Written by: Mahanambrota Das, Sumana Sarah Bhuiyan and Mustafa Bakuluzzaman, Shushilan
When the SIAGI project started, most farming land was fallow in Robi season (January to May) in Khatail village of Dacope sub-district due to the constraints of the lack of sweet water and unplanned livestock rearing by the community. This adversely affected the people’s livelihoods and food security. The vulnerable community was unaware, inexperienced or inefficient in the use of limited water resources to grow crops. They lacked technical know-how of how to grow saline-tolerant high-valued crops as well as the importance of planned livestock rearing to protect crops from damage. A few influential people in the village took advantage of the situation for their personal benefit. They spread rumours that the farmers were idle and also that the land was infertile and not suitable for growing Robi crops. They told farmers that it was wise to remain the land fallow and use for livestock. Then, the influential people controlled the sluice gate and canals to produce bagda shrimp (using brackish water) or to grow crops themselves.
Since the inception of the project, the SIAGI team members have diligently facilitated the community engagement approach to sensitize, unite and build the capacity of the vulnerable people. They formed water user groups and aimed to make the land productive for Robi cropping. The community started to see the potential for Robi cropping success. The community collectively initiated to store freshwater in the canal and publicly announced using loudspeakers the need for both effective use of the freshwater reservoir and stopping unplanned open livestock rearing. Many of the community responded positively, but a few were negative. Thus, community-based close monitoring was initiated to protect the crops from the livestock damage, illegal cutting of the canal’s dyke and illegal irrigation using the stored canal’s freshwater.
The community initiatives and monitoring helped poor farmers confidently invest their time and they accessed credit to invest in their land with the aim to become successful to grow Robi crops in 2018. Many of them were successful in producing their melon variety crops in the last Robi season, making them very happy. Regrettably, some people tried to jeopardize the dream of the farmers, but failed due to close monitoring and the heroic actions of the volunteer Nipa and her group members. During the facilitation of a meeting between Shushilan and the ‘Joba Doll’ (one-woman group), Nipa (not real name) and her group members gave the following example.
It was the dark night about 8:30 pm on 13th April 2018. Two women group members of Khatail village phoned me (the volunteer Nipa) to tell me that one influential farmer of the village was illegally irrigating the canal’s water for his fishpond. Nipa immediately rushed to the spot by a motorcycle to see the situation for herself. She and woman group members informed and organized the other group members and UP representatives to stop illegal irrigation using the canal’s water so that those poor farmers could effectively utilize the stored freshwater for Robi farming.
After one week, they (the women group members and the volunteer) once again had to organize the community and the local government officials to stop the illegal cutting of the canal’s dyke. These woman group members with the help of Nipa have also successfully managed the conflicts of the crops damaged by the open livestock through organizing meetings and discussions with the community leaders, UP representatives, accusers and the affected farmers.
Shushilan has facilitated regular discussion with the group members, formal and informal meetings with community leaders and government officials. Our efforts have involved coaching, building community coherence, and most importantly the practicing of the concept ‘do not harm’. These activities over the last two years have effectively assisted to empower the women to take the kind of the noble initiatives illustrated in this piece.
We are an eco-sensitive national non-governmental development organization in Bangladesh. We are involved in this project to apply Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) approach and principles to empower the vulnerable community and water user groups including women to change their fate and the development of livelihoods by taking sustainable agriculture initiatives through water-based solutions. We have volunteers like Nipa in our organization, who live in or near the village we work in, to provide a person that community members can contact if (for example) there is an issue that needs immediate attention. This approach helps us responds in a timely manner and to build trust.