Across the vast low-lying plains of Bangladesh, millions of families farm tiny patches of rich alluvial soil. Emerald fields may stretch as far as the eye can see, but not all of the land is good, and not all of the yield is sufficient. In the coastal areas, where families earn a living from fishing, many struggle to grow any food at all.
The poorest people often live on the poorest land, and many still struggle to feed their families. Faith in Action and BASD are two of TEAR’s partners helping families on marginal land find their own unique ways to grow food.
TEAR’s partner BASD supports communities in the town of Mongla – where many live right on the river and are vulnerable to tidal surges and storms, which inundate their land with salty water. This makes the soil unproductive, and families have had to buy vegetables from the market. Often, their daily labouring wages were not enough to feed their families.
BASD have formed Self-Help Groups in the communities, and run kitchen garden training, including the introduction of “hanging gardens”. One woman who attended was a member of the Asha Alo Saving Group. She was so excited about what she learnt, she taught the other women this new way to grow their own food.
Members of the Asha Alo Savings Group now grow their veggies in pots they can hang when the river rises. L-R: Mamatz, Lipi, Khadija, Pervin, Mornema and Piara. Photo: Kelly Rae
They found old rice sacks, filled them with good soil, planted veggies in the sacks and fixed a hanger to the top. Now, when the surge comes, they hang the sacks from a tree or the roof, keeping them clear of the salty water. When it subsides, they bring them down again. Simple!
Their vegetables now come from their hanging gardens, producing long beans, cucumber, okra, gourd and hot chilli. The technique not only saves them money, it also makes money, as they’ve each been able to sell a little at market.
Pervin commented on the group’s future: “We think it will be shundur (beautiful). We’ll try our best. (We hope) our group will run without needing assistance from BASD, and it will not break.”
Up the river, the Masmara Self-Help Group and their neighbours faced the same problem. Together they raised their voices and lobbied their local government representative to address the challenge.
The government responded to their pleas and provided new soil that has raised the land and reduced their vulnerability to tidal inundation. This has been a major win for the group and has boosted their confidence tremendously. The new soil also significantly improves their capacity to grow food.
Jacinta Holder, a mother of two girls, has turned her new land into a productive garden through the use of vermi-compost. She grows okra, jute, beans, stem amaranth and cucumber, and has made a small profit. “Sometimes we are depending on savings, so we use the income for our family,” she says.
In a more rural setting, TEAR’s partner Faith in Action is helping village families improve their food security in Magura. FIA run perma-culture and compost-making workshops for families who can’t afford costly agricultural inputs. As part of the training to improve production, they also teach the nutritional application of common plants and vegetables.
Jacinta Holder in her productive vegetable garden. "I feel very pleased every day. Morning and evening I'm coming to the garden" she says. Photo: Kelly Rae
With more than 600 women attending the training each year, they find that 90% of participants go on to reduce household grocery bills, improve family nutrition and reduce the incidence of common disease.
The training inspired Rekha Begum and her husband Azad Shek to start their own garden, even though they don’t have any land. In front of their house is a tiny space, just enough to grow veggies, and house ducks and chickens. The sale of eggs has enabled them to send their daughters to school regularly for the first time. She says: “Faith in Action gave me new hope and a dream. I am looking forward to buying a cow and a piece of land. I want my family to be happy. I am concerned for the needs of my fellow group members.”
BASD is the Bangladesh Association for Sustainable Development (BASD) – a Christian organisation passionate about combating human suffering, poverty alleviation and development justice, while following Jesus’ teachings and values.
Faith in Action is also a Christian organisation, focusing on providing holistic and sustainable community development ensuring life in fullness for the individual and the community.
Photos and project report by Kelly Rae. Story by Dominique Emery. Kelly Rae is the South Asia Regional Team Leader with TEAR Australia; Dominique Emery is a Communications Officer with TEAR Australia.
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