If we track the history of floating agriculture in Bangladesh, we may find six major phases. It is difficult to pinpoint when floating cultivation began in Bangladesh—the current reckoning goes up to 400 years ago.
Although water hyacinth is now the base material to make floating beds to grow crops on them, this was not possible a couple of centuries ago as this South American aquatic plant was introduced to Bengal only in the 1890s.
In his 2009 article in Environment and History, Iftekhar Iqbal reused a map from 1922 that showed the wild spread of water hyacinth in Bengal. Since the “very seriously affected” areas included the greater Faridpur and Barishal regions—the centre of origin of floating farming in this delta—we may assume that a water hyacinth-based agro-system might have started a century ago.
However, there exists an alternative story. After harvesting, paddy stub traditionally used to be left on the field in heaps, which floated as flood water entered into the wetlands. Farmers used these floating rafts to raise seedlings and grow vegetables on them by adding a layer of soil or other organic matter. An archaeo-botanical study in south-central Bangladesh may confirm the true origin of this traditional practice.