Nazmul Chowdhury

Nominee Nazmul Chowdhury, CNN Hero

Nazmul Chowdhury is a pioneer in food production in the monsoon plagued nation of Bangladesh, birthing an idea that has led to a healthier and substantially better off the population.

His innovation is called “Pumpkins Against Poverty,” and he works under the aegis of the British NGO “Practical Action.” Nearly 15 years ago, Nazmul was walking along a riverbank in southern Bangladesh, observing the destruction torrential rains and flooding had brought to the country.

He spotted vast expanses of barren sandbars that had been left after the monsoons. Nazmul asked himself a defining, “What if?” question:

What if a crop could be grown on these many sandbars, and it could help feed the people, as well as provide products they could take to market and earn money.

He took the idea to his organization. At first, he was met with complete skepticism. Nazmul was told that the sandbars, which flooded every year, were completely useless. He didn’t stop there. The thought nagged at him. He took his idea to higher-ups, and they began to examine the possibility.

As an agricultural strategist for “Practical Action,” Nazmul is totally dedicated to the poorest people of Bangladesh and to finding a solution to food and water issues.

Eventually, it was decided that a nutritious crop such as pumpkins – which have a long life – could possibly be grown if planted between the monsoon season. They came up with putting pumpkin seed, combined with compost, in burlap sacks and burying them on the many sandbars. The result has been noted by the Bangladesh government and others as near phenomenal.

Nazmul has seen the program grow exponentially. When launched in 2005, the program had 177 farmers in 11 locations. The result was 63,000 pumpkins. The next year it grew to 460 farmers in 25 locations.

To date, more than 22,000 farmers have benefitted directly.

The innovation has allowed the sandbar farmers, mostly women, to not only feed their families but have the benefit of a food high in nutrition. The farmers were also able to sell part of the yield to buy livestock and to send children to school.

Soon, “Pumpkins Against Poverty” was being spread to other parts of Bangladesh with ideas to export it to other countries with similar monsoon problem.

As the nominator of Nazmul Chowdhury for a CNN Heroes award, my role is an auxiliary one. I’m on a story writing team publicizing various innovations around the world of innovators. The project is called “Securing Water for Food (SWFF), a jointly funded program of USAID, and the governments of Sweden, South Africa, and The Netherlands.

As an agricultural strategist for “Practical Action,” Nazmul is totally dedicated to the poorest people of Bangladesh and to finding a solution to food and water issues. Without a doubt, Nazmul has set out to change the world and not just his small corner of it. His idea is exportable to numerous regions swamped by monsoons. He is recognized as the founder and driver of “Pumpkins of Poverty.”

The idea has now been expanded to include many other vegetables that have the potential of growing on sandbars.

As part of his work, Nazmul has turned his attention to the Rohingya refugee crisis impacting Bangladesh, a disaster of epic proportions. Nazmul has joined with dozens of other aid groups in coming up with a strategy outside the political context to make sure the refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar have the basics of food, water, and are healthy. For these and other reasons related to Nazmul being an outstanding world citizen, I believe he makes a good nominee as a CNN Hero.