developed and pre-tested by incentives for soil selling and impact over time due to soil the research team at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal removal. These two types of area were chosen to represent Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr, b) that included an area that has seasonal flooding (this area generally questions about how participants had learned of the pro- remains under water for 5–6 months during the rainy sea- spect of selling soil, when and how much soil they sold, son) and one that does not. This is based on the assumption how much they earned from selling the soil and estimates of that areas with seasonal flooding would have recharge of agricultural yield from the year before they sold the soil, the topsoil and recovery of agricultural productivity compared year immediately after they sold the soil and the last year with places with no flooding. We selected an area near (the year when data collection had taken place) after they Dhaka as the flood-prone area because the largest number of sold soil and their income from that particular plot of land brick kilns are located in this area. We selected an area near where they had sold soil in these three time periods. Jessore as the flood-free area because its elevation is com- Summary statistics were generated from survey data paratively higher than the flood level and approximately collected from 120 farmers. Pre-and post-selling of soil per 180 brick kilns operated in Jessore during data collection; a plot of land calculations was made for categories of: crop higher number than in the nearby areas. Within these dis- production, area and depth of soil sold, lost agricultural tricts we selected a low-lying area located on Brahmaputra productivity and income. Comparisons of the three time flood plain in the West of Dhaka city that was a seasonally periods associated with the soil sale and agricultural pro- flood-prone area, and a flood-free area of Jessore district. A ductivity loss and income gain were made. The differences field team collected both quantitative (questionnaire survey) in these variables between the flood-prone and flood-free and qualitative (in-depth interview) data between November areas were identified. 2012 to March 2013 and January 2014. Qualitative Data Collection Survey For the qualitative component we purposively selected 15 To meet the requirements of the quantitative component of farmers in Dhaka and 5 farmers in Jessore who sold soil the research, our team of anthropologists asked 10 brick kiln from their agricultural land 12–36 months before the date of owners in each site to identify unions (this is the smallest interview and who were not interviewed for quantitative rural administrative and local government unit in Bangla- information. desh) where they had purchased the most soil for their kilns Anthropologists conducted in-depth interviews with soil during the last 10 years. These owners were chosen on the sellers to explore the incentives that led them to sell soil, basis of recommendation from the Bangladesh Brick asking how the farmers learned of the prospect of selling Manufacturing Owners Association (BBMOA). Based on soil, how much soil they sold, how much they earned from the frequency of responses we selected the two highest selling soil, what they did with the money they earned by Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 795 Table 1 Estimated amount of soil sold by farmers for brick making of the soil sellers reported that they sold soil to make their land level with neighboring plots of land (Fig. 3). Flood-free area (N = Flood-prone area (N = 60) 60) Farmers also explained that sometimes, brick kiln owners Mean (95% CI) Mean (95% CI) themselves purchased land, collecting soil to the maximum depth from that land, hence creating a physical trap that Area (m ) 1675 (1225–2125) 2345 (1832–2859) undermined agricultural productivity of adjoining land Depth (m) 0.5 (0.43–0.58) 1.3 (1.04–1.49) effectively forcing neighboring farmers to sell their own Total soil removed 877 (566–1188) 3380 (1965–4795) 3 soil. (m ) The second most reported reason for selling soil was due to a financial emergency (30/120 (25%); Fig. 3). Study selling soil and exploring the reasons why they sold soil participants explained that soil selling is more profitable and from their fertile agricultural land. All in-depth interviews has a faster return than growing crops. Further, they do not were audio recorded. The team also took detailed hand- need to invest any labor or money to earn a return through written notes where needed. selling soil. One respondent explained: “Now the demand All in-depth interviews were transcribed verbatim, and and price of soil is high, and rising day by day. I can get then summarized and translated into English. They were more money by selling soil than raising rice”. Furthermore, reviewed and manually coded, relationships between dif- when farmers faced a financial emergency and could not ferent codes were identified and examined, and then secure money from other sources they sold soil from their grouped accordingly to summarize the findings from agricultural land to quickly solve their financial problems. interviews. One soil seller said, “My brother went abroad for a job. In that time we needed a large amount of money urgently, but we could not manage it from other sources. So we sold soil Results from our land”. Farmers stressed two issues: firstly, they can earn a large amount of cash at one time without making Soil Removal any investment; secondly, they sell only some soil, not the land, so their land ownership is not affected. For example, The amount of soil sold per farmer was higher in the flood- one soil seller said, “I sold just soil from my land, I am not prone area compared to the flood-free area (Table 1). On losing ownership. I can do everything in that land and even average, 877 m of soil per farmer were removed in the cropping a few years later”. Study participants explained flood-free area compared with more than 3000 m in the that for many farmers or landlords, soil selling has turned flood-prone area. The mean depth of soil sold was also into a profitable business. For example, one soil seller higher in the flood-prone area. explained that, a landowner can earn approximately 100,000 taka (US$1470) by selling 800 m of soil (the Drivers for Selling Soil approximate land area is 134 m or 0.01 hectares). On the other hand, they can produce 650–680 kg of rice on that Farmers explained how the increased demand for bricks in 0.01 hectares of land in a season if the land is located in a nearby fast growing urban areas affected landowners and flood-prone area, with a market price of approximately farmers. The primary reason farmers sold fertile soil from 12,000 taka (US$180). In comparison, they have to wait at their agricultural land was pressure from neighboring least 8 years to earn the equivalent 100,000 taka (US$1470) farmers. The removal of soil from neighboring lands from soil selling by cropping their land. These interview changes the local topography and if the farmer does not results are confirmed by survey results presented in the next remove soil from his own land, it is too high relative to his section. Additionally, farmers’ decisions about soil selling neighbors and it cannot retain water or fertilizer (Fig. 2). are influenced by uncertainty as to whether they will be able This results in markedly reduced productivity and erosion. to earn that amount of money through rice cultivation due to One farmer explained, “They (other soil sellers) cut down climatic events, market price, supply of fertilizers and unfair all three sides beside my land. My land became higher than crop prices. the nearby lands and thus became unsuitable for cultiva- Farmers explained that soil selling and brick manu- tion. As a result, I sold soil too”. This action by neighbors facturing leads to new roads and driving across agricultural also impacts access to land. For example, one soil seller lands because for brick businesses, transportation facilities said, “My land remained high/dry, but there was water all are a pre-requisite. They indicated that when trucks/ around the land due to soil removal from those lands, I motorized vehicles move beside agricultural lands then could not go there easily, also the cattle were not taken these areas are filled by dust which reduces their agricultural there. Therefore, I was forced to sell”. Thus, 61% (73/120) production and income. They further mentioned that due to 796 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 Fig. 2 Photo A represents the soil removal from agricultural land; removed; Photos C and D illustrate the brick making process with clay photo B demonstrates the difference between the surface height of the that was collected from farmland; and photos E and F illustrate the two types of plot—where soil was removed and where soil was not brick burning and release of black smoke into the air Participants also reported that low productivity of land motivated them to sell soil. Though their land is cultivable, due to its low production capacity, farmers have less interest in using it for agriculture. For example, farmers explained that in some areas, soil is mixed naturally with sand making that land less productive, particularly for growing rice. In such cases, farmers consider soil selling as the most prof- itable use of their resource. Third, soil selling farmers reported that many suppliers or agents were working as middlemen along with brick kiln owners for securing soil supply for brick making. These suppliers and/or agents, commonly known as dalal (broker), frequently visit farmland owners pressuring them to sell their soil. For example, one soil seller said, “Brick kiln owners send some people to us; these are dalal of soil. They Fig. 3 Reasons for soil selling reported by soil sellers (N = 120) (multiple responses allowed) tell us, ‘give me some soil, you will get lots of money. Some soil would be sold from your land and you will get huge benefit’.” In the Jessore field site, farmers indicated that not the hot black smoke emitted from the brick kilns, the pro- only the broker, but also the brick kiln owners, encouraged duction rate of crops and fruit in the vicinity decreased, and sometimes forced their employees who own land to sell harming the economic productivity of nearby farmers. soil. Study participants reported that brick kiln owners Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 797 employ farmers on the chance that they can collect soil from them. Participants in the Dhaka area also explained that brick kiln owners sometimes collected soil from their farmland by force. Further to this, sometimes land is stolen and sometimes soil collectors dig soil more deeply without the farmer’s agreement. This happens more frequently to farmers who have limited financial resources and who have no political connections in the community. These examples illustrate the types of coercive behaviors and actions by powerful landlords and brick makers and their agents that exploit poor farmers. Farmers also described the flooding pattern, acknowl- edging that the restorative potential of the floods to renew the topsoil was an important factor in their decision making to sell soil. For example, during the rainy season, land in a flood-prone area is filled with flood-water and large quan- tities of sandy silt are deposited to this land, and thus after a certain period of time following soil removal, the land rejuvenates and fertile soil is replenished. Perceived Impact of Soil Removal on Soil Quality and Agricultural Yields The majority of soil sellers in the flood-prone area (77%) and half of the soil sellers in the flood-free area (50%) perceived that soil quality decreased significantly following soil removal (Table 2). Although they identified that initially soil quality decreased following soil removal, during the in-depth interviews, sellers reported that a few years later the land appeared the same as before, due to being filled by silt through flood-water, particularly in flood-prone areas. Farmers also mentioned that soil removal impacts are dependent on the crops grown. Lowland environments were identified as being good for rice cultivation, while vege- tables required higher land as soil dries out more quickly. Therefore, removal of soil had little impact on rice yields but significantly reduced productivity of vegetables. Moreover, the impact on crop yields depends on the amount of soil removed. Sand is more prevalent at greater depth and this usually reduces agricultural yields. Therefore, deeper soil removal (more than 0.3 m) sometimes resulted in a drastic loss of soil fertility and the land becoming agri- culturally unproductive. Impact on Agricultural Production and Income All soil sellers who cultivated land in the year immediately after they sold soil reported a reduction in crop production compared to the year before they sold soil (Table 3). The differences were larger among the soil sellers in the flood- prone area. In the flood-prone area, farmers produced rice and vegetables such as brinjal, cauliflower, cabbages, bottle Table 2 Perceived impact of soil removal on soil quality and agricultural yields among farmers who sold soil Changes in soil quality/agricultural yields Flood-prone area (N = 60) Flood-free area (N = 60) Soil quality freq. (%) Agricultural yields freq. (%) Soil quality freq. (%) Agricultural yields freq. (%) Soil quality/yields remained the same as previous 5 (8) 2 (3) 5 (8) 3 (5) Soil quality/yields increased to some extent – 3 (5) 3 (5) 6 (10) Soil quality/yields increased significantly –– 1 (2) 2 (3) Soil quality/yields decreased to some extent 9 (15) 8 (13) 21 (35) 23 (38) Soil quality/yields decreased significantly 46 (77) 47 (79) 30 (50) 26 (44) 798 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 Table 3 Average reported crop production per hectare in both sites before and after soil removal Crop Flood-free area Flood-prone area The year before The immediate year The most The year before The immediate year The most soil removal, kg after soil removal, kg recent year, soil removal, kg after soil removal, kg recent year, (SD) (SD) kg (SD) (SD) (SD) kg (SD) Rice 6178 (5189) 5535 (4522) 8649 (5189) 4324 (3706) 2718 (4127) 3459 (4596) Jute 173 (682) 44 (237) 0 3212 (22,042) 0 0 Wheat 104 (593) 49 (366) 49 (366) 0 0 0 Mustard 148 (465) 49 (227) 0 99 (400) 0 0 Lentil 210 (470) 25 (173) 20 (111) 0 0 0 Vegetables 2348 (11095) 141 (1087) 272 (1673) 6054 (11688) 371 (2965) 148 (815) Total 9161 5843 8990 13689 3089 3607 Decline/increase −36% −2% −77% −74% after soil removal gourd, bitter gourd and tomatoes after they sold soil, while of land was higher among the farmers who sold soil most farmers in the flood-free area produced more types of crops recently (between 1 and 2 years previously) compared to the such as jute, wheat, mustard and lentil in addition to rice farmers who sold soil 3–10 years previously (Table 5). and vegetables. In the flood-free area, although rice yields Farmers used income from soil selling mainly to meet their for the most recent year were higher compared to the year daily needs, construction of housing and for health before they sold soil, the other crop yields, e.g. vegetables, treatments. decreased significantly. Reduction of crop yields in the year immediately following soil removal was 36% in the flood- free area and 77% in the flood-prone area. These crop yields Discussion resulted in an average loss of income from crop production of 40% in the flood-free area and 71% in the flood-prone A fundamental resource for agricultural production in area (Table 4). Bangladesh is land, yet agricultural lands are progressively A large percentage (70%) of farmers in the flood-free decreasing. In rural areas as well as in areas surrounding area who sold soil 3–5 years or 6–10 years previously urban centers, agricultural lands are increasingly becoming recovered their pre-soil selling agricultural income. In occupied by housing projects or by other business projects contrast, no soil sellers in the flood-prone area recovered (Akther and Hossain 2011; Quasem 2011). In addition to their prior agricultural income even after 6 to 10 years due the physical loss of land space for agriculture, the sale of to the loss in crop yields. On average, farmers in both areas soil for brick making is reducing soil fertility across large reported that it took at least 15 months to recover their land areas and hence threatening agricultural productivity. agricultural productivity to those before soil selling. How- This study identified two major factors that influence ever, they could not cultivate vegetables as productively farmers to sell soil from their agricultural land for brick after the soil removal which disproportionately affected making and identified coercive practices that further drive their income. soil selling. The number one reason for soil selling is for An examination of estimated net incomes suggests that farmers to keep their land level relative to neighboring lands lost agricultural income following soil selling was com- so as not to lose productivity. This is consistent with that pensated for by income from selling soil. The average soil reported in Tamil Nadu, India (Kathuria and Balasu- selling earnings were US$1050 per hectare and US$9500 bramanian 2013), indicating that it is economically more per hectare in the flood-free and flood-prone areas, respec- rational for farmers to sell soil instead of facing the pro- tively. One reason for the higher income in the flood-prone duction loss associated with soil removal from neighboring area was that there were significant differences in soil price, plots. and a difference in depth of soil sold. This higher price and The second major reason relates to generating income. increased depth may also relate to the area’s proximity to However, while farmers did earn significant money by Dhaka, where there is a larger demand for soil and asso- selling soil, this income was usually used to meet specific ciated bricks due to the rapid urbanization of Dhaka city. living needs such as daily expenses, housing construction or We observed an increasing trend over time of earning by health treatment and was not commonly reinvested into soil selling. The average earning by soil selling per hectare their livelihood. Household financial crises are a common Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 799 occurrence particularly for those with low income. Low- income households face many risks and fluctuations in their livelihoods and adopt a variety of mechanisms for coping with anticipated fluctuations (McIntyre et al. 2006). When a household faces a financial shock, selling household assets is a useful and common strategy to make short-term adjustments (Kabir et al. 2000; Sauerborn et al. 1996; Wilkes et al. 1997). In Bangladesh selling soil can help farmers manage acute financial crises, but also they perceive that the short-term financial gain can offset the mid-term loss of agricultural productivity. Moreover, production and price uncertainty are both very common in agriculture (Moschini and Hennessy 2001). Uncertainty in profitability from agriculture and increasing demand and high prices offered by brick kiln owners means that selling soil becomes a viable decision. However, the farmers acknowledge that despite the short-term economic benefits the soil selling process itself leads to development of roads and driving over agricultural lands which in turn can also reduce crop production and associated profit. Our study confirmed that business owners sometimes coerce low-income farmers to sell soil. This dynamic occurs when people who have money and connections with poli- tical parties and have a level of informal power outside of the formal power-base of officials and use such power to benefit themselves at the expense of those less powerful (Devine 2008; Lewis and Hossain 2008). Farmers in Ban- gladesh are reluctant to take action against such coercive practices of the well-connected kiln owners because of a sense of powerlessness and perhaps a threat of violence that accompanies the unequal power relationships (Lewis and Hossain 2008) or in some cases loss of employment as reported by informants in this research. This coercive dynamic is further compounded by corruption by elected officials (Shah 2006) who have strong connections with unelected elites or may be landowners or kiln owners themselves. Selling soil has a substantial impact on agricultural productivity and agricultural income. This study estimated a higher loss of productivity compared to the study conducted in Tamil Nadu, India. One reason could be the character- istics of the soil that was more fertile in that region (Kathuria and Balasubramanian 2013). Many factors can affect crop yields following soil removal from fertile agri- cultural land. For example Oyedele and Aina (2006) explained that topsoil removal primarily effects physical properties and organic matter of the soil, because con- centration of organic carbon is higher in the first 15 cm of the soil profile (Bauer and Black 1994). Another study showed that topsoil removal reduces nutritional content of the soil, hence reductions in crop yield (Larney et al. 2000). Although in this study farmers perceived that after a certain period productivity would return to normal, according to Table 4 Estimated average income from crop production per hectare of land in both sites before and after soil removal (US$ ) Category of soil seller Flood-free area Flood-prone area The year before soil The immediate year after soil The most recent The year before soil The immediate year after soil The most recent removal removal year removal removal year Farmers who sold soil 1–2 years 2743 1730 2372 3014 1334 1483 previously Farmers who sold soil 3–5 years 2619 1853 4028 4497 1013 1260 previously Farmers who sold soil 6–10 years 3459 1680 3682 3385 815 1334 previously Average income 2940 1754 3361 3632 1054 1359 Loss/profit per farmer −40% +14% −71% −63% US dollars in 2010 800 Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 Table 5 Reported earnings from soil selling a a Categories of soil sellers Flood-free area (US$ /hectares) Flood-prone area (US$ /hectares) Farmers who sold soil between 1–2 years previously 1334 16408 Farmers who sold soil between 3–5 years previously 1013 7240 Farmers who sold soil between 6–10 years previously 815 4843 US dollars in 2010 their own recollection of yields, farmers in the flood-prone the risk of floods and droughts and increasing sea-level and area did not regain their agricultural production even 10 associated salinity (Sikder and Xiaoying 2014). Collec- years after selling their soil. Perhaps, one cause could be the tively, these issues have led to a deficit in production of depth of soil they removed from their farmland. Other food grains in Bangladesh that threaten the country’s food studies have reported similar results; for example, Sui et al. security (Kabir et al. 2016; Hossain and Silva 2013). (2009) summarized the relationship between deep soil There are some limitations in this study. The sample size removal and reduction of crop productivity in a study is small and study subjects were not selected using a method conducted in China to identify the impact of topsoil removal to ensure that they were statistically representative of all soil on corn and soybean yield. Although nutrients can be sellers in Bangladesh, but rather to explore the reasons for resupplied to the soil by adding commercial fertilizer the soil selling and its impacts from the perspectives of the productivity remains affected over time (Lal 2006). High farmers. We planned sampling to permit us to estimate dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to productivity immediately after soil selling as well as esti- increase crop yields ultimately reduce profit as farmers must mates of productivity for periods of years afterwards. Sec- spend significant money to buy them (Rasul and Thapa ondly, we selected Dhaka as a study site as it has the largest 2004). Hence, removal of a greater depth of soil has both number of brick kilns and has more options for other works short-term and long-term impacts on crop production instead of growing crops. However, the impact of soil influencing food security for the nation. Furthermore, we removal for other flood-prone areas could be different in found that soil removal affected crop choice for cultivation terms of economic incentives for soil removal due to dif- reducing the nutritional value of crop yields and thus ferent soil types, crop prices and brick demand, and studies influencing food diversity which has adverse impacts on in other areas would be required to determine if the results human health (Lal 2009). For example, rice remained here are similar in other locations. Another limitation was planted in both the areas, but cultivation of other crops like relying on recall of the farmers to establish past crop pro- jute, vegetables and lentil decreased. In Bangladesh, return duction. However, in the absence of more scientific esti- generated from rice cultivation did not support improving mates of crop productivity we believe that these farmers livelihood of the farmers due to the low profitability of rice who are directly involved in small-scale farming can pro- compared to other profitable crops such as jute and vege- vide important information about the impact of soil selling tables previously reported (Hossain et al. 2002). In addition, on agricultural production and the income trade-off between movement of soil particles during transportation of raw selling soil versus selling crops. materials for brick production also causes serious problems Soil is a valuable natural resource for agricultural pro- to human health (Pimentel et al. 2007). ductivity to ensure sufficient food for the growing Bangla- This fertile soil loss in Bangladesh is compounded by deshi population. As bricks are the main construction other factors that threaten food security. Bangladesh is one material for Bangladesh and there is large and increasing of the mostly densely populated countries in the world. Its demand for building materials, brick production will con- very high population density has led to a virtually saturated tinue to grow in the near future and thus the demand for land pattern that has decreased the opportunity to expand material input will increase. Numerous approaches could agricultural land areas (Streatfield and Karar 2008). Due to reduce this loss of quality soil for agriculture that is critical the rapid population growth in Bangladesh, rural areas are to Bangladesh’s food security. One option is to use alter- transforming to developed areas with more infrastructure. native building materials and processes to meet the growing Every year about 1% of crop land in Bangladesh is being demand for housing. For example, several studies have converted to non-agricultural uses (Hasan et al. 2013). This successfully reported using fly ash to produce bricks which change decreases the contribution of agriculture to the gross is effective for recycling the industrial waste and can reduce domestic product and contributes to landlessness and food the use of clay (Cultrone and Sebastian 2009; Lingling et al. shortage for the country (Ahmad 2005; Dewana and 2005). However in India, it was found that the use of fly ash Yamaguchib 2009). At the same time, climate change actually increases the cost of bricks (Kathuria 2006). A threatens to reduce agricultural productivity by increasing recent study conducted in Bangladesh revealed that people Environmental Management (2018) 62:792–802 801 preferred quality bricks at the lowest possible price (Luby References et al. 2015). There are some other potential approaches Ahmad N (2005) Slip trip tumble: determining landlessness in rural using industrial waste that could be utilized and it would be Bangladesh. University Press Ltd, Dhaka useful to explore these opportunities by conducting addi- Akther F, Hossain SMN (2011) Impacts of private residential land tional research. development projects in the flood flow zones of DMDP Area: Another potential solution is to utilize the existing pro- case study of Tetuljhora union. J Bangladesh Inst Plan 4:57–70 Bauer A, Black A (1994) Quantification of the effect of soil organic cesses and infrastructure but to conserve the topsoil com- matter content on soil productivity. Soil Sci Soc Am J 58 ponent, permitting the mining of material below the top (1):185–193. layer of nutrient-rich soil. Such changes in practice would Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) (2012) Population and housing require feasibility studies and changes in standard industry census 2011: socio-economic and demographic report. Bangla- desh Bureau of Statistics, Dhaka practices. 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