A  Tale of  Pumpkins on  Sandbars

October 16th, 2014

Is it  possible  for the Extreme Poor living on  uncertain territory to become self–sustainable and become a  market player  ?  

A happy sandbar farmer with her pumpkins

A happy sandbar farmer with her pumpkins

We are not talking about food stamps or government handouts for the million of people who have lost all their land and assets and  face annual flooding threatening all their possessions.  These people are  forced to live on flood protection embankments,  surrounded  by water and without any land.   We might call them internally displaced people.

We are talking about over 100,0000 people   currently living on flood protection embankment in 35-40 riverine districts in Bangladesh (Water Development Board). After each rainy season, large barren sandy islands appear in the main rivers which usually disappear after 5 months.  We have demonstrated  through  our  DFID funded project “Pathways from Poverty: Building Economic Resilience of Extreme Poor Communities in Riverine Areas of Bangladesh. how these lands can be utilized  during 5 months each year by the displaced extreme poor people living on flood   protection embankment to produce food and make a living.

We have facilitated   nearly 20,000 of the extreme poor  to produce over 52,000 pumpkins worth  5 million US$ in 1,925 hectare of  barren  sandbars .  Nearly 50% of our targeted beneficiaries are women, whose husbands and male family   members have been forced to migrate to look for jobs.

Our model of producing food on barren temporary land is a tried and tested model which we started piloting in 2005 and then scaled up during the 2008 -2015 period. We have shown over the years that rate of return for the beneficiaries ranges from 1:5 to 1:11. Bangladesh has nearly  230 river basins  with  1792.5 sq.km of temporary  raised  sandbars  which  are  unfertile and barren due to siltation.  Our technology can help to bring these barren lands under cultivation, which could be revolutionary in a country adversely affected by climate change. Not only that  ,  the technology makes optimum  use of scarce  water  supply   during the dry season when farmers faces nearly 40%  irrigation  water shortage .

pumpkinsHow can we scale up this technology?  .  Can we use the internal resource – capital and human- of these extreme poor   not only to grow out of poverty   , but also for scaling up?   Our recent winning of Securing Water for Food:  USAID Grand Challenge has given us the opportunity to pilot a commercial model to scale up sandbar cropping.  Under this  model  we envisage strengthening the sandbar cropper association to take loans from microfinance institutions,  attracting and building relationships with key market actors  for  selling  of pumpkins and value added products   .

Our long term  vision is to  promote pumpkins  as a Fair trade product  and attract national and international   investors and also low scale funding.

Is this possible?  But we can dream!

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