Traidcraft’s Bangladesh office has been carrying out an Alternative Livelihood Option (ALO) project, with the support of the Big Lottery Fund UK. This aims to encourage farmers to work together to access services, resources and markets more effectively – and therefore increase their earnings. Feroz Ahmed explains how the project has been carried out.
Bangladesh’s public rice procurement system has two main objectives: to provide farmers with a stable, guaranteed income and to ensure adequate food supply for distribution to the poor. However, of the rice that the government buys from Bangladeshi farmers less than 3% comes directly from the farmers, the remainder being bought from large traders and mills. A lack of information, experience and bargaining capacity means that many farmers don’t take the opportunity to sell directly to procurement centres, and accordingly lose income as the middlemen take their share of the value of the crop.
Our ALO project seeks to address this missed opportunity. We have been working with the Shreebordi community, in the Sherpur region around 200 kilometres north of Dhaka, to convert farmers there from an unorganized rural grouping into a visible force. The project has supported them to form forty-two Self Help Groups, which are federated into a larger Upazila Agro Producers Association with 1512 members. Additionally, the farmers were offered training that focused on a number of areas:
- technical training on production techniques
- lobbying and advocacy
- commercial negotiations
This training and organisational support has given the farmers of Shreebordi the stature and bargaining capacity to engage with local officials, and ultimately to benefit from the government’s public rice procurement system as never before.
The Association held a series of meetings in 2015 with the Ministry of Food officials to understand their procurement plans for the season and how Shreebordi farmers could be involved. This information was shared amongst group members in a monthly meeting, and the decision was taken to apply for supplier status – for which 317 farmers were approved. The outcome of this was that the Shreebordi Food Department ended up procuring 15% of their paddy supply directly from small-holder farmers, a figure that far outstrips the national average of 2.8%. Additionally, the government sets a procurement price 23% higher than that which the paddy would have fetched on the open market – meaning that farmers engaged with the Producers Association have made 1.08 million Taka of additional earnings.
And there may well be lots more to come. The President of the Association Mr. Karim said “our association is highly active and constantly looking for opportunities to work for the farmers. For instance, our farmers hugely benefited from the government paddy procurement system this year and we got a big thank you from them. I hope more farmers will be benefited in the next season.”
Feroz Ahmed is Senior Programme Manager in Traidcraft Exchange’s Bangladesh office.