“Before, our condition was just like a frog living in a cave,” Abdul explains. “When we came back from these countries we realized that we had been in the darkness. We accumulated so much knowledge.”
Small-scale farming is a critical part of Bangladesh’s economy. More than 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population and 77 percent of its workforce live in rural areas. Farm sizes are small, with average land holdings of less than one hectare.
This state of affairs presents many challenges. The smallholder farmer is relatively powerless in the market and can struggle to get a fair price for their crops. In addition, FAO discovered that there were very few farmer organizations or collectives to which these farmers could turn for support.
It became clear that the farmers needed a national platform to connect local farmer groups. Not only would this enable better bargaining in the market, but it could also facilitate the sharing of best practices and opportunities.
“If farmers want to sell crops individually, sometimes they do not get a fair price,” Abdul says. “If they do it through a farmers' group and all the farmers buy together, they can get good quality seeds and other equipment at a cheaper price. They can also get a fair price when they sell their products together.”
In response to this need for connecting and collaborating, the All Bangladesh Farmers Society was formed in 2014. Abdul, its current president, is proud of the Society’s growth and impact. “We now have group members all over Bangladesh,” he reports.
In addition to the educational trips abroad, Society members are provided with services like livestock vaccination and de-worming, machinery rentals, seed exchanges and plant nurseries.
One of the most successful of the Society’s programmes has been vermi-composting. Depleted topsoil poses a major challenge to farmers. Abdul remembered how farmers in the Philippines used worms to compost, and how this provided them with a lucrative business. He proposed to the Society that they open a vermi-composting business of their own.
“First we spread a layer of cow dung where we want to build the pile, after that we add worms, and then the worms digest the cow dung within 15 days,” Abdul explains. “We turn the compost pile on the 15th day, and on the 20th day we get nutrient-rich compost.”
After sourcing dung and earthworm eggs, the Society received training from FAO in best practices for vermi-composting and opened their doors for new business ideas.
The demand for this nutrient-rich compost was enormous. In 2017, the Society operated 22 composting chambers and could produce 10 tonnes of vermi-compost fertilizer a month. Production is so successful, that nationwide the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) may become the Society’s first major client.
Abdul is passionate about the possibilities. “Vermi-compost is the life of a land,” he proclaims. “Instead of using chemical fertilizers, we can use natural compost. Now we have to let the people know about it.”
He is one of over 5 500 farmers, government staff and agricultural technicians in Bangladesh who benefitted from this programme.
“It is thanks to FAO and Integrated Agricultural Productivity Project that we are in this position. From 2013 to 2017 I learned so much,” Abdul says. “I am now using my knowledge to help other farmers, I am helping them to move ahead. I have gone from zero to being a hero.”