The number of women actively engaging in agricultural activities and farming is steadily growing
Women have always been contributors to the development of Bangladesh’s agriculture sector. However, educated women are now opting to get involved in agriculture and farming, rather than building their career elsewhere.
Be it working hands-on in the field, managing a team of workers, providing training or running their own companies – the number of women actively engaging in this sector has risen in recent years.
The Dhaka Tribune recently met with some of these entrepreneurs, spread out across the country, whose stories are ones of courage and inspiration.
Ishrat Jahan, from Kotalipara upazila in Gopalganj, has grown her own elaborate empire in farming.
The mother of two grows rice and vegetable, and has poultry and cattle farms.
“I love fresh vegetables, fish, milk and eggs, and meat. After getting married, I took the opportunity to have grown my own vegetables and farm my own chicken and cattle, with the support of my husband,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Due to her wedding and later pregnancy, Ishrat could not continue her education after Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exams.
In 2013, encouraged by her government job-holder husband Palash Sarder, she started farming seasonal vegetables.
Eventually, she started raising chicken, turkeys and cattle.
In 2018, she took up another project of raising 29 cows. “I made hefty profits after selling those cows in Eid-ul-Azha,” she said.
“I also grow rice, wheat and seasonal vegetables in 37 bighas of land near my house.”
Her business has expanded so much that she currently employs 15 full-time workers to look after everything. Besides, more people work in her farms on a temporary basis.
Not a fan of conventional 9-to-5 jobs, Ishrat said she was happy with her business.
“There is no freedom in jobs, but there is freedom in running your own business. I earn Tk50,000 a month on average by selling eggs, turkey and red meat,” she added.
Calling Ishrat an example for other women in her village, Kotalipara upazila Livestock Officer Palash Kumar told the Dhaka Tribune: “We trained her and periodically gave her advice, which helped her run her farms. She is now self-reliant and contributing to the nation’s economy. I hope more women like Ishrat get involved in agriculture and farming in the future.
Razia Sultana from Ashulia, Dhaka, Sabina Yasmin from Salamatpur, Faridpur, and Kakoli Khan from Alamdanga, Keraniganj have similar stories.
Razia, who also studied till the HSC, said she started cultivating foreign vegetables like zucchini, broccoli, red cabbage, capsicums, lettuce, etc on five bighas of land, with an investment of Tk2.5 lakh.
“Now I grow vegetables on 12 bighas (4 acres) of land. I also grow corn and grass for my cattle farm on another four bighas of land,” she added. “I usually invest Tk5-6 lakh, and am usually able to earn Tk9-14 lakh every year.”
Sabina, who holds a masters degree in computer science, has built a farm named Alif Goat and Dairy Farm in Salamatpur, Faridpur.
“I started with five cows in 2017. Now I have 56 cows and more than 100 goats. I make Tk33,000 per day by selling cattle milk. Currently, I make around Tk50 lakhin profit every year. My goal is to raise the profits to Tk1 crorein two years,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Kakoli Khan, who finished a bachelors in arts degree,started her vegetable farmin Keraniganj 10 years ago. Besides growing vegetables, she also collects fresh vegetables from different farmers sell them to customers, and provides training to more than 100 families in Alamdanga.
Other avenues of agricultural entrepreneurship
Many women are taking up other avenues of entrepreneurship connected to agriculture and farming – stepping into managerial jobs, providing training, coordinating teams, and producing fertilizers.
Rebecca Sultana, who completed bachelors in arts and a diploma in homoeopathic medicine and surgery, produces vermicompost and trichocompost – compost prepared using earth worms.
She started making compost from cow dung in 2007, with only Tk1 lakh investment, in Sariakandi, Bogra. In 2009, she started marketing them.
“Currently, I make 200 tons of compost in my project. Each month, I make more than Tk5-7 lakh in profit,” she said.
Rebecca also has a cattle farm with 46 cows, from which she gets 120 litres of milk every day. She now has 2,100 female members in her farmers’ cooperative, and even providestraining and loans to other farmers, she said.
Tamazer Ahmed, who studied economics at Mount Holyoke College in the US, started a non-profit project for cultivation as well as environmental projects in Dhaka last year. Her focus is on organic cultivation.
“Nowadays, people produce adulterated food, which is harmful for health. I launched my project to produce healthy and secure food,” Tamazer said.
Dr Nasrin Sultana, a senior program specialist on horticulture at Saarc Agriculture Centre,previously did research on agriculture at Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).
A former associate professor of horticulture at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, Nasringot involved in counselling and training farmers after leaving her job.
“I feel happy when my female students and women farmers come to me for advice. I help and encourage farmers who come from different places, along with my other colleagues under global projects to develop their leadership, because most of the farmers leave cultivation if they are not monitored after funding,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.
Emphasizing the importance of women’s role in agriculture, social activist advocate Sultana Kamal said: “According toresearch, about 75-80% women are involved in Bangladesh’s agricultural sector. There was a time when farming and agricultural work were women’s jobs. But it was never recognized as such.”
Our correspondents Wali Newaz in Faridpur, Manoj Kumar Saha in Gopalganj, and Nazmul Huda Nasim in Bogra contributed to this report