YES WE CAN: Women Managed Integrated Farming Systems

PH 1Woman with her integrated farm in Khatail village, a member of women managed households group
Woman with her integrated farm in Khatail village, a member of women managed households group

Written by: Mahanambrota Das and Sumana Sarah Bhuiyan

“At first, my husband was disagreed to this type of farming system. He criticized us after hearing about the land shaping. Then, I and my daughter-in-law tried to make him understand day after day. Finally, we were succeeded by the help of sons. Now, all of my family members are happy to enjoy the benefits of the farm.” said both woman farmer and her daughter-in-law during a farm visit at Khatail

 “Now, we do not buy any vegetable, except oil, salt and some spices from market. Rather, I sale vegetables BDT. 200-500 daily. Traders come to my house to buy my vegetables.” said the woman farmer

“My family eat more vegetables than the past. These are organic vegetables and chemical free. These are more delicious.” said daughter-in-law of the woman farmer

PH 2Woman farmer working in her farm
Woman farmer taking care of her integrated farm in Khatail village

Like many coastal villages in Bangladesh, Khatail village in the Khulna district is highly affected by salinity throughout the year except in the monsoon season when rainfall reduces the soil salinity. Almost all farmers of this village are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. Traditionally, the farmers plough their land in the Baishakh (April-May) or Joisto (May-June) and harvest the monsoon season crop in the Poush (December-January). For the rest of the year the land mostly remains fallow. In the past a few farmers tried to cultivate other crops such as sunflower, lentils, khesari dal and sesame in the dry season but failed to get a good harvest due to a lack of fresh water and open livestock rearing by the community. The risks of investment are too high for poor landless and marginal farmers. With limited crop production, unemployment reportedly increases, many men must seasonally migrate to different districts of Bangladesh to get work as agriculture laborers. In this lean period, women, in absence of male partners, must manage the households alone. They and their families also face critical food insecurity.

Shushilan, an eco-sensitive non-government organization, has motivated and technically assisted the farming community to change the agricultural landscape of this saline affected village, with the support of SIAGI project. This has been achieved through formal and informal interactions with community where empathy and respect for community is first and foremost. One activity has been supporting some women managed households to implement integrated farming in the village. The women who chose to try this system have excavated a ditch (about 4 feet deep) and used the excavated soil to create a raised dyke around some flat land. The ditch retains monsoon rainwater year round, which is used to support integrated farming of crops, vegetables and fishes. The dyke is raised to prevent both salinity intrusion and monsoon flooding. The women fenced the farm to protect the crops from open livestock rearing.

PH 3Woman integrated farmer with daughter-in-law and grand son
Woman integrated farmer with daughter-in-law and grand son

Although the land size of the integrated farming managed by women farmers is small (8-20 decimals or about 325-810 m2) the benefits to date have been fantastic. The women have used the flat land for rice or vegetables and the raised dyke to grow vegetables such as spinach, okra, eggplant, tomato, bean, gourd, bitter gourd, chili, amaranth, papaya etc. The ditch has been used for fish culture such as carp, rui (lebeo ruhita), tilapia and golda prawn (Macrobarachium Rosenbergi). Some women also raise ducks and hens in the free space of their farm.

Some of the women leading the transition to integrated farming systems have reported a positive change in the motivation of the woman group members and their families. They say that the system has helped to increase food security and family earnings, and added more nutritious vegetables to their diets than they have had in past years. It has also increased the ability of vulnerable farming households to adapt to and manage salinity intrusion and monsoon flooding. In seeing these benefits, some women have this Robi season extended the integrated farming system for their vegetables farming.

Note: According to Agricultural Census of Bangladesh (2016) landless is defined as those households who possess up to one half of an acre of non-farm holdings. Marginal farming households are those who own 0.05 to 0.49 acre of farm holdings.

Ph 4Stored fresh water in ditch for irrigation and fish culture, rice in flat land and vegetables in dyke
Stored fresh water in ditch for irrigation and fish culture (foreground), rice in flat land (back left) and vegetables on the dyke (right)

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