In many parts of the country this year’s heavy rainfall has submerged extensive stretches of farmland and Sirajdhikhan upazila in Munshiganj is no different. But farmers there have found an unlikely ally as they wait for the weather to change and fields to re-emerge. To keep food on the table they have turned to harvesting water lilies.
As farmers are left virtually unemployed, many make ends meet by collecting and selling Shapla or water lillies, the national flower of the country.
Shapla flowers are available from mid-monsoon to late autumn. The stems and roots of this flower remain under the water and the leaves and flowers float on the water.
Shapla is considered as a delicious vegetable. Shapla now remains there on the menu of some rich people while some people once used to eat Shapla as the substitute of rice for lack of food.
“At this time of year, one can collect many water lilies from Char Nimtolar Beel in Latobdi union,” says Mollik Babu, 45, referring to a local wetland. He notes that at a time up to 40 ‘mothas’ of water lilies can be picked from dawn to noon, with one motha equivalent to sixty stems. “Wholesalers buy the lilies direct from the harvesters,” he says.
More than one hundred families in Sirajdhikhan upazila in Munshiganj make their fortune by selling this delicious and beautiful monsoon flower.
The lilies are then traded at markets in Rasunia, Imamganj, Nimtola and Taltola in Sirajdikhan, with many ultimately headed for the wholesale market in Dhaka’s Jatrabari.
Across Sirajdikhan, in the now-submerged fields that usually nurture Irri and Aman rice varieties or jute, thousands of water lilies are facing the rain with beauty. With a season that usually runs from May until about mid-October, the national flower is serving as a food source and income generator for farmers and others facing hard times.
In this way, the humble water lily is a valuable lifeline for thousands of struggling and economically marginal families across the upazila and other parts of the district; and the additional income source is particularly welcome during the rainy season when would-be labourers and farmers in the haor areas find other work hard to come by.
It is such seasonally unemployed workers who rely on lily harvesting the most, as a means to maintain solvency through the employment lean season.
Fortunately there is no shortage of demand. In towns of villages, lilies, known as a nutritious food, are mashed, fried and added to various traditional dishes.