Support to Investment

Investing in farmer networks and soil fertility

 “All Bangladesh Farmers Society” compost enterprise

“Before, our condition was just like a frog living in a cave”, explains Abdul Jabbar, the President of the Sara Bangla Krishak Society (SBKS) or All Bangladesh Farmers Society.

©FAO/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Abdul Jabbar, the President of the Sara Bangla Krishak Society (SBKS), at the Society’s new vermi-composting enterprise.
Jatrapur, Bangladesh, October 25, 2017. 

“However, FAO helped us to travel abroad to visit farmer organizations in India and Philippines.”  Seeing how farmer organizations work had a profound effect on Abdul Jabbar. “When we came back from these countries we realized that we had been in the darkness, we accumulated so much experience.” 

Building a national farmers network

The Integrated Agricultural Productivity Project (IAPP), funded by GAFSP, laid the foundations for Abdul Jabbar’s vision to support his fellow smallholder farmer. Small-scale farming is a critical part of the Bangladesh economy. More than 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population and 77 percent of its workforce live in rural areas. Farm sizes are small, with average land holdings of less than one hectare.

For Abdul Jabbar this raises a number of challenges. 

“If farmers want to sell crops individually, sometimes they do not get a fair price” however he continues, “if they do it through a farmers group, and all the farmers buy together, they can get good quality seeds and other equipment at a cheaper price. They can also get a fair price when they sell their products together.”

Involving farmer organizations in agricultural investment planning can be key to strengthening rural food and nutrition security. The capacity development component of the IAPP, which was implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), emphasized this need (see Step by Step: Scaling up Investment).

Imanun Nabi Khan, a Producer Organization Specialist working at FAO Bangladesh, explains that

“between 2011 and 2016 the IAPP capacity development work sought to improve the way in which both the public and private sector invest in rural livelihoods. Farmer organizations have an important role to play in this, and one of our first steps was to map the number and effectiveness of organizations throughout Bangladesh. The results were surprising”.

They highlighted that most Bangladeshi farmer organizations are very small, only 2% are federated at any level, and almost none are run autonomously, with 99% relying on support from government agencies or NGOs. 

©FAO/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan
©FAO/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Abdul Jabbar and farmers at a meeting of the SBKS to discuss vermi-composting businesses.
Jatrapur, Bangladesh, October 25, 2017. 

Drawing on the Organization’s international presence, FAO organised 3 international exchange visits (to Kenya, Philippines and India) as well as 19 farmer workshops in Bangladesh to help strengthen farmer organizations. Major topics included business investment and marketing, facilitation skills, access to credit, and post-harvest technologies. During these activities it became clear that farmers sought a national platform that could connect the many small local farmer groups. This would facilitate the sharing of good practices and agricultural business opportunities. At the same time the study tour to Kenya exposed 9 Bangladeshi government representatives to the positive Kenyan government experiences of working with farmer organizations. 

In October 2014, the Sara Bangla Krishak Society (SBKS ) or All Bangladesh Farmers Society, was formed. It has since grown into an energetic and representative forum for Bangladeshi farmers. Abdul Jabbar, who now leads SBKS as its President, states that

“we now have group members all over the Bangladesh” but “there are still many more small groups of farmers, and we are trying to include them in our network.”

The Society organizes a multitude of services for their members. These include vaccination and de-worming campaign for ruminants, vegetable and orchard nursery establishment, rental services for agricultural machineries, seed exchanges, fingerlings production, plant nurseries for medicinal plants and organic composting business development. 

Investing in worms to restore soil fertility

One example of innovative SBKS activities has been the promotion of vermi-composting.

“When we were planning to do something in SBKS, I thought about the farmer group exchange to the Philippines” explains Abdul Jabbar.“From this experience I had learnt about the composting business. Their farmer groups are very active and are running the business all over the country.”

A major challenge facing farmers in Bangladesh is the depletion of organic top soil, in part due to misuse of chemical fertilizers. Abdul Jabbar proposed vermi-composting to the SBKS network, to address both loss of soil fertility and to generate a revenue stream for the Society.

©FAO/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan
©FAO/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Vermi earthworms (left) and composting chambers (right) at the SBKS vermi-compost site.
Jatrapur, Bangladesh, October 26, 2017.

This composting process uses earthworms to quickly breakdown the organic material and produce a high quality organic fertilizer. It’s a very fast process.

“First we spread a layer of cow dung where we want to build the pile, after that we add worms, and then the worms digest the cow dung within 15 days” Abdul explains, “then after 15 days we turn the compost pile, and after 20 days we get nutrient-rich compost.”

The next challenge for Abdul was how to source a regular supply of dung, where to buy composting worm eggs, and suitable sites to produce the compost. Requests for ideas were sent throughout the SBKS farmer’s network. To pilot the business, Abdul signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2016 to source cow dung from the Jatrapur cattle market. The following month the Department of Agricultural Extension leased SBKS two abandoned grain stores, and through the SBKS network they also sourced earthworm eggs. SBKS then submitted a capacity development proposal to FAO, and on a cost-sharing basis with the IAPP programme, the Society received training in good vermi-composting practices.

©FAO/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Jatrapur Cattle Market where the SBKS source most the cattle dung for the vermi-compost business, Bangladesh, October 25, 2017.

The business has expanded rapidly. In 2017 the SBKS operated 22 composting chambers, and could produce 10 tonnes of vermi-compost fertilizer a month. However, demand is huge. The SBKS now plan to invest and expand composting throughout the SBKS network. By doing this business they can generate revenue for the farmer organisations and play a major role in improving soil fertility.

“Through the Society we will try and share this vermi-composting technology and distribute the earthworm eggs to our members”. Abdul Jabbar is passionate about the possibilities. 

“Vermi-compost is the life of a land” he explains “so instead of using chemical fertilizers we can use natural compost. Now we have to let the people know about it.”

The nationwide Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) may become their first major client.

Abdul is one of over 5,500 farmers, government staff and agricultural technicians who benefitted from capacity building under the IAPP in Bangladesh. The SBKS also hope to expand their capacity development and support to farmers under the GAFSP-funded Missing Middle Initiative (MMI) in Bangladesh. Starting in 2018, FAO and the Government of Bangladesh will begin implementing the MMI Initiative, which will support dozens of smallholder farmer organizations around the country improve their access to finance, technologies and markets.

“It is because of the support from FAO and IAPP that we are now in this position. Between 2013 and 2016 I learned a lot” Abdul Jabbar explains. “I am now using my knowledge to help other farmers, I am helping them to move ahead.

I have gone from zero to being a hero.”

Investing in agriculture can transform lives, reduce hunger and malnutrition, and eliminate poverty. Working with international partners, FAO has contributed to over 2,000 agricultural and rural investment strategies, policies and programmes in more than 170 countries. The majority of this work is carried out by the FAO Investment Centre.