Learning Together – SIAGI Half-Yearly Meeting in Kolkata

Written by: Kazi Farid (Bangladesh Agriculture University) and Niladri Sekhar Bagchi (Indian Institute of Technology)

The SIAGI semester meeting was held at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur extension campus at Salt Lake, Kolkata from 27th to 29th March 2018. It was a nice gathering of a diverse group of stakeholders including university faculties, researchers, development practitioners, NGO partners, and PhD students from Australia, Bangladesh and India. The main objectives of the meeting were to update and discuss the work progress of each partner of SIAGI project, to present and refine the research proposals by the PhD candidates and to modify future plans according to received feedback.

The meeting started with a briefing by Mr. Arnab Chakraborty, PRADAN, on WBADMIP (West Bengal Accelerated Development and Minor Irrigation Project) workshop on 26th March where ways to converge works of WBADMIP and SIAGI were explored. Dr. Christian Roth, team leader of SIAGI, explained the importance of the works being undertaken by WBADMIP and the role SIAGI can play to fill the gap in their works and complement each other.

Intent learning discussions between SIAGI team members

Dr. Pulak Mishra from IIT Kharagpur presented about the research activities being done by IIT Kharagpur and CDHI on value chain. He pointed out issues of mismatch between demand and supply, negligence of human capital in the process of focusing more on social capital through ethical community engagement and importance of studying group dynamics and equal focus on quantitative aspects along with qualitative aspects of research. There was an interesting debate on quantitative approach versus qualitative approach and the SIAGI team was liberal enough to accept the complementary roles of the two.

Along with their field activities, BAU team updated about their research progress including Master and PhD research with a thorough presentation by Dr. Hasneen Jahan. She mentioned that one of the Master students has completed his Master degree in December 2017 and wrote thesis on “Rural Livelihood and Social Inclusiveness underAgricultural Intensification”; one is in the field for collecting primary data for her thesis and will complete her degree by June 2018; and another two are developing their research proposals and will complete their Master degree by December 2018.

Mr. Niladri Sekhar Bagchi, PhD scholar from IIT Kharagpur presented the outline of his research proposal on dynamics of agricultural markets. Mr. Mojammel Haque, PhD student from BAU presented his modified proposal on inclusive value chain of sweet water shrimp at Dacope, Khulna. Mr. Kazi Farid, a new PhD candidate from BAU presented his research proposal on developing an integrated model in order to combat social exclusion among the marginalized communities of coastal Bangladesh.The specialty of his proposal is that he’ll completely adopt a qualitative participatory approach to address his research questions. Everyone in the meeting eagerly listened to all the PhD proposals and gave their valuable suggestions.Kazi was delighted for becoming the part of SIAGI team. This meeting was a great opportunity for him. In his words:

“I think I am the luckiest person in this meeting. As a newcomer, it’s a great opportunity for me to know about the SIAGI project, its objectives, current status and future activities. Earlier I had very little knowledge about this project. Now I know a lot about this and it’ll be helpful for me in designing my research objectives” (Kazi mentioned during the closing of the meeting)

Dr. Uday Nidumolu (CSIRO) and Dr. Wendy Merritt’s (ANU) presentations on ‘bio-economic modelling’ and ‘integrated modelling’ were of special interest for the participants. Uday discussed his model as a participatory model in order to examine farmers’ crop choices and showed how this model fits with the field level data. On the other hand, Wendy described the potentials of ‘mental modeller’ and ‘fuzzy cognitive model’ for further reshaping the integrated model. Lucy’s presentation on nutrition sensitive agriculture evoked a lot of enthusiasm from all corners of the round table as higher income does not necessarily lead to better nutrition and health.

The NGO partner, PRADAN, in their presentation narrated their works in the villages of Chaka Doba and Hakim Sinan in Bankura district of West Bengal, where a holistic social, psychological and economic change is aimed for through participation of community. Mr. Subrata Majumdar from CDHI highlighted how the process of ethical community engagement has been playing a catalytic role in the mobilization of farmers’ groups and women SHGs in the villages of Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti. Shushilan updated on how community engagement process through the ‘water and silt management committees’ at Sekendarkhali and Amtoli, in Bangladesh are working in the project areas and how crop production is increasing because of active participation of local people with SIAGI. The most important thing is that disadvantaged people of both Dacope and Amtoli are now aspiring for new knowledge instead of credit and in-kind support.

Subrata showing the training material that has been co-developed with the communities of Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti

Emerging lessons and highlights:

From our perspective the main observations are:

  1. It was clear from the operation of SIAGI in the last two years that the attitude of people towards development can evolve from a donation-dependent mentality towards a self-dependable and self-sustainable mentality through continuous engagement with the community guided by the principles of ethical community engagement
  2. It is very important to understand the dynamics of collectives formed in the study villages in order to design proper strategies for the sustainability of the collectives even after the completion of the project.
  3. The linkage of farmers with the rural as well as nearby urban markets and the embedded risks need to be further studied to mitigate the prospect of demand-supply mismatch. As marketing is a major area of concern among the farmers, development of marketing skills among farmers through provision of training should be explored.
  4. Earlier there was disagreement whether quantitative methods should have more importance than qualitative methods. Some of the SIAGI team were reluctant to use qualitative approach. But gradually homogeneity in thinking among team members has been established. Now the team members think that qualitative methods are equally important as quantitative methods, in order to carry on research for development of the community and its environment. Both quantitative and qualitative research approaches should be applied in a complementary manner, as any one approach applied separately will bear the danger of misinterpretation of real problems and issues.
  5. Increased collaboration with a diverse/heterogeneous group of stakeholders is another achievement of the SIAGI project. Through this project we learnt how the members of an interdisciplinary team interact with each other, act accordingly and learn form each other.

Reflections on a field immersion in SIAGI’s case study villages in Northern West Bengal

Written by: Christian Roth (CSIRO)

During the last week of January 2018, the SIAGI Project Leader, Christian Roth (accompanied by Stefanie, his wife) spent time visiting the SIAGI case study villages Dhaloguri and Uttar Chakowakheti, together with CDHI, the joint SIAGI and DSI4MTF partner NGO.

A primary purpose of my immersion in the case study villages was to experience and test firsthand what some of the challenges are to collecting, documenting and interpreting qualitative data as an alternative to resource intensive and extractive methods such as quantitative surveys. In fact, I regard this exercise as an example for how (qualitative) methods that heed our principles of ethical community engagement can still yield valid and scientifically defensible insights and conclusions. I offer the following observations and principles:

Open-ended questions

It takes discipline not to ask (suggestive) questions seeking to provide the answers to a predetermined view or hypothesis. I found myself on occasion slipping back into asking questions of confirmation to affirm what I already thought. For many of us scientists, articulating open-ended questions is likely a skill that requires active practicing over many interviews or conversations. As long as we are sufficiently self-aware when we slip back into old questioning patterns, this can be managed. Shadowing or being coached by people who are good at this is perhaps one way of getting better at this skill.

Reflective and judgement-free listening

Learning to leave behind what we think as being right or wrong, good or bad, and just taking the information we hear for what it is I think is perhaps the most challenging skill required, and perhaps a skill many of us are not well versed in. We all have our biases, conscious and unconscious. I wonder how we can train ourselves in getting better at this; again perhaps observing others who are good at listening?

Consciously looking

Some people are more visual than others. I personally ‘see’ more than I ‘hear’. As a soil scientist and agricultural scientist, as I do the village walk I look at the state of the soils, the nature of the irrigation being performed, the state of the crops, what crops are being grown in the homestead gardens, the quality of the ponds, the way the animals are kept and what they graze, whether the dung goes into fuel or into manure for the fields etc. Also, as I walk through the village I try to be aware of how people interact amongst themselves, what they wear, whether they look healthy and well-nourished. I look for indicators of wealth or surplus cash – how many TV satellite dishes are on the roofs, motorcycles, smart phones, solar panels, are the houses thatched, brick or tin etc. All of these visual stimuli create a picture of the state of the village and the being of its inhabitants that provides context and subsequent entry points for conversations and questions.

Creating space for the unexpected

If we pre-structure our engagement, we are likely to be more efficient (for example the day spent in UC systematically looking at all four collective sites). But we risk missing or closing out on things we would otherwise see or think about. The contrast on day two in Dhaloguri was revealing – by doing the random walk we ended up having discussions we wouldn’t have had otherwise (eg talking to non-collective farmers and women), at the expense of not having looked systematically at all collectives and their sites. The challenge is finding the right balance between both modes – they complement each other.

Taking time

Perhaps the most striking thing I learnt is that all of the above takes much more time than I thought. Active or reflective listening changes the pace of conversations. They meander. But that is how you create space for the unexpected. The combination of pre-structured discussion and visiting of sites complements the random conversations. Ideally I would have spent two days in each village, doing both.

The other dimension of time that I had underestimated is the value of immediately reflecting on and mulling over what had been said and seen with the CDHI team and Stefanie, over lunch or dinner, in the vehicle etc. The benefit of ‘fresh’ processing of the information, its triangulation, and continuous contextualisation I think cannot be underestimated, and I think this created a most stimulating environment for learning and insights. To some extent this hedges against not having captured all of the notes on the go (see below).

Capturing and documenting the conversations and observations

I tried two methods. On Day 1 in UC, I focussed exclusively on the interactions, leaving the compilation of notes to the evening. This was challenging. After a long day, I was tired, and really had to force myself to write up notes. I probably forgot some of the things I had seen or heard. In contrast, on Day 2 in Dhaloguri I took notes on the go, during the discussions. In this case I noticed that I wasn’t as good in the active listening, hastening my note writing to keep catching up with what was being said. I missed some of the subtleties of body language (leaving aside the problem of not speaking the language and having to rely on translations).

On reflection, I think the best approach is to have two people involved in the discussion or interview – a speaker, and a note taker. In the evening, or back in the office, these two can then triangulate, compare and gap fill. I know that this is standard practice for some of our NGO partners, but I am not sure how the PhD students might be able to do this.

Longitudinal studies of NGO practices

An unexpected learning was the value of extending the project timeline backwards by looking at past intervention sites, to be able to extrapolate forwards as to how certain approaches and interventions might play out. I think this is something we need to think a bit more about in terms of how we capture evidence of long term sustainability of project interventions. I am convinced that all of our NGO partners would be able to take us ‘back in time’ to villages where they have worked in the past. However, for this kind of longitudinal approach to be valid, there would have to be some confidence in the consistency between engagement methods in the past and currently.

The CDHI team at CDHI’s HQ in Jalpaiguri, before setting out to the immersion trip (from left – Dhananjay Roy, Rajeshwar Mishra, Subrata Majumdar and Mitali Ghosh), together with Christian and Stefanie Roth

Integrated Modelling in SIAGI

Written by: Serena Hamilton (ECU) and Wendy Merritt (ANU)

Modelling is a way to systematically organize data, knowledge and assumptions for a particular purpose and context. For SIAGI, the broad purpose of integrated modelling is to improve our understanding of the risks and opportunities of agricultural intensification for marginalised households in our research communities. We are more concerned with the process of developing and using model(s) to gain insight than with the model itself.

The role of SIAGI integrated modelling is to provide a ‘big picture’ of the system and insight to the interrelationships between the different system components. In complex systems, a solution to one problem can potentially lead to new, and perhaps bigger, problems in the future or elsewhere.  The integrated modelling process provides a structure to help think through such unintended consequences of interventions.  It can also help detect leverage points, which are “places within a complex system where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything” (Donella Meadows, 1999. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System). One example of a leverage point is women empowerment, which has been demonstrated in many Indian communities to lead to improvements in household health and wellbeing, food security, and agricultural productivity. Identifying leverage points may provide community and stakeholders with insight on the suite of opportunities or interventions that could produce long-term, positive impacts across the communities.

To date, the focus of the SIAGI integrated modelling activities has been on ‘Scoping’ and ‘Problem framing and formulation’ phases. There has been an ongoing process of understanding and capturing the key system components and variables, and their linkages, as well as determining the scope of the model (e.g. What issues will it capture? What type of questions will the model address?). This has been a deliberately extended process to ensure the most appropriate model type and scope is selected; we are not forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Fig. 1: The steps and four phases of the integrated modelling process (Hamilton et al. 2015).

In July 2016, we surveyed our project partners to get their early understanding of up to five key issues that affect the rural communities they work with. For each issue, we wanted to know who it affects and how, the drivers and flow-on effects, and factors that improve the capacity of households to avoid, adapt to or cope with negative impacts.  By September 2016, we developed conceptual diagrams which highlighted the interrelated nature of the issues and the complex pathways that determine (e.g.) food security, financial and health outcomes.

Fig. 2: Conceptual diagram showing key issues faced by the Khatail community identified by Shushilan (September 2016)

This exercise highlighted the challenges that multidisciplinary teams face, namely differences in terminologies, theories, methods and/or research interests of members. In response, we developed a generic framework to facilitate people from various disciplines and backgrounds to structure issues, risks and opportunities in terms of driver-state-impact pathways (see https://www.mssanz.org.au/modsim2017/K5/hamilton.pdf).

The SIAGI team used the framework in November 2017 to capture the knowledge and learnings from the preceding year. We worked in five sub-groups – policy, market, environment & climate, nutrition, and social – and brainstormed driver-state-impact pathways around each of the themes. This capacity building exercise has helped the team to think in terms of systems, interconnections (including indirect drivers and impacts) and feedbacks.

Fig. 3: Driver-state-impact pathways mapped out by the ‘market’ group in November 2017.

The nature of the SIAGI project means a qualitative or least semi-quantitative modelling approach is most appropriate, particularly one that supports engagement with (or input from) the communities. We have trialled fuzzy cognitive mapping, a flexible approach that seems intuitive to the non-modelling members of the project team and capable of capturing the different issues at play at the SIAGI study villages. Currently, we are narrowing the scope of the integrated model(s) for each site.

Hafamari Canal 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.