Stories tagged: Bangladesh

#FillTheGap! Joining up women for a common goal in Bangladesh

This is the first post of Farming First’s #FillTheGap campaign to highlight the gender gap facing rural women working in agriculture.

With only 60 per cent of Bangladeshi women economically active, it can be difficult for those who want to grow a business to engage others. One of the major challenges that rural women often face is a lack of access to social networks, which hinders entrepreneurialism.

When Jahanara Begum, 45, started out as a Farm Business Advisor (FBA), she faced negative comments and scepticism from her family and community in Hizla Upazila, in the Barisal district.

But as her networks began to grow and bring together local market systems, she proved her doubters wrong.

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Alexis Ellicott: Bringing Gender Parity to the Agricultural Inputs Sector

In this guest blog post, Alexis Ellicott, CNFA Chief of Party on the USAID/Agro-Inputs Project tells Farming First how women are being empowered to enter into the male-dominated sector.

Women produce more than half of the world’s food. Global population is forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050, and the world’s women will continue to shoulder a huge share of the responsibility for feeding all those additional mouths.

But time is not on women’s side. According to the World Economic Forum, we still will be more than 120 years from full gender parity in 2050. It is no stretch to foresee that this continued lack of parity, should it persist as forecast, will severely hinder the ability of women to perform their key role in feeding the world’s population—and produce a potentially disastrous shortfall in the global food supply.

Given these facts, it is clear that if we are to meet our future food needs, we must put increased emphasis on empowering the world’s women farmers and rural women entrepreneurs. And we must act quickly.

Empowering women in many – perhaps most – areas of the world is not a simple task. As anyone involved in global development can attest, efforts to promote gender parity must clear hurdles unique to the social and cultural setting of each initiative.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day — “Be Bold for Change” – hits close to home for me. For the last two years, I have lived in Bangladesh, working with Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), which is implementing the USAID/Agro-Inputs Project (AIP). The effort has been a broad success, not only for men, but also for women. Through the creation of a local Agro-Input Retailers Network (AIRN), AIP now provides funding, training, and technical advice to more than 3,000 retailers selling inputs such as seed and fertilizer – including more than 200 women in what previously had been an almost entirely male-dominated sector.

AIRN has a trainers’ pool comprised of experts and retailers who deliver hands-on, easy-to-understand training on quality inputs and business management.

AIRN has a trainers’ pool comprised of experts and retailers who deliver hands-on, easy-to-understand training on quality inputs and business management.

This initiative has revealed examples of the sorts of obstacles women face when attempting to play a greater role in rural economies. Through research conducted in 2013, AIP learned that the small number of women-run agro-input (farm supply) businesses that then existed typically operated out of a woman’s home, and that women primarily sold only seeds due to societal “taboos” against women handling other inputs such as chemicals. AIP also discovered that 87% of the households in the surveyed area were headed by men, and that nearly 74% of men claimed sole household authority for decisions regarding the purchase of inputs. These societal attitudes are deeply ingrained, so the key to empowering these women to achieve success in agriculture and agribusiness meant designing solutions that conformed to the local cultures, rather than trying to change those cultures outright. That meant using tools within the cultural and societal environment itself to overcome obstacles that prevented women from gaining gender parity in the agro-inputs sector.

Under AIP, for example, even after receiving verbal and written consent from family and local community leaders—a critical step in ushering women into agribusiness–we learned that a woman’s acceptance by male peer retailers was ultimately the critical factor in her ability to successfully enter the agro-inputs sector.

CNFA therefore adjusted its approach to leverage more than 300 male “champions” – local agro-retailers who provided interpersonal counselling during the launch stages of the women retailers’ new businesses. In this way, CNFA was able to directly support the success of these women, while more effectively normalizing the notion of female business ownership within a male-dominated sector. In fact, over time, experienced women retailers also began to serve as champions to others through formalized visits and discussions, and more than 30 women now participate as leaders in AIRN local committees.

AIRN members keep sales records, which helps them to get better idea of inventory needs.

AIRN members keep sales records, which helps them to get better idea of inventory needs.

Empowering women in these efforts also required other adjustments. Due to their generally lower levels of education, lack of business expertise, limited freedom of movement, and the general gender segregation in Bangladesh, training had to be held in areas close to the women’s residences and teaching styles had to be modified. For many women, this was their first formal professional training. We found that participatory exercises increased engagement and adoption of the material over more traditional “classroom” approaches. And to ensure the sustainability of these new retailers, additional initiatives were designed to enhance their leadership and decision-making skills.

For Swapna Mondol, the training has given her a new confidence. “I used to sell agro-inputs, clothes, and rice from one store,” she told us. “When I joined AIRN, I found out that having inputs and food together can be hazardous to me and to my customers. So, I shifted my agro-inputs to another shop and feel more comfortable now to run the business.”

Another AIRN participant, Swapna Begum, can now play a bigger role in supporting her family. “Earlier, working as a day laborer and tea stall owner, I faced difficulty in supporting my family. That’s why I wanted to serve in a role that would benefit my family and community better. AIP’s matching grants program has pushed me forward to be a successful woman entrepreneur in agro-inputs business”.

Efforts have paid off, but the lessons learned from them must be passed on, refined and repeated in rural areas around the world.

I can attest to the fact that these important and critical changes are possible even in a country where rigid societal and cultural attitudes prevail – as long as those attitudes are respected and carefully addressed.

It is in fact time to be “bold for change,” to empower women in rural societies, and prepare them to assume a greater role in addressing the challenge to feed our growing world.

Governments, nonprofits and other organizations must continue to work together to make this happen. All of our futures depend on it.

Deborah Hellums: Can Fertilizers Help Us Mitigate Climate Change?

In this guest blog, Dr. Deborah Hellums, Chief Program Officer at the International Fertilizer Development Center outlines the ways that sustainable fertilizer use can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and play a role in SDG 13, combatting climate change. 

Every person alive depends on agriculture for food, but agriculture accounts for 12 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. About half of these emissions come from arguably a most necessary component of agriculture: the use of nitrogen fertilizers. Mineral fertilizers, combined with organic fertilizers (along with other inputs and best management practices), currently keep about half of the global population alive. Without them, soils become devoid of nutrients, leading to low and declining yields and soil degradation, including loss of soil carbon. Continue reading

Farmer Outreach Boosts Crop Yields and Income

For millions of farmers in Bangladesh, increasing crop yields and boosting income is a struggle amid challenges such as lack of access to technology, post-harvest losses, financing and natural calamities. As most farmers know little about using crop protection products responsibly, pollution of the environment has been a common problem in rural Bangladesh.

Mizanur Rahman, the proud owner of an 8-hectare farm in Comilla in south-eastern Bangladesh, has been growing rice, potatoes and corn on his land for the last 10 years. However, like many other farmers in the region, Rahman used to struggle with low productivity, pest infestation, power outages and financing.

I was farming for 10 years, but I didn’t enjoy good yields until I attended a CropLife Asia training program two years ago

To improve farmers’ livelihoods in the country, the Bangladesh Crop Protection Association (BCPA) joined with CropLife Asia to educate farmers on increasing productivity through Good Agricultural Practices. In 2009, the partners aim to train 6,000 farmers in 120 villages nationwide, up from 5,000 in 100 villages a year earlier.

Developing farmers’ skills in the responsible use of pesticides has not only helped boost crop yields, but has reduced growers’ costs. Previously, farmers were spraying excessively, lacking knowledge in identifying specific pest infestations and choosing appropriate products.

After being trained, I applied pesticides more efficiently. This resulted in a 20 percent drop in expenses. At the same time, production rose 10 percent. My crops are also bigger and healthier these days, said Rahman.

For Rahman, training on how best to tap into new agricultural technology has boosted his income and living standards for his family. He can now afford to rent a house in Comilla town, 20 km away from his farm house in Shialdhair, so that his eldest daughter, 8, can save on an arduous daily commute to school. Rahman appreciates the many benefits training has brought him.

With knowledge from the training, not only has my income risen – I’m also contributing to food safety.

To expand outreach to Bangladesh’s more remote communities, BCPA screened documentary films on responsible product use practices. In addition, it distributed thousands of posters on judicious use of pesticides at BRAC community service centers nationwide. BRAC is an NGO committed to rural development. In Asia and Africa. Displaying these posters in BRAC centers throughout rural areas of the country has helped to generate greater awareness among farmers on responsible product use.

Visit www.croplifeasia.org to learn more about work towards sustainable agriculture across the Asia Pacific region.

Climate Change Risks and Food Security in Bangladesh

In the last two decades, an ever-increasing frequency of floods, droughts and cyclones have caused extensive economic damage and have impaired livelihoods in Bangladesh. Agriculture, a key economic sector accounting for nearly 20 per cent of GDP and 65 per cent of the labour force, is greatly at risk. Adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change is a key sustainable development and food security issue in Bangladesh.

Projected as one of the countries to be most seriously affected by climate change, researchers have studied a range of climate risks to Bangladesh and identified adaptation measures in the agricultural sector using a comprehensive integrated framework.

The World Bank report, published by Earthscan, considers a range of climate factors, including warmer temperatures, higher carbon dioxide concentrations, changing characteristics of floods, drought and sea level rises, which are then examined according to the biophysical data specific to Bangladesh.

The research findings predict a much warmer and wetter future climate, in which sea level rises could significantly increase the area the is prone to flooding. Whilst the report examines how agriculture in Bangladesh is heavily dependent on the characteristics of the annual flood, it acknowledges that irregular floods of high magnitude can have disastrous effects.  Increased flows into the three major rivers in Bangladesh could stimulate a 10 percent increase in flooded areas by 2050.

Climate change is predicted to reduce rice production, Bangladesh’s main crop, and increase the country’s reliance on other crops and imported food grains. Crop production is potentially set to decline for at least one crop in each region. This simulated variability is projected to cost the agriculture sector US$26 billion in lost agricultural GDP during the 2005-50 period.

Overall, agricultural GDP in Bangladesh is projected to be 3.1 per cent lower each year as a result of climate change.

These risks will not only affect those in the agriculture sector, but all the way up the food chain to household consumption.

However, these production impacts ignore the economic responses that could be put into place to buffer against these physical losses.

The report concludes with adaptation options to climate change that incorporate methods to stimulate growth in the agricultural sector. As a comprehensive action plan, the recommendations cover improving crop productivity, supporting agricultural research and development, promoting education and skills development, increasing financial services, enhancing irrigation efficiency and water and land productivity, strengthening climate risk management and developing protective infrastructure.

On-farm opportunities, whereby farmers have improved access to modern rice varieties, irrigation facilities and fertilizers could help close the current gaps in actual and potential yields thereby offsetting climate change impacts.

Whilst the precise impact of climate change on developing countries remains to be seen, this report serves as a guide to other countries faced with similar challenges of securing food security.

Drip Irrigation Helps Farmers in Bangladesh Grow Crops in Salt-affected Soil during Dry Season

March and April are the driest months in Bangladesh.  During this time, up to 880,000 hectares of land is left fallow because of the intrusion of saltwater into the soil.

Bangladesh is benefiting from new research into how to make this land productive during the dry season.   Using simple drip irrigation technology on raised planting beds, tomato farmers were able to increase their yields fourfold by leeching salts out of the root zone of the plants.  Water for the drip irrigation is taken from ponds set up to collect rainwater.  As a result, salinity levels drop to less than 30% of levels typically recorded.

Researchers at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in conjunction with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) determined that this innovative farming practice had a benefit-cost ratio of 4.71.  This means that for every dollar (or Bangladeshi taka) invested in the technology, it would return $4.71 extra in profits.

The extra yields could help feed the country’s 140 million people or could be sold as a cash crop to generate incomes.