In Bangladesh, monsoons flood and erode river embankments, wash away houses and agricultural land, and displace over 200,000 people that take shelter in public places or migrate to urban areas. In the northwest region of Bangladesh, the yearly flooding creates nearly insurmountable poverty conditions and disenfranchises those living on the riverbanks. When the monsoon subsides and the rivers recede, thousands of hectares of transitional land (sand-covered silty riverbeds) emerge and exist for six to seven months. SWFF Innovator Practical Action Bangladesh developed a pro-poor solution – sandbar cropping – that improves communities’ economic and nutritional status as well as water usage in agriculture, and contributes to sustainable land management.
“Life is changing in communities where we transform sandbars into green and orange landscapes. We have implemented a sustainable model for poverty eradication and are addressing food insecurity in this region,” explains Nazmul Chowdhury, Head of Extreme Poverty Programme.
Project Captures the Attention of Bangladeshi Prime Minister
A project that now has 170 farmers in 11 locations producing 63,000 pumpkins, Practical Action Bangladesh has caught the attention of the Bangladesh’s Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. She instructed the Ministry of Planning to support the landless and char dwellers (transitional or permanent islands in the river system). Following this, Practical Action Bangladesh signed an MOU with the Department of Agricultural Extension to mainstream the innovation as a national program.
“Policy makers are motived to adopt wider replication of a program that can benefit millions of people. To have the Prime Minister involved is a breakthrough in our innovation,” Chowdhury adds.
Beneficiaries Inspired by the Innovation and Economic Opportunities
In addition to creating economic opportunities for farmers, the project creates what Chowdhury describes as breakthroughs about what’s possible. One farmer, who was investing the pumpkin sale proceeds, was able to buy a $1500 motorbike and a big cow and complete much-needed repairs on his house.
“Women are greatly inspired by this innovation. Prior to this, they had no access to economic activity or resources.”
“Women are greatly inspired by this innovation. Prior to this, they had no access to economic activity or resources. They were cooking and raising their children. They are getting access to the vegetables and to the cash the crops bring. Now, they have great access and control over resources and the project. They feel empowered,” he explains.
Chowdhury explains that the project success can be attributed to connecting with local partners, a consistent focus on innovating on the process of development, government support at the highest levels for rapid expansion and impact, and the financial and business modeling support from the SWFF program.
When asked about next steps, Chowdhury notes that he will focus efforts on establishing linkages with food processing companies (e.g., Pran, an international food processor, is working to make chips from the Practical Action pumpkins), diversification of crops, gaining access to external markets, and identifying synergies with other SWFF innovators (e.g., MetaMeta’s salt tolerant potato).
“We have a sustainable model for poverty eradication. We are using water more efficiently, changing the economic and nutritional status for landless people, and successfully developing something of nothing. A practical answer project with practical solutions,” he concludes.