Improving a community while fighting climate change

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Improving a community while fighting climate change

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25 September 2015 – Bidhan Krishna Sarker never expected to become a farmer.

Born in the remote Netrakona district in northern Bangladesh, his family lived in the Haor Basin, a wetland ecosystem characterized by long stretches of shallow swamp land, rivers, streams and irrigation canals. 

With limited access to land to cultivate crops and annual flooding becoming more extreme due to climate change, Bidhan's family – lived in poverty – like the majority of residents who depend on the wetlands for their survival.

Life in the village was very hard. Communication was poor and there was limited access to health and educational opportunities. Bidhan says many families could not afford to eat three meals a day, and nutritious food was not available.

More than anything, he wanted to see life in his community improve – a desire that inspired Bidhan to dream of going to university.

"I was born in a low-income family and community where there were no dreams of education," says Bidhan. "It was my dream to contribute to my family and my community."

"My primary and secondary school were far away from my village home. I had to travel on foot and some days crossed the river and canal by swimming, taking my books with one hand," he recalls. 

Bidhan tutored other students and worked part-time jobs to be able to pursue an education. After years of hard work, he became the first person in his family to receive a graduate degree from Dhaka College.

Bidhan received training in creating a swamp tree nursery, as well as in cultivating winter vegetables

However, years began to pass after his graduation and Bidhan was still unable to find a job in his community or abroad.

"It was very difficult for my father to maintain our large family. We were in financial crisis and a very vulnerable situation," he says. "I had a degree but no job, no money and no position. Only the burden and responsibilities as the eldest son of my father."

It was while searching for employment one day that Bidhan heard about the Haor Infrastructure and Livelihood Improvement Project (HILIP).

The IFAD-supported project aimed to reduce poverty in the region by improving roads, and expanding access to natural resources, technology and markets. It provided training to build local people’s capacity and develop their livelihoods.

Through the project, Bidhan received training in creating a swamp tree nursery, as well as in cultivating winter vegetables.

Swamp tree saplings can survive well in the intense water conditions that are a part of climate change. They are bought by farmers, organizations and the government to protect vulnerable rice crops against flash floods, wave action and soil erosion.

Bidhan received financial and technical support, as well as seeds and fertilizer to plant his first swamp tree nursery. It  soon produced 29,000 saplings, which he was able to sell and turn into an annual profit of US $5,200.

"Now I am known in my community for knowledge sharing and also for decision making. I am empowered."

The demand for tree saplings grew rapidly, and he was soon able to employ 15 other rural poor people and train them on the techniques he learned. Together they planted even more saplings.

Thus, the support provided to Bidhan reached others as well. With the right tools, rural people began to take charge of their own development.

Bidhan diversified and began planting winter vegetables as well (potatoes and sweet gourd). The IFAD-supported project also linked Bidhan to markets to sell his products. His profits continued to rise, and Bidhan's dream to give back to his community became a reality.

Now able to provide for his family with a stable monthly income of 16,000 Bangladeshi Taka (US $200), Bidhan created a youth foundation that provided farming training and social services to nearby rural young people.

In addition, 28 members of the foundation began selling their vegetables at a subsidized rate to the rural poor to help improve nutrition in the community. Over 3,000 people in the area have benefited from his efforts so far.

"The poverty situation for my family and community is changing. We are eating better foods. There are more health services and rural jobs," says Bidhan.

"I am honoured in my community for decision-making and for developing my leadership skills in the interest of poverty-stricken people," he says. "The whole community is now doing better."