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Professor M.M.R. Jahangir, Bangladesh Agricultural University, working with Living Blue

As a result of historical indigo cultivation, natural indigo remains a ‘taboo crop’ in Bangladesh, and agricultural officers have often discouraged natural indigo plantation. Meanwhile tobacco cultivation, which devastates the soil, finds a dark parallel in the Indigo story. A farmer quoted in a 2007 WHO study on Tobacco Cultivation and Poverty on Bangladesh, reads: ‘When the imperialists were here, we were forced to grow indigo. Now we are tricked into growing tobacco.’  Meanwhile chemical dyes used in the textile industries pollute Bangladesh’s waterways. 

But recent years have also seen a revival in the cultivation of natural indigo. The indigo plant is a legume that fixes nitrogen in the soil. NGOs like Living Blue have discovered that farming indigo as a cover crop with rice has economic and environmental benefits.

Now farmers are ‘reclaiming’ a taboo crop from the stigma of a dark past.  Could the revival of Indigo cultivation lead to sustainable development and more sustainable livelihoods in Bangladesh?

Professor Jahangir investigates three key questions: 

1 To investigate farmers’ perceptions about indigo cultivation in-terms of economic benefits and soil health.

2. To compare changes in soil biophysicochemical properties between indigo and tobacco cultivated soils.

3. To evaluate the environmental impacts of blue production from indigo using chemical treatments.

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