Mohammad Mofizul Islam Gazi is a farmer and father of two living on the front lines of climate change in southern Bangladesh—one of the most vulnerable areas in all of Asia to cyclones and sea level rise.
In his village of Sutarkhali, he harvested rice—the most popular crop in his home country—on a small plot of land from which he was able to feed his family. But May 25, 2009, changed his life forever. Cyclone Aila unleashed her fury across the southern coast of Bangladesh and into West Bengal in neighboring India, and claimed everything Gazi and his family owned.
“We were devastated,” said Gazi. “Cyclone Sidr [in 2007] couldn’t destroy us, but Cyclone Aila nailed the last pin in the coffin. There was nothing left.”
The cyclone began as a moderate disturbance as it crept toward the coastline of Bangladesh. However, the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal fueled the tropical storm, transforming Aila into a full-borne cyclone as it made landfall. A tidal wave ripped through the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, displacing thousands of villagers. This surge of saltwater swept through the region devouring trees, vegetation and precious farmland that provides people like Gazi their chief source of food and income.
Cyclone Aila hit one of the most underdeveloped areas in Bangladesh, leaving more than 200,000 homeless in a region where survival includes tackling extreme poverty and a regular onslaught of floods.
After spending several days at a cyclone shelter, Gazi and his wife and children returned to where their home once stood. “All we had left after Aila was a single pillar of the house,” said Gazi.
He and other villagers also discovered that saltwater had infiltrated the paddies where they used to grow rice and vegetables. As time went on, they also noticed the crops they used to cultivate were not producing the same amount of harvests. Before the storm, the typical bigha—a rice field measuring approximately one-third of an acre—could produce up to 200 kilograms of rice. After Aila, farmers were only able to produce 70 kilograms on the same plot of land.
“The water didn’t move for months,” recalls Gazi, “and when we tried to grow crops, we couldn’t. We were spending money and energy in vain. There was literally nothing that was growing well in the fields and our village was suffering from malnutrition, with no job opportunities and with no food.”
In 2012, a USAID agriculture program introduced Gazi and several other farmers in the area to new varieties of rice seeds. “They told us these were saline- and submergence-tolerant seeds,” he said. “Seeing no other alternative, I and my other fellow farmers got some seeds from them and sowed them into our piece of lands.”
In partnership with international research institutes and with support from USAID, the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute developed flood- and saline-tolerant varieties of rice that produce higher yields. Rice plants grown using these improved seeds can survive between 12 and 14 days when completely submerged underwater, compared with traditional rice varieties that can only endure three or four days of submersion. For the most vulnerable country in the world to cyclones and sixth-most prone to flooding, these appear to be the perfect seeds to plant.
Developing rice seeds that can withstand soil salinity and prolonged submersion in water was a difficult process that required more than 10 years of testing and research, recalls Jiban Krishna Biswas, director general of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. “The first challenge was creating a laboratory suitably equipped for testing these improved seeds. My team of scientists and I feel encouraged and proud to take part in this process, which can help farmers in Bangladesh and other developing countries become more resilient to natural disasters.”
The farmers in Sutarkhali learned to plant their fields using the newly developed rice varieties. They also learned how to store and save these improved seeds to use in the following season’s rice crop. Now, they are harvesting between 250 and 300 kilograms of rice per bigha—up to 50 percent more than they produced before Cyclone Aila hit.
Gazi’s paddy also requires less fertilizer and pesticide, helping him save money he previously poured into his field to help feed his family. In addition, he and his wife preserved rice seeds for future use and sold the leftover seeds to several neighboring farmers.
“Before, I used to grow about 150 kilograms of rice in one bigha. Now, with less fertilizer, seed and pesticide, I can grow more than double what I used to grow in the same piece of land before Aila hit,” Gazi said.
Rice production in Bangladesh has tripled over the last 30 years, while the poverty rate has declined by 15 percent over the past decade. Despite these gains, 40 percent of the population currently lives below the poverty line.
Forty-eight percent of Bangladeshis are employed in the agriculture sector in a country that is one of the world’s largest producers of rice, tea, jute, potatoes, mangoes and onions. However, population growth, urbanization, and soil and natural resource depletion have resulted in the degradation of land and bodies of water. This poses a significant threat to the agriculture sector in Bangladesh. Rising sea levels, frequent flooding and extreme weather patterns compound the threats to food security.
“Investing in agricultural growth and innovation is an important way to fight both hunger and poverty, especially in rural areas where people rely on their land to survive,” says Ramona El Hamzaoui, chief of USAID’s agriculture and food security programs in Bangladesh. “This is why our Feed the Future activities concentrate on some of the most vulnerable areas in southern Bangladesh. We strive to help poor farmers increase their resilience to flooding and severe weather, and stabilize their income through improved technologies and diversified crops.”
In 2013, USAID helped approximately 350,000 farmers adopt high-yielding, stress-tolerant rice varieties in southern Bangladesh. In Sutarkhali, USAID initially reached out to about 50 families, including Gazi, to demonstrate the benefits of planting flood- and salt-tolerant rice. The seeds produced from these homestead farms were used by neighboring farmers for the next season of rice cultivation, and use continues to expand throughout the area.
“By addressing some of the most important needs—access and availability of important food resources—Sutarkhali has emerged from the wrath of Cyclone Aila and farmers are growing more rice than before,” says El Hamzaoui. “Farmers are able to farm again, families are able to eat, and the village is more resilient as a result.”
This story originally appeared in USAID Frontlines.
Scaling up agricultural technologies is rooted in a basic economic principle: economies can only grow so much without technological advancement to improve efficiency in production. That’s why a Feed the Future program focused on cereal crops in South Asia is helping smallholder farmers in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, adopt innovative technologies and farming practices that will enable them to sustainably grow more of their own food.
Since 2009, Feed the Future’s Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has combined innovative research, extension and market-oriented solutions to boost farmers’ capacity to produce staple crops in more efficient, climate-resilient and ecologically responsible ways. The program has already demonstrated success in popularizing improved cropping techniques, introducing new and more productive crop varieties and linking farmers to markets.
But for Feed the Future to have transformative impacts on agricultural production in Bangladesh, a critical mass of smallholder farmers in the areas where the initiative works need to have access to more advanced and efficient technologies at affordable prices.
In order to reach more farmers with critical agricultural technologies, Feed the Future established a specific CSISA project focused on mechanization and irrigation in Bangladesh. Led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in partnership with agricultural value chain experts International Development Enterprises, the project increases farmers’ access to agricultural machineries and surface water irrigation equipment that are appropriate for smallholders, with a focus on getting the right technology for efficient farming into local markets.
In order to maximize the scalability of new technologies, the mechanization and irrigation project focuses on those technologies that have proven through CSISA to have the most potential for enhancing productivity and conserving natural resources in the region. These include fuel-efficient surface water irrigation pumps and agricultural equipment that conserves resources by increasing precision, such as tools that plant seeds at a consistent depth in the soil.
To achieve widespread commercial availability of these technologies, Feed the Future is building public-private partnerships with key actors in Bangladesh’s agricultural supply chain, including agricultural machinery importers and manufacturers, local machinery dealers and local service providers. The project targets service providers as key agents in technology dissemination, as smallholder farmers in Bangladesh tend to hire local providers who already have the technology they need rather than investing directly in large mechanized equipment themselves.
In its first six months, the mechanization and irrigation project has forged agreements with two major private agricultural machinery companies, leveraging over $600,000 of investment to commercialize the machineries at scale in the areas where Feed the Future’s work is concentrated. Bangladeshi food products company PRAN-RFL Group is also a commercial partner in the project and has already imported over 1,200 fuel-efficient pumps to Bangladesh for sale at a reduced cost to local service providers throughout Feed the Future’s focus areas.
To date, over 2,000 hectares of land in Bangladesh have already undergone transformative agricultural intensification facilitated by local service providers who have sold improved mechanized and irrigation services to farmers. As Feed the Future continues to engage private sector partners through CSISA, more smallholder farmers will be able to access more sophisticated technologies and sustainably increase production on their land.
A quick introduction to the USAID Horticulture Project in Bangladesh, where partners the International Potato Center, AVRDC - The World Vegetable Center, BRAC and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) are working with local farmers to diversify diets and agricultural production systems with potato, orange-fleshed sweet potato, summer tomato, and nutritious indigenous vegetables. Meet some of the women farmers that have benefited from training in grafting tomato and producing sweet potato seedlings.
Since 2008, farmers in the village of Bokundia (Bangladesh) have increased their potato production by 800 percent and sales more than $500,000. How did they do it? USAID talks about their stories. Stories of associations—association of business with technology, knowledge and markets.
Last year we launched an innovative tool to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture. Last month, we celebrated its one-year anniversary. This month, we’re highlighting how you, yes you, can access data from the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index and the tool itself.
First, some quick background—the WEAI tracks women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas: production, resources, income, leadership, and time use. Developed by USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, the WEAI is the first tool of its kind to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture relative to men in their households.
Feed the Future uses the WEAI to measure the impact of our programs and to identify constraints to women’s empowerment and engagement in agriculture. As a diagnostic tool, the WEAI helps us strategize about what interventions can best help women make gains in those constrained areas. Beyond Feed the Future, we’ve worked to make the WEAI a tool that the broader development community and partner nations can use.
This week, you may be hearing a lot about open data thanks to the G8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture. Open data is important to help achieve Feed the Future’s goals, including our goal of empowering women in agriculture. By making Feed the Future data sets, like those from the WEAI, available to the public, we enable collaboration among data users and others that can spur innovation toward our goals.
Already, by releasing materials on the WEAI as soon as it was finalized, we’ve seen several development partners adopting the WEAI or its components for monitoring and evaluation:
Now it’s your turn. This week as the G8 holds its conference on open data for agriculture, we’re highlighting anew what is out there on the WEAI for you to use:
You can also click on over to the International Food Policy and Research Institute’s website to explore the WEAI Resource Center for these items and more.
And, speaking of population-based surveys, don’t miss out on the data we just released from Feed the Future household surveys in Bangladesh and Ghana. Over the past year, we’ve collected data for the WEAI through these surveys and the full WEAI modules for Bangladesh and Ghana are available.
Check back for more data sets, including more WEAI modules, as we will continue to publish data that can be used to improve food security and women’s empowerment.
The Hon. Marty McVey is a member, appointed by the U.S. president, of USAID’s Board for International Food and Agricultural Development (BIFAD).
The BIFAD advises and makes recommendations to the USAID Administrator on food security, development efforts, and implementation of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It also monitors progress.
During his second trip in January with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab: Collaborative Research on Integrated Pest Management (formerly the Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program), McVey visited food security projects in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. India is a strategic partner with Feed the Future, and Bangladesh and Nepal are Feed the Future focus countries.
We asked McVey a few questions about his visit and the exciting collaborations and progress he observed.
First, tell us a little about your trip. Where did you go and why were you there?
I accompanied a team of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab personnel from Virginia Tech, Penn State, and the Ohio State University to South Asia to review the activities of the IPM Innovation Lab in this part of the world. I attended workshops, regional planning meetings, toured facilities of private sector and NGO partners), and met with U.S. Ambassadors, USAID Mission directors, partner scientists, farmers, and members of farming cooperatives in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
The purpose of my trip was to see how Feed the Future’s goals are being accomplished, particularly through the work of the IPM Innovation Lab with its many partners and programs in South Asia. What I learned was encouraging.
Who did you spend time with during the trip? How did you see various food security actors, particularly from the research community, interacting and working together to achieve Feed the Future goals on the ground?
In Bangladesh, scientists from all three countries I visited, as well as representatives from USAID and The World Vegetable Center, attended a regional planning meeting for the IPM Innovation Lab’s Southeast Asia project. Interaction among scientists from the United States and host countries was lively and facilitated collaboration.
While visiting with the vice chancellor of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India and our partnering scientists at that institution, I observed their strong commitment to working with us to foster increased use of organic farming methods.
In India, scientists from Senegal, Kenya, Ghana, and Guatemala—supported by Feed the Future through the IPM Innovation Lab—attended a biocontrol workshop centered on the use of Tricoderma (a beneficial fungus used to attack fungi with deleterious effects) and Pseudomonas (a beneficial bacterium). Each of the scientists gave a presentation on the work they were doing in their home country. Through this kind of support, Feed the Future is exponentially expanding its impact and providing opportunities for scientists to learn new techniques. Those scientists then return home and share what they’ve learned, which translates to better in-country capacity.
The IPM Innovation Lab has also partnered with the Biocontrol Research Lab, a private company in India that produces biocontrol products to help farmers safely grow highly productive crops.
Through this partnership, farmers can learn about the benefits of using biocontrol methods to control pests and plant diseases and with the increased income they generate through these methods they are able to expand their use of such products. Companies find a viable niche in the economy. Everybody wins: Farmers increase their incomes without depleting or harming the soil and environment, companies are successful, and local communities have more and healthier produce to buy and consume. Public-private partnerships like this are helping to ensure that food security efforts in India are sustainable.
In each country I visited, the USAID Missions were pleased with the work of the IPM Innovation Lab and expressed that IPM Innovation Lab efforts are helping to achieve impact in advancing food security. In Bangladesh and Nepal, they are working to implement IPM packages (a set of techniques designed for a particular crop) in Feed the Future target regions.
What impact did you see the IPM Innovation Lab having? How was it making a difference?
In Nepal, pheromone trap technology introduced by the IPM Innovation Lab is helping coffee producers manage the white stem borer of coffee, a serious pest in the region. Classical biocontrol of the papaya mealybug, thanks to an IPM Innovation Lab initiative, has restored production of papaya, mulberry, cassava, eggplant, and other crops to the pre-incidence level in southern India. And in Bangladesh, the IPM Innovation Lab helped successfully reverse the decline in eggplant production, a staple crop, by introducing eggplant grafting in 2004 to combat bacterial wilt. The farmers were very appreciative of this initiative.
The adoption of Trichoderma and Pseudomonas in vegetable farming in India is extensive. In Bangladesh, Trichoderma is produced with compost and distributed to farmers. The adoption of culture to attract and kill the melon fly on bitter gourd farms in Bangladesh is also very popular. The popularization of Trichoderma throughout the tropical world is spectacular and should be continued as it makes such a difference in the lives of smallholder farmers.
From your tweets, it looks like you spent some time with smallholder farmers. How was the IPM Innovation Lab working with them, particularly women farmers? What did the farmers have to say?
There are many success stories coming out of these countries regarding integrated pest management (IPM) thanks to the involvement of the IPM Innovation Lab. The farmers themselves are perhaps the most inspiring.
One of the biggest stories for me was my colleague’s account of a visit to a village near Kathmandu, Nepal. In this small village, women have been so successful at using IPM techniques that they are able to buy clothes for their children, pay for more schooling for them, and even build houses with the extra income they generate.
At another farmers’ cooperative, I learned that while it only has 27 members, 500 people benefit from the work of the organization. A woman sits at the head of this group. The members of this organization are able to make small loans to other members, allowing them to buy materials for building greenhouses, drip irrigation systems, sticky traps, or pheromones. All of this is allowing women farmers to sustainably grow more and healthier produce.
At a coffee plantation in Nepal I heard this story repeated: “Ninety percent of the beans that we grow are of better quality since we started using IPM techniques,” one woman said. And I learned from our collaborating partner in Nepal, iDE, that it focuses on working with women because they’re more reliable and committed than the men, and they are also better savers.
What encouraged you most about this trip, the projects you saw, and the people you met?
I was most inspired by the difference that Feed the Future, through the IPM Innovation Lab, is making in the lives of women farmers. I saw this with the women agricultural students and farmers who I met at the Sri Avinashilingam Krishi Vigyan Kendra University in India and with the women farmers who I met in Nepal.
Women farmers see firsthand how using biocontrol methods produces vegetables and crops that are safer and of better quality. They are using the extra income to improve the lives of their families. And they are forming organizations to extend the benefits to one another through loans. They’re also extending benefits beyond their organizations by working with other women’s cooperatives.
During my visit to the women’s agricultural university, I spoke to a large group of several hundred women farmers. It was encouraging to see these young women take a positive step for their own future and that of their communities by investing in themselves and in the future of agriculture through higher education. The university is set up such that it not only trains women in agriculture, but it also encourages small businesses by training students in activities such as fabric production and handcrafts.
What key messages will you take back to the BIFAD on the value/success of the IPM Innovation Lab?
Overall, the progress toward Feed the Future’s goals was encouraging.
South-South collaboration is strong and yielding results. The biocontrol workshop at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University was an example of this. By providing training to promising young scientists in other developing countries, the program is extending the benefits of IPM methods.
The research and practitioner community is flexible, responding to new challenges as they arise. Policy-makers sometimes lag behind. As scientists learn of new invasive pests and diseases, they are quick to adapt, figuring out new solutions to challenges on the ground. Government officials often lag behind in understanding the importance of acting quickly and red tape can slow effective techniques.
Women are making strides. Where women are allowed or encouraged to have agency in their lives, they are making a huge difference.
While adopting new strategies is risky for subsistence farmers, once they see results they become evangelists. To the subsistence farmer, new practices are suspect: If you are just barely getting by, why try something that may remove even that tiny profit altogether? And yet, from my visits to farming villages and through meeting with farmer collectives and speaking with farmers themselves, I learned that once a farmer sees (often through demonstration plots) that these new methods can work, they become enthusiastic advocates.
Public-private partnerships are promising. Public-private partnerships across the countries we serve through the IPM Innovation Lab were inspiring, with strong partners in every country that are helping create self-sustaining programs.
Change is incremental, but nonetheless effective. While we don’t always get a dramatic splash for our investments dollars in the developing world, it is money well spent. The smile on the face of a woman who has built a house using money she earned from IPM methods is invaluable. The pride of the young women embarking on higher level agricultural studies was inspiring. The enthusiasm of our scientist partners from developing countries attending the biocontrol workshop was gratifying as well. Often, as I mentioned above, it can be difficult to persuade a farmer to adopt new methods. But once we do, and are successful, word of mouth spreads to other farmers and villages and extends across a region. Over time, this has a huge impact.
Follow McVey on Twitter for more on his trip and future updates. McVey will brief the public on his trip at the BIFAD board of directors meeting this Friday, March 15. Check out the webcast on Friday. We’ll also post the meeting minutes later on the USAID website.
On Tuesday, February 28, 2012, the Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) was launched at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The WEAI is the first-ever measure to directly capture women's empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector. Women play a critical role in agricultural growth in developing countries, yet they face persistent obstacles and economic constraints, limiting further inclusion in the sector.
The WEAI is a partnership between the U.S. Government's Feed the Future intiative, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) of Oxford University. The index will be used for performance monitoring and impact evaluations of Feed the Future programs around the world. It has been piloted in regions of three countries so far - Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda.
Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index Resources
Since 2000, Bangladesh’s GDP has grown at an average rate of six percent. Rice production has tripled over the last 30 years, while the poverty rate has declined by 10 percent over the past decade. Despite these gains, Bangladesh is the most densely populated large country in the world, with 150 million people living in a land area roughly the size of Iowa. As a result, poverty, lack of access to agricultural land, and poor eating habits contribute to one of the highest undernutrition rates in the world. Forty percent of the population and 50 percent of the female population is undernourished. Forty percent of the population currently lives below the poverty line and the country has one
Over the next five years in Bangladesh, Feed the Future aims to help an estimated 879,000 vulnerable Bangladeshi women, children and family members—mostly smallholder farmers—escape hunger and poverty. More than 371,000 children will be reached with services to improve their nutrition and prevent stunting and child mortality. Significant numbers of additional rural populations will achieve improved income and nutritional status from strategic policy engagement and institutional investments.
To meet its objectives, Feed the Future Bangladesh is making core investments in four key areas:
1. On-Farm Productivity Increased
Resources from the USAID/Bangladesh Mission regarding Feed the Future and food security in Bangladesh. For more resources on Feed the Future strategy and implementation in Bangladesh, visit the Strategy tab.