Field work starts immediately and after being introduced to my support team ~ my host has arranged two local women volunteers, I get whisked off in a car ~ thankfully we have a driver. I opt for a seat in the back so I don't have to sit in terror with my hands covering my eyes as vehicles of all sorts and sizes come straight at us..
A meeting is organised at the 'head office' (think roadside hole in the wall) of Locos, a non-government social development organisation working in the southwest coastal region. Locos has a focus on poverty reduction, in particular agriculture, environment and food security as well as sustainable livelihood through capacity building. After a chat with the Director we visit a local farming village.
Gongram Pur Sabuj Mohila Somity:
This is a farmer cooperative with 21 members located at Botia Ghata in the Khulna Upazila (region). A group of colourful women and children are sitting on mats waiting for us visitors and we are invited to sit on a mat across from them for a chat (pix to follow!). Members of this community are using group saving to provide loans among its group members to buy seeds. Locos facilitates the community by providing seeds and the members of this community have started vegetable cultivation during the off seasons in the paddy (rice) fields. The women farmers apply organic fertiliser and pesticide ~ almost every households composts. The women farmers are now able to contribute to their family which has opened up a new era of economical empowerment and their decision making capacity inside the family has been enhanced. Their childrens' school enrolment has increased and their health condition has improved.
This local village coop of women farmers has resisted offers by the likes of Monsanto and their rep 'seed dealers' (or is that 'seedy dealers?) to use hybrid seed. Hybrid seed grows faster and returns higher profits, but the seed is owned by the corporation, leaving farmers dependent on Monsanto with no ownership of their own future.
To protect the indigenous variety of crops Locos has started a project within financial support from Mejario – a German NGO. In this initiative they target two Upazila sub-districts, known as Dacope and Botiaghata. In total 500 households are the target group for this project. Through this project both men and women farming community has been motivated to farm organically using organic fertiliser and pesticide. Locos has preserved 49 varieties of local indigenous seeds of paddy and distributes these among the farming households.
But all is not rosy. The salinity in the soil in this district reduces cropping season to about 4 months, which does not provide much in the way of food or livelihoods for the rest of the year. NGOs do not fill this gap and the women farmers in the coop are desperate for additional income. In short, an admirable but unsustainable setup.