Hafamari Canal Re-excavation Launch

Written by: Mahanambrota Das and Mustafa Bakuluzzaman (Shushilan)

I must participate in the earth cutting of the Hafamari canal along with men. I also need fresh water for my agriculture field.” said a woman during inauguration

Photo 1 -Women participating in the launching ceremoney of the Hafamari canal with a great enthesiasm. Picture-Sumana Sarah Bhuiyan, 28th February, 2018
Women participating with a great enthusiasm in the launching ceremony of the Hafamari Canal. (Photo: Shushilan)

It was in the midday sun on the 28th February, 2018. The sun was on top of the head and was burning the host community with wrath. But, ignoring the fire of the sun, about 200 men and women of the Sekendarkhali village were excitedly waiting at the middle of the village for their chief guest and the invitees. It was a decorated place with colourful cloth by the side of the dried canal to celebrate the launching ceremony of the long desired canal re-excavation.

Photo 2-Women with veils attended in the launching ceremoney and seated in equal position with men by breaking the barriers of conservetiveness
Women with veils attended  the launching ceremony and were seated in equal position with men, breaking the barriers of conservativism (Photo: Shushilan)

This was the first time for this community that men and women were seated together at the equal level during the meeting, breaking the barriers of conservativism and the social norms of the village.  71 women attended, most of them wore veils and their faces were covered with the black long garments. They were smilingly discussing with each other family matters, fresh water and canal re-excavation issues.

Finally, with the great enthusiasm from the community, the Assistant District Commissioner (ADC)-Revenue of Barguna District inaugurated the canal re-excavation activities by cutting red ribbon.

Figure 5-Multi-stakeholders participating in canal inauguration on the 28th February 2018
Additional District Commissioner (ADC) – Revenue of Barguna district inaugurated the re-excavation activities of Hafamari canal in Sekendarkhali village (Photo: Shushilan) 

The successful  programme launching was made possible due to the great enthusiasm of the community and with the worthy collaboration of the local government, local administration, private sector, Universities and NGOs. The community not only had organized such this great event, but also they had also contributed greatly to the scheme with finances and in-kind. The lion portion about 48% of the scheme’s expenses were contributed by the community followed by Australian Research Institutes 44% and the Union Parishad (local government) about 8%.

Photo 3 -Upazila chair cutting earth during re-excavation inauguration of the canal, photo-Shushilan, 28th Februrary, 2018
Upazila Chairperson removing earth during re-excavation inauguration of the canal re-excavation (Photo: Shushilan)

The local SIAGI team with the support of Australian Research Institutes helped the community to bring the canal into fruition. Using ethical community engagement the local SIAGI team motivated and created the cohesiveness of the community through in-kind support, empathy, information and collaboration, instead of financial and material support. The local SIAGI team has built trust and confidence of the village people so that they are empowered to undertake this kind of initiative through community level aspiration and vision creation around village priorities, formal and informal interactions and inter-relationship building between the community, private sector and the government.

Photo 4-Smiley invitees UP chairs teachers of BAU and representatives of local SIAGI team participating earth cutting with enthusiasm during re-excavation in
Smiley  invitees UP chairpersons, staff of BAU and representatives of local SIAGI team  participate enthusiastically in earth removal with during canal re-excavation inauguration (Photo: Shushilan)

The inauguration is merely the start of journey for the community in implement their vision and creating the changes they wish to see. Shushilan and the SIAGI team will continue to support and empower the village members to achieve their goals.




Community’s Power in Water Management

Written by: Mahanambrota Das and Milon Kumar Paul (Shushilan)

“Today my dream is going to accomplish. Pain is nothing if I get fresh water for my agriculture, livestock and household. I feel happy when I see crops in the field and food in the house” said a woman of Sekendarkhali village, celebrating the inauguration of the canal re-excavation works.

Fig 1IMG_20180228_133231
WSMC meeting at Sekendarkhali village (Photo: Milon Kumar Paul, Shushilan)

Polders in Southwest Bangladesh contain many canals that connect the fields to the rivers. Water entry to the polder to irrigate and exit of flood water to drain the polder is managed through sluice gates located in the dykes surrounding the polders. Such canals are also a feature of Sekendarkhali village (located in Barguna district). However, many years of mismanagement and lack of maintenance have led to siltation and a loss of canal function. Yet, these canals could also be storing water for irrigation in the Rabi season. Villagers report that now fields in Sekendarkhali remain fallow in Rabi and Kharif-1 season because of loss of the canal to act as a fresh water reservoir, lack of unity and misconceptions among local community (villagers). Besides, major relief activities after cyclone Sidr in 2007 struck Sekendarkhali have changed the people’s behavior to becoming receivers of donations, lethargic or inactive.

In order to address the problem, the villagers took a collective action approach. With initial support by Shushilan through the SIAGI project, they formed a Water and Silt Management Committee (WSMC) to build trust and harmony amongst each other. A constitution was developed to operate the WSMC. This committee advocated and negotiated with local government institutions, government officials and the wider village community to help the re-excavation activities of canal. They also created a fund of USD 8,750 and obtained a Non Objection Certificate (NOC) from the local administration to collectively utilize the natural resources (canal’s water and fishes).

An agreement was signed between the Union Parishad (lowest level local government Institution of Bangladesh), the NGO Shushilan and the WSMC to undertake the re-excavation activities with the goal of storing fresh water for agriculture interventions round the year through motivating the local community to contribute financially and physically.

Figure 3 Women farmers of Sekendarkhali village providing labour in canal re-excavation
Women farmers of Sekendarkhali village providing labour in canal re-excavation (Photo: Sumana Sarah Bhuiyan, Shushilan)

The community has started re-excavating the canal over a length of 1227 m, 9.15 m of width and 1.37 m of depth for storing about 15 ML of fresh water. This can potentially service about 180 hectares of agriculture lands under Rabi crops cultivation. A monitoring committee has been formed by involving the local government officials, local community, academics, researchers and representatives of NGOs to look after the day-to-day activities. Total cost of the re-excavation activities is expected to be BDT 1,256,760, equivalent to USD 15,709.

Fig2 Community people excavating the Hafamari canal, photo Milon Kumar Paul, 12th March, 2018
Community people excavating the Hafamari canal (Photo Milon Kumar Paul, 12th March, 2018)

The community has demonstrated their potential and ownership to utilize the natural resources for their betterment by reducing harmony gaps. Successful implementation of the canal’s re-excavation was due to the engagement of the local community, local administration, Shushilan and Bangladesh and Australian research institutions. This is helping the community receive social and technical support. Engagement of Union Parishad and local administration helped in managing local conflicts and obtaining agreement on the canal management and water sharing activities afterwards.

Figure 4 Canal demarcation with red flags going on by the community to resolve of land conflicts
Canal demarcation with red flags going on by the community to resolve of land conflicts (Photo: Mahanambrota Das, Shushilan)

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)

SIAGI Value Chain Workshop 2017, 2-4 August, Bangladesh Agriculture University, Mymensingh, Bangladesh

Written by: Bhagirath Behera

The three-day SIAGI value chain (VC) workshop was organised from 2-4 August 2017 at the picturesque riverside campus of the Bangladesh Agriculture University (BAU), Mymensingh, Bangladesh. The overall objective of the workshop was to have a renewed understanding of the purpose and function of VC related activities in SIAGI project, and have an agreement on objectives, milestones and timelines. The workshop focussed on designing activities under this thematic area that integrate into the broader objectives of the SIAGI Project. In addition to the VC team members of SIAGI from Australia, India, and Bangladesh, participants from the International Water Management Institute IWMI in Nepal and Blue Gold in Bangladesh also joined the workshop.  They brought new perspectives from their experiences into the existing VC analysis.

The format of presentations and discussions were rather informal and unconventional in a sense that efforts were specifically made to avoid formal presentation using slides which would then confine the discussions largely to them. Presentations were short and sharp, which was made in an informal setting followed by passionate discussion by all the participants.

Sharing group work on value chains in Khatail

After the customary formal welcome ceremony attended by the dignitaries from the BAU, Lilly from CSIRO introduced the new workplans, their principles, objectives and milestones to the participants which set the context for the workshop. This was followed by presentations by SIAGI team members reviewing the work undertaken so far under three themes: livelihoods and community aspirations, nutrition sensitive agriculture (NSA), and market reports and VC mapping.

The attempt to incorporate NSA into the overall framework of VC analysis was made in this workshop which generated alot of interesting comments during discussion ranging from the issues of trade-offs between market-based crops (cash crops) and nutrition-based crops, gender disparities in nutrition based food consumption within a family in patriarchal societies of India and Bangladesh, and lack of awareness about nutrition content of fruits and vegetables cultivated.

Working sessions were full of fun and at the same time a great learning experiences for the participants. We had to test our painting skills when asked to draw a picture of each community based on what we know about them.

The workshop ended with developing the work plan followed by a campus tour in BAU, South Asia’s biggest agriculture university campus, in a rainy afternoon that brought participants close to nature.  Needless to mention, the desire to taste special Bangladeshi cuisine by some of our food-loving participants was fulfilled.

Thanks to our BAU colleagues for their meticulous arrangements of the workshop.

For me as a new comer to VC and NSA the things I learnt were…..

  • Thinking and working together with people from diverse backgrounds
  • Got to know about different dimensions and/or facets of VC and NSA from other socioeconomic and cultural settings in Nepal and Bangladesh
  • Learnt a great deal about life and livelihoods of people in general and the problems they face during informal discussions with other colleagues from Bangladesh and Nepal.
  • Unstructured and largely informal settings allowed us to express our thoughts freely and comprehensively are the most interesting feature of the VC workshop 2017 in Bangladesh.
Participants in the value chain workshop

About Bhagirath

I work as Associate Professor of Economics in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. I am Co-Principal Investigator of the VC project under SIAGI and also co-supervisor of the Ph.D. scholar working on VC. My role in the project is to assist in theoretical and empirical research works being undertaken under VC project at IIT Kharagpur.

Ethical Community Engagement: Training Workshop Stimulates Perspectives and Skills

Written by: Subrata Majumdar (CDHI), Pulak Mishra (IIT) and Niladri Shekhar Bagch (IIT)

The Background

Ethical Community Engagement (ECE) underpins the core of the SIAGI approach which has evolved over time extending through the inception (at Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur campus in March 2016) to the review meetings in Kolkata campus of IIT Kharagpur (October 2016) and Khulna (February, 2017). The approach, iteratively, has been practiced and modified before it was finally adopted. SIAGI considers ECE essential to collaborate with the farmers and other stakeholders respecting their wisdom, insights, perception and practices. Adopting the approach has definite challenges – unlearning of the conventional extractive research approaches, developing sensitivity to the farmers and other stakeholders and also developing necessary capacities and skills.

Being aware of these challenges, SIAGI underlined the need for a capacity building event. CDHI, one of the project partners, has been practising this approach and has shown credible evidence of its impact in not only accessing information but also in taking collaborative initiatives with the farmers and other marginal communities to empower them and turning the collaborative initiatives transformational. CDHI offered to facilitate and coordinate the event.

Discussions on ethical community engagement
Teams deep in reflection on their experiences of community engagement

The ECE reflective workshop

The reflective training workshop on ECE was organized collectively by the SIAGI partners and facilitated by CDHI in Jalpaiguri during May 11-17, 2017. Right from working on the conceptual framework to preparing the course compendium and organizing the workshop a high level of collaboration was demonstrated. The workshop used participatory reflective pedagogy, combined with field exposure and interactions with the farmers – both male and female. Role plays, scenario analysis and story building and telling were some of the important tools applied during this workshop. The workshop discussed and reflected around practical insights/scenario brought from the respective fields by the participants.

Some Important Issues of Discussion in the Workshop:

  1. The first thing a researcher must understand is the feeling of togetherness while working with a community. Every member of the community must feel that they are working ‘with’ each other and not ‘under’ anybody.
  2. For deeper understanding of what the community wants for their development, one must respect their values and culture. Nothing should be imposed upon them; rather everything should come out from equal participation of all.
  3. One of the major reasons why communities lag behind is different forms of discrimination they face – social, religious, caste, colour and others. The participants portrayed different forms of discrimination through play, storytelling and songs. Researchers must understand these discriminations and try to overcome these barriers to come close to people. The project team must initiate steps to spread awareness in order to eradicate such discrimination from the society.
  4. There was a debate on the issue “Person first, environment later vs. environment first, person later”. The arguments presented by both groups in for and against the issue were very intuitive and thought provoking.
  5. The theory of people and environment by Albert Bandura and Kurt Lewin was discussed. The theory explains the role of responsive and enabling environment in achieving self-efficacy.
  6. Based on the work by Paulo Freire, the concept of the oppressed and the oppressor was demonstrated. It was reflected that, in order to create equal rights, the oppressed class must unite and create a big pool of assets and then challenge the oppressors. The success of such movements depends on – unity, strategic plan, discipline and leadership.
Engagement with the community at Uttar Chakowakheti


Workshop Outcomes for the SIAGI

The workshop enabled thinking through reflections on multiple perspectives on development and pedagogies and preferred to settle for ethical community engagement. Several of the workshop sessions witnessed these reflections and commitment in enthusiastic participation of the members. The visit of Christian Roth, SIAGI Project Manager and Wendy Merritt, SIAGI Coordinator to the fields, both in Bangladesh and India, following the workshop, and interactions with the partners confirmed growing preferences and applications of the approach. Back home some of the partners have reported positive impact of the approach being practised in their field works.

For more details please see the Ethical Community Engagement Workshop_Workshop Report_final_4 Dec 2017


Note about the authors:

  • Subrata Majumdar is Executive Director (Programs) at CDHI and coordinator, SIAGI project. Subrata has been a strong proponent of the ECE approach and has extensively used this approach in water management programs of CDHI. Subrata also coordinated the workshop at CDHI.
  • Pulak Mishra is an Associate Professor at IIT Kharagpur and coordinator, SIAGI. Pulak has been quite proactive and has used the perspective in his study and analysis of the value chains. He also offered valuable inputs during pre-workshop preparations and logistic supports during the pre-workshop consultations at their Salt Lake campus.
  • Niladri Shekhar Bagchi is a Research Assistant (SIAGI) and Ph.D. Scholar at IIT Kharagpur. Niladri was one of the participants in the workshop and has shown commitment to the approach. He, together with Pulak, used the approach in their value chain study and analysis.





Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum, Bangkok May 22-25, 2017

Written by: Lucy Cater (CSIRO)

In May, the Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Global Learning Forum, convened by SEEP, was held in Bangkok. The forum attracted over 350 gender champions representing public and private sectors, academia, and civil society organisations across 60 countries. The forum focused on key themes central to SIAGI including: women’s empowerment on and off-farm; women’s financial inclusion for improving gender equality; and enterprise development for women.

A common thread during the forum was the influence of non-economic factors on the success of women’s empowerment strategies. Structural barriers for women including a lack of mobility, poor literacy and the burden of unpaid care work (including domestic work) present unique challenges for improving WEE.

Poorly targeted financial products and services which do not take into account women’s changing financial needs during their life cycle was also identified as a worrying trend. A lack of consideration for how women wish to use financial services as well as whether women have access to such services was identified as key to meaningful financial inclusion.

A number of innovative programs which aimed to improve women’s participation and success in enterprise development was showcased, each revealing the critical importance of tailoring programs to local conditions and local needs.

The SEEP network – Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems – hosts an extensive network and resource centre available at http://www.seepnetwork.org/

Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Learning Forum, Bangkok, May 22-25, 2017 (Photo: Lucy Carter, CSIRO)






Public Private Partnership Roundtable in Delhi

The second of a series of roundtable meetings on Public Private Partnerships (PPP) organised by YES BANK was held on the 22nd February 2017 at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi. These workshops are being held as part of the ACIAR-funded project on Promoting socially inclusive and sustainable agricultural intensification in West Bengal and Bangladesh, and aim to provide a platform that brings together on-ground institutions and market professionals to discuss challenges to effective PPP and identify ways to overcome these barriers. There were over 20 participants at the recent workshop representing a broad range of private and public stakeholders and research institutes, including Shri Jagdamba Samiti, National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Limited (NCDEX), Reliance Foundation, Indian Council of Food & Agriculture, ACIAR, Innovative Change Collaborative (ICCo), ITC, Reserve Bank of India, Tata Cornell Agriculture & Nutrition Initiative, CDHI, and Annamrit Foundation.

Tushar Pandey (Senior President, YES BANK & Distinguished Fellow, YES Institute) chairing the roundtable discussion.

It is recognised that there are inadequate linkages between smallholder farmers and the markets required to sustain their economic viability. One key challenge is to bridge the disconnect between the development organisations and institutions working at the grassroots and the commercially driven market institutions. The focus of this second workshop was to discuss these ‘linkage’ and ‘institutionalisation’ issues. The roundtable discussion opened up a wide span of ideas and perspectives from the broad range of participants and their experiences. Some of the key points that emerged include:

  • The need for a shift in the perception of smallholder farmers, including their own perspectives and that of the private and public institutions. The mindset of all must change from its focus on staples to a broad diversity of agriculture. New and growing food value chains provide an opportunity for smallholder farmers, however there are constraints that hinder this opportunity including poor market infrastructure for non-staples, financial systems designed for rice and wheat only, and policies that are also centred on staples.
  • New skill sets and capacities are needed by farmers. Collectives, or Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), need to be well managed to ensure they transition into successful business enterprises. Rather than making the role of an NGO central to the collective, there must be members with the right skills to ensure the group self-sustains in the long-term even after the NGO leaves. NGOs and the public (and possibly private) sector can be a major conduit for this skill development and extension.
  • Bottom-up approach to agricultural intensification. There is no cookie-cutter approach to developing a successful farming enterprise. It is imperative that farmers are supported to make their own choices to ensure long-term sustainable agriculture and self-reliance. This entails providing farmers with the capacity to make, for example, crop choices based on market information and their local conditions.
  • Scale-neutral technologies to help bridge the gap. While collectives provide the scaling up needed to compete in certain markets, scale-neutral technologies, particularly IT-related led (e.g. e-National Agri Market) are another opportunity for smallholder farmers to reach new markets. Digitization may also help in the delivery of subsidies and other policy mechanisms.

Transforming marginal and smallholder farmers to profitable farming businesses requires a shift in the perceptions and policies of both public and private institutions including NGOs, and building the capacity of farmers in skills to meet market needs. Through this discussion we have started to identify a number of potential mechanisms and opportunities to build and strengthen the linkages between farmers and markets. There has been great interest from the participants to continue this conversation through further workshops, and to build a framework that can be implemented to support these rural communities.


Members of the SIAGI team after the workshop [left-right] Subrata Majumdar (CDHI), Serena Hamilton (ECU), Lilly Lim-Camacho (CSIRO), Rajeshwar Mishra (CDHI), Tushar Pandey (YES BANK), Parth Joshi (YES BANK), Srijita Dutta (YES BANK).