There was a time five years ago when Nazmul Chowdhury wasn’t at all sure if the Securing Water for Food (SWFF) program the Bangladeshi development expert signed up for was his cup of tea. After all, the program—funded by USAID, Sweden, South Africa, and the Netherlands—set strict goals for his NGO, Practical Action, and held their feet to the fire to achieve milestones or else lose technical assistance and funding. After a few months, Chowdhury got over his reluctance and embraced the program as being an excellent model for agriculture innovators and a tremendous benefit to poor farmers.
Chowdhury, now a contractor with the Water Resources 2030 Group of the World Bank, was uncomfortable with SWFF in the beginning because he was more oriented to working with charity-style programs. SWFF, on the other hand, set specific goals toward the innovation being sustainable and eventually scalable. To be among the 40 plus innovations selected, Nazmul’s organization, Practical Action, entered a competition with thousands of other programs to receive grant money and technical assistance.
“My thinking was transformed early,” said Chowdhury from his home in Dhaka. “Though I admit it wasn’t the type of charity work to which I was accustomed.
It’s a big job,” he said. “I’m happy I can do my small part.
“But I bought into it after a few months and realized it was an excellent model for Bangladesh and other developing countries that need a leg up, but not a continuous handout,” he added.
In the last five years, Chowdhury has become one of the stars of the SWFF program, which he credits to helping him land another position with the World Bank. He was the guiding light for an innovation called Pumpkins Against Poverty that helps feed thousands. While walking along a riverbank one day after the monsoon rains had subsided, he wondered if a crop couldn’t be grown on the vast expanse of sandbars created. He took the question back to his superiors at Practical Action, who agreed it was possible.
Today, that one innovation is lifting many out of a subsistence living, and the pumpkin crop is being sold in markets.
After leaving Practical Action, Chowdhury put the entrepreneurial principles he had learned under the SWFF program and started his own side business called Pumpkins Plus, an endeavor that is still moving forward while he works with the World Bank. “My work with SWFF gave me extra fuel and energy,” said Chowdhury. “It ignited me to move ahead. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”
Chowdhury is convinced that it will take programs such as SWFF and its follow-on initiative, Water and Energy for Food (WE4F), to meet the challenges of the future. Experts predict that by the year 2050, there will only be enough usable water for a third of the world’s population.
“It’s a big job,” he said. “I’m happy I can do my small part.”
Chowdhury feels that given crises such as the current coronavirus, the world will need to develop more and better ways of producing food by using less water. “I’m in the right place for this,” he added.
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.
This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture. #socialimpact #innovation #agriculture #water