FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Bangladesh

CASE 1 An emerging model digital village in Bangladesh: the case of Kalu Faqir Village

Kalu Fakir Para village is 10 kilometres northwest of Cox’s Bazar in south-east Bangladesh. The 650 households mostly rely on agriculture and specialize in a variety of vegetables. As part of the Bangladesh village digitalization drive, Kalu Fakir Para has benefitted from a digital village initiative spearheaded by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) at the Ministry of Agriculture with support from FAO. The initiative sought to pilot the national Digital Bangladesh Initiative at local level by promoting an innovative, decentralized digital knowledge sharing hub for farmers.

In April 2019, DAE and FAO helped establish three farmer field schools (FFS) in the village, each with 20 farmers participating; 15 of the 60 are women. Through these FFS, farmers can learn about climate adaptable vegetable production from the DAE’s field extension agents, the Sub-Assistant Agriculture Officers (SAAO). The objective was to combine traditional agriculture extension services with digital technology to help farmers reduce input costs and sell their produce for higher prices.

FAO has a long connection with FFS. However, in Kalu Faqir Para the innovation consisted of engaging not only the DAE service but also the Agriculture Information Service (AIS) which helped support the creation of a digital village centre (DVC) to service farmers’ needs. The DVC in Kalu Fakir Para village had two full-time staff serving as digital service providers (DSPs). The DSPs help farmers access information on agricultural production, market information, agrometeorological information and other agriculture related government services. FAO, together with the implementing partner and AIS, provided technical assistance to strengthen the DVC by building the capacity of DAE staff, providing logistics support and helping form a management committee to operate and maintain the centre.

DAE and FAO also assisted in establishing a village aggregation centre to collect and aggregate farm products for bulk sales directly to buyers, eliminating middle agents and ensuring higher prices for producers. Three FFS groups are now able to purchase farm inputs collectively and sell their products in the village aggregate centre. In addition, 300 farming families received ICT (information communication technology) apps for their smart phones, connected to the DVC through five DCFs. These farmers use the apps to access information on more efficient production technologies.

With the assistance of DCFs, farmers download the apps to their own smart phones to access market information from the DVC as well as information on agriculture production from extension agents

Other key players in this initiative are digital champion farmers (DCFs) who received information technology training from the AIS. There are five DCFs in the village who are knowledgeable about digital information, particularly the government endorsed offline apps krisoker janala and krisoker digital thikana. The DCFs have installed these apps on more than 300 farmers’ smart phones so they can access offline farm production information. In addition, most farmers in the village are aware of the government call centre service (16123) to access agricultural advisory services directly by phone. With the assistance of DCFs, farmers download the apps to their own smart phones to access market information from the DVC as well as information on agriculture production from extension agents.

Since implementing this project, farmers have been able to reduce input costs by 5 percent, and thanks to the village aggregate centre, farmers no longer have to travel to sell their produce, reducing transport and labour costs. With support from digital service providers to source better markets, farmers can now add an additional ten percent to the price of their produce.  

The digital village services launched with the FFS groups is being extended to other farmers in the village. However, challenges remain including the fact many farmers still do not have a smart phone. Also the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted farmers’ movements and physical interaction with the DVC. There is limited advanced knowledge of the DSP to operate the ICT equipment and using the apps/tools takes time to master.

The digital village initiative in Kafu Faqir Para is innovative and offers great potential for success. Several players converged to make the village digitalization a reality starting with the DAE’s initial set of DVC and creation of FFS groups. AIS provided the technical training for 10 farmers to use ICT apps and tools. A local government representative, a union council member from the village, serves as an advisor to the DVC committee and the participating farmers’ group provided land and infrastructure to establish the DVC. FFS groups contribute 0.5 percent of their profits to operate the DVC.