Nomita Biswas, a 32 year old female farmer, lives in Chitolmari, located at the top of the southern Bagerhat district where farming is a challenge due to an acute shortage of cultivable lands. Two-thirds of the land in this area is used exclusively for the cultivation of shrimp, for which saline water has been allowed to intrude into much of the plain lands, destroying natural vegetation. As a result, green vegetables are a rare and costly commodity for Chitolmari consumers, and the local people have become dependent on imported vegetables from other parts of the country.
The only areas of land that remain dry are the raised dikes, locally called gher, which are built to serve as fish enclosures. Many vegetable farmers in the southern zone are using dike cultivation practices, which use fewer pesticides and fertilizers. This presents an opportunity for the dike vegetable farmers to market their crops through a new “safe” premium market channel.
For Nomita, the emergence of a premium market for “safe” branded vegetables is a blessing in disguise, as she uses dike cultivation practices to grow vegetables in these small patches of land that are scattered around in villages of Goribpur, Takerbazar, Chitolmari, and Bagerhat, which require no chemical fertilizer or pesticides. Under USAID’s Agricultural Value Chains (AVC) project, a local organization, Renaissance Enterprise, introduced dike tomato cultivation to this area with the goal of generating a new source of income for the women. Nomita became a part of Dalia group, a farmer group of 25 women of the same area, created by Renaissance to increase their income opportunities through dike farming. These women have experienced economic and personal changes in a very real way.
“I cultivated winter tomatoes in dikes and earned BDT 23,000 during the last season from selling, thanks to Renaissance and AVC project providing training and input supports on time. I didn’t even have to worry about vending my tomatoes as Renaissance purchased them all,” she said.
AVC invested in training Nomita to improve her knowledge of small-scale production best-practices, especially proper post-harvest handling, and linked her to providers of improved seed varieties and inputs. As of March 2016, Renaissance facilitated trainings to 600 farmers on improved cultivation and post-harvest management of winter tomatoes, which has ensured a consistent supply of safe tomatoes to the local consumer market, benefiting both producers and consumers alike.
In her total 15 decimals of land, Nomita grows other vegetables as well including, bitter gourds, long beans, and cucumbers. As a result of her participation in AVC trainings and activities, she learned about farming techniques, land utilization, crop rotation and entrepreneurship, improving her total yield and the value of her crops. And Nomita began thinking like a businesswoman. She started keeping records of her daily business transactions and profits from her earning. She keeps a part of vegetables for own consumption to meet the nutritional needs of her family, as well as distributes a portion to her relatives. She also opened a bank account with Grameen Bank and is now able to put aside BDT 300 every month as savings.
With the profits from selling vegetables, Nomita bought two goats which she will raise on her property to get more profits. She has become a member of a local microfinance program from which she borrowed BDT 10,000 to purchase seeds and other inputs for the next season.
AVC’s partnership with Renaissance was intended to encourage Renaissance invest in creating a high-value “safe” brand development by engaging farmers to see the value in using safe production methods. Through their partnership with AVC to complete these pilot activities, Renaissance saw that by investing in farmers, they would receive higher quality and better varieties of vegetables, and the risk of continuing to invest in farmer training was reduced substantially for Renaissance.