An alternative solution for better access to market for the smallholder farmers
West Gulishakhali (ward no 8) is a village at Nishanbaria Union under Morrelganj Upazila, Bagerhat district. This is a flood and saline prone 4 square kilometre area, which is adjacent to the Sundarban mangrove forest. More than 400 households in this village fully and partially depend on agriculture, fishing and extraction of resources from the Sundarban.
“We did not have a good crop because of salinity and again there is flood. Few farmers would produce flood and saline tolerant agricultural varieties but most of them could not make profit, as they could not sell their product in the market, and the market is far away from our village. But, in the last couple of years, we have a different experience,” said Abdul Alim, a farmer from Gulishakhali. What is the different experience?
West Gulishakhali is a village with a lot of ‘Ghers’ (large water bodies mainly used for shrimp and fish culture). There are long banks of the Ghers, which is very much useful to cultivate vegetables almost all year-round. Most of the villagers here in Gulishakhali have the required information and skill to cultivate climate-resilient crop varieties, but only a few of them would produce saline and flood-tolerant vegetable varieties. Most of the producers in this village were not interested because they did not have access to the market “Whatever we would produce, we would consider only household needs. What will we do with the extra? There is nobody to purchase it. If you produce extra, you need to go to the market to sell, which is not easy to reach. You can do it if you think only commercially,” added Alim. And hence, for a long time, they did not think about it either individually or in a group.
“We can sell shrimp and fish at a good price at the local market, but we cannot sell our small vegetables at fair price. We had to sell our vegetables to the remote market. Sometimes especially during monsoon we experience transportation costs getting very high, and it does not lower the chance of making profit,”Kader Bepari, a smallholder farmer said. From time to time, they talked to each other and thought about what to do and there was no significant initiative to deal with that existing challenge. The potentiality was observed by a project and it inflated the discussion. Since 2018, the producers in that community have started working in ‘Producers Group’ mainly on climate resilient agricultural technologies, water management systems and improved market linkage. The group members had the practice to organize a regular meeting to share their experiences, to learn from each other and to discuss various existing issues and challenges. “Yes, the Panii Jibon project has influenced us to get united and take the steps for the collection centre which changed the situation. We led everything while the project facilitated us from the back side,” said Md Sabed Ali, the Vice-President of Gulishakhali collection centre.
One of the key challenges, discussed by the group members was the issues of access to the market and then came up with the idea of initiating a collection centre. “We discussed this problem among the producer group members and came up with a potential idea to try with a Collection Centre in the village. We identified seven locations surrounding, however, we have decided about West Gulishakhali as one of the potentials,” said Rakib Gazi, a smallholder farmer.
The collection center with the effort from community and external stakeholders was established and started functioning in July 2019. The community contributed through a cost-sharing modality from the local producers. For smooth operation and maintenance, the Collection Centre has been managed by a management committee, consisting of 11 members including two women members from the producer groups.
“The committee has been elected by the farmers for two years tenure. Our committee periodically conducts meetings to ensure the smooth operation of the Centre. We have also conducted a number of linkage meetings with nearby wholesalers, and signed an agreement with the wholesalers for purchasing vegetables through the bidding process,” explained Rahima Begum, one of the women members of the management committee.
Every day, a number of local producers from Gulishakhali and neighbouring villages come to the centre now and sell their products here. They sell their products through a competitive bidding process where buyers attend the bid and the top bidder can buy the vegetables. There are dedicated people for registering the product and sales to the buyer who works under the supervision of the committee. They pay the producers for their product later even at the household level; so the producers do not need to wait and waste their time. “I’m happy that I don’t need to wait there to sell my product. I just go, drop my product, and come back to restart my work again. For this, I need to pay a little, but I can invest the time in my work which gives me a better return,” said Zulekha Begum, a woman farmer from the village.
The engagement of smallholder producers has been increasing day by day. The buyers even from Bagerhat and Khulna districts are now showing interest as the market is growing gradually. In 2019, they started with 14 smallholder farmers which increased to 107 by the year 2020. There is also remarkable progress in the number of women buyers as well. 33 women producers now interact in the collection centre though they started only with four. The number of wholesale buyers is now eight, while there were only two at the initial stage. The collection centre experiences a rise in sales of vegetables as the figure shows. “In 2020 we sold a total of 640 mounds of vegetables worth Tk7,83,000. In 2019 it was 82 mounds with a monetary value of Tk100,322,” said Sabed Ali, the Vice-President of the collection centre. The centre is helping the poor farmers by introducing them to the market systems. It has increased access for the women smallholder farmers as they can easily come to the centre and sell the crops from their homestead gardening as well.
“The market starts early in the morning; the farmers can sell their product in minimum time and then can go back to their daily work. And as there is no extra hassle, more and more producers are joining us, and this is our worry as well because sometimes we need to stock the product outside the centre. We understand that the current centre cannot accommodate all the products during the picking season. We don’t know how to manage it,” said Ali, the Vice-President.
The committee is thinking of an extra shed or extending the existing centre but they are worried about investment. They were supported by a project earlier, but they might not get that support this round. So, they are thinking about alternatives, how to manage the fund or mobilize from their income. There are also additional concerns about the extension of the centre as it is on Khas land and not registered. So, they need to communicate with the local government for legal approval from the government. “We need to have a better relationship with the government and the private sectors so that they can contribute for us to make these sustainable efforts and they also get benefitted in return. There is no doubt that it is imperative in this context of climate change to ensure food security, but the question is how to keep it running,” Ali said.
This story of the community successfully running a collection centre with the help of Pani Jibon project that motivated the farmers to produce saline tolerant fresh vegetable, alongside their existing fish farming not only boosted the communities economy but created livelihood options that has been aiding them to become food secure, while enhancing their adaptive capacity with increased access to financial resources and market chain.
MM Jakaria is working in Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as a Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist in Panii Jibon Project, his research interest lies in the community-led climate change adaptation system. Can be reached at [email protected]
Md. Kamruzzaman Khan is working in Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Center (BDPC) as a Field Coordinator, his research interest lies in Climate Change and DRR. Can be reached at [email protected]