“Stay educated, keep being organised and don’t lose hope,” says Promila Rani, chair of Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity, a Mangroves for the Future (MFF) Small Grants Facility (SGF) beneficiary. “Find the resources and people who can support you, because when you have the drive and a plan in place, people will gladly help you.”
MFF promotes an integrated approach to coastal management to support sustainable development and build resilience in coastal communities. MFF’s SGF provides small-scale grants to initiatives that provide practical, hands-on demonstrations of effective coastal management.
MFF worked with the Nabolok Parishad organisation in Bangladesh to alleviate poverty and promote conservation by providing rural women in villages near the Sundarban Impact Zone with alternative and sustainable livelihoods, financial training and a sense of ecological stewardship.
Women in this region face marginalisation for two reasons: because they live and work in rural, pastoral communities and because they are women.
Nabolok Parishad helped identify Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity - a group of 100 women from the Borokupot and Bayershing – as an eligible programme beneficiary. MFF SGF provided Shomity sub-groups with a small co-finance of USD $300. This support had many positive impacts for Promila and other women in the group, as well as for local ecology.
Before MFF support, Promila and the other women in the group collected shrimp post-larvae and fish larvae from the Kholpetua River, which put pressure on local and extended ecosystems and accelerated the rate of depletion of Sunderban resources. With MFF support, Promila and her associates were able to start Shomity — a business selling mats they made out of local reeds. Mat prices range from USD $1 to $7 per mat, depending on size.
As a result of the financial leadership training, Promila and colleagues now feel empowered to negotiate prices and take orders directly from customers. “My confidence has increased a great deal”, reports Promila with a smile on her face.
Using reeds from a 1 hectare plot, they sold USD $3,500 worth of mats in 2015. “I received a supplementary income of 15,000 Taka (USD $192) by selling my mats alone — this is incredible for me,” added Promila.
“Without this platform, none of this could have happened. All of the members have invested their labour in the business. If it was not for Shomity I would not have been able to pay the women for their hard work,” she says.
Shomity continues to show signs of improved market access as the women build and maintain good working relations with local shopkeepers. The enterprise continues to save every week and has appointed an accountant to help manage finances. Members are also eligible to take loans from the group for individual ventures.
As Shomity’s network grows and Promila becomes more equipped with expertise and experience, she feels that opportunities for women in her region are increasing, even for future generations.
Promila aims to open a personal savings account to invest in her daughters’ futures, one of whom is in high school and the other in primary school. “I am happy that I can afford to help my daughters with paper, pens and books. Sometimes I also buy water to avoid the time spent collecting it," says Promila as she smiles and sips a glass of water.
Women’s empowerment for ecosystem and community resilience is one of many important issues that will be discussed at the upcoming IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawai’i in September 2016.
Come, be part of the discussion.
For more information about the SGF, visit this page.
Promila Rani: Nabadiganta Mohila Shomity , Bairshing and Boro Kupot vilaages of Atulia union, Shyamnagar, Satkhira District, Bangladesh © IUCN Bangladesh and Nabolok Parishad, 2016