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Growing together in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi farmers face many challenges, including the adverse effects of climate change, limited land availability and poor access to markets.  An estimated 36 per cent of the population in rural areas live below the poverty line. Few smallholder farmers grow enough food to feed themselves and their families, let alone sell any for a profit.

Volunteer Liz Hunt, an employee of Syngenta – one of VSO’s corporate partners, worked to support a project increasing the skills and abilities of 10,000 small-scale rice, potato and vegetable farmers in the Rangpur and Dinajpur districts of north western Bangladesh, so that farming is more profitable in the long term.

Volunteer Liz Hunt talking to farmers from the Rangpur district of North West Bangladesh Allison Joyce

Volunteer Liz Hunt, from Syngenta, is supporting VSO's 'Growing Together' programme. The aim of the programme is to make farming more profitable for 10,000 small-scale rice, potato and vegetable farmers in the Rangpur and Dinajpur districts of north western Bangladesh.

Liz talks about her experience:

A green thumb

I’ve worked with plants my entire career. I grew up in a farming community in eastern Iowa, which is known as the corn state. There are more pigs than people!

When I was fifteen I started working in a green house with indoor flowering plants, like lilies and poinsettias, just as a part time job. I thought, ‘I kind of like this’. There’s independence and you see instant success or failure when you work with plants. So I did my undergraduate degree in horticulture.

I still work with farmers all the time in the US, but there it’s farmers with thousands of acres of land.

Liz Hunt volunteer in Bangladesh with farmers Allison Joyce

Liz with farmers in the Rangpur district, north western Bangladesh

Visiting Bangladesh

The farming here is very manual. Those we’ve met are just starting seedling production – what is considered new technology here, yet it has been around for years. It really puts everything into perspective.

Currently there is an individualistic mentality - people buy, grow and sell for themselves.  Just bringing in a group mentality by demonstrating the benefits is a major shift and is already leading to positive results.

There is definitely scope for farmers to become a lot more profitable. To better support themselves and their families.

Training

As part of Growing Together we are developing agronomic training for smallholder farmers in conjunction with local experts. 

The training focusses on three key areas. There’s the social aspect, such as leadership and governance of a group; then there’s business management and finance, and of course there’s the agronomic component. The training will enable farmers to make different decisions and become more profitable.

Liz hunt in Bangladesh ©VSO/Allison Joyce

Satisfying work

It has been great to work with growers in Bangladesh and seeing the similarities and differences between growers here and elsewhere.  It’s really satisfying to see the farmer’s potential and development. Having grown up in a farming community, farms have always been part of what I do.

When I go back to my job this will be the story I share when I’m talking with a group of farmers. This is sustainability in practice. When I speak to farmers in the United States, or a group of food manufacturers, sustainability isn’t a word that’s widely embraced. This demonstrates that it is about preparing for the future and making sure we can supply enough food for a growing population.

Find out more about volunteering Bangladesh

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