Sundarban dependent women turned entreprenures through salin ... , Shyamnagar, Bangladesh © IUCN/Enamul Mazid Khan Siddique, 2015
Economic condition of 100 female-headed poor families of Bairshing and Boro Kupot villages under Atulia union in Shyamnagar enhanced through alternative livelihood practices.
Borokupot and Boershing villages are in the Sundarban Impact Zone. Less than 30% of the women of these villages are literate and most of them do not complete primary school. Work opportunities for women are limited to fishing in the mangroves, wage labor and reproductive work. The two main land uses, shrimp culture and paddy culture is male dominated in this region.
More over, there is sharp economic disparity in the area, especially in terms of land ownership and access to land use. The situation is worse for landless women, as even obtaining land in lease is difficult. In addition to that, the area is affected by salinity ingress and the disaster created by back to back big cyclones in 2007 (Sidr) and 2009 (Aila) still have their marks visible.
This leads the poorer women to go out for wage earning by working as weed removers in aquaculture farms, or take the risk of going in the rivers and the mangroves for collecting shrimp post larvae, fish fry or crabs. Most of these women contribute a significant part of the family earning, and in the instance where there is no marital partner involved, the woman is the sole bread earner.
The wage earning option cannot be taken for granted, as these are occasional and seasonal opportunities and there is discrimination between the wage paid to women compared to men. Women get half the payment that a men get. Depending on nature is also not sustainable, as large scale commercial harvest of fish fry, shrimp post larvae and crabs have depleted the resources of Sundarban and associate rivers.
In this backdrop, this project was an attempt to organize and empower the poorest of the women from these two villages, to set an example and demonstrate alternative options of livelihoods through a community enterprise model.
A total of 110 poor women from the two villages were organized under a community organization. The average annual income of these women was about BDT 54,000 ($680) in 2013, as per the baseline study done before the project. These women were selected through local women leaders, civil society members and the local government representatives through a transparent process. Women with an income of less than $2 a day along with a dependent, i.e. a child of the age of less than 8 years or parents over 65 years were prioritized in the selection process.
This project envisaged to increase the organizing capacity of these women as a means to empower them and choose for themselves better livelihoods options. Besides supporting them to form a community based organization, training on different livelihood options like brackish water aquaculture, integrated farming, saline tolerant reed culture, apiculture etc were provided with a small initial capital to co-finance their investments in their new trades.
The target was set to increase the annual income of these women at least 20% by the end of the project, with more convenient and sustainable income generating options and improve the ability of the women to plan their future investments, helping each other to become successful entrepreneurs.
One major accomplishment of the project was creating a local platform for the marginalized women to achieve economic empowerment through sustainable livelihoods. This platform is helping the women to solve problems like getting land lease or marketing products, which was difficult otherwise as individuals.
It lifted women belonging to the last tier of aquaculture value chain to move upwards in the value chain to get a better share of benefits. Different ventures under the project demonstrated an increase in income up to 19% during the project life.
Access to land still remains crucial as all the ventures depend on it. The members of Nabadiganta are mostly landless, so they depend on leasing lands and cannot risk doing long term investments on these lands. Their income level has just crossed the poverty line, but the small capital they have is not enough to take their earnings at a level which will enable each of the members to start their own ventures, so the group is considering to get finance from micro-finance institutions, but that will take some time.
But the group continues to struggle against disasters brought by nature. Within the 15 months of project life, 1 cyclone and 1 surge affected their farms, which indicates the risk under which the people of these areas live. However, the group follows an adaptive learning process. They restrained from re-investing in ventures that involves freshwater use in 2016, as it carries more risk.
The 110 women of Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity showed how unity, spirit of learning, access to finance and land use can make a difference in the lives of the poorest and marginalized. It is difficult to change a social system in short time, but even smaller initiatives such as this can inspire changes in the long run.
The failure of the apiculture venture and some of the ponds being washed away by surge was not the only challenge faced by the group. The lack of experience of conducting a business, cyclical poverty and the prevailing socio-economic disparities between individuals were also among these challenges
Making the investement of time in these ventures, which was apparently not giving them any daily wage, seemed to be a luxury. The women split their time in the day between their paid wage earning and maintained a roster of duties for looking after the farms established through the project. As 'pay back' to nature, the group decided to move out from Shrimp post larvae collection, increasing their need for income opportunities.
Their efforts and sacrifices paid off, but it was possible also because of the the continisous effort by the grantee, Nabolok parishad, and the knowledge transfer linkages established with upazila level service providers of the Department of Fisheries and Department of Agricultural Extension and the local market. Sustainability of the results brought by the project depends on the continuity of these linkages and partnerships. However support from micro-finance institutes will be helpful for further growth of these ventures, and Nabadiganta Mohila Shamity is now working on fulfilling the necessary requirements to get that access.
Bairshing and Boro Kupot vilaages of Atulia union, Shyamnagar, Satkhira District, Bangladesh
20th Sep 2013 to 19th Dec 2014
Community of Boro kupot and Bairshing villages
I used to be just a Chingri pona (Shrimp Post larvae) collector and a laborer. Now I am a business women. I have not become rich, but I have better income, and the confidence that together we can improve our condition and give our children a brighter future.
Promila, one of the members of Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity