Prime Minister of Bangladesh Presents Award to Lead Female Farmer of Solidaridad's SAFAL Programme

On 1 March, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh presented an award to Shikha Rani Chakravarti, a lead farmer of Solidaridad Asia’s Sustainable Livelihoods, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) programme in Bangladesh.

This award recognized Shikha’s dedication and overall contribution to empowering women in agriculture. Shika began her journey as a teacher earning a low salary. Her journey has not been easy, but she has come a long way and her achievements are a source of inspiration. This is her story…

Shikha’s Struggle

Shikha was brought up in Kalaroa Upazila of the Satikhira district in Southern Bangladesh and was married after her secondary school certification examination. She then moved to her husband’s home in Kalikapur village, Dumuria, Khulna.

As is the case with the majority of land in southern Bangladesh, rising water levels meant the small amount of “cultivable” land, around 0.6 ha, that she and her husband could work on was waterlogged for a disproportionate amount of time. This resulted in inadequate food production.

As a Brahman (a high caste Hindu), Shikha’s husband served as a priest for the local community and was able to earn a small livelihood from his services. Within a year of their marriage, the couple was blessed with a baby girl, but they were soon distraught with the reality that they barely had enough to sustain themselves, much less a child.

Shikha decided that she would work to provide for her little girl, and joined a Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee (BRAC) school as a teacher where she earned BDT 475 a month. This income hardly sufficed and soon Shikha started tuition classes for children beyond her work hours to earn a little extra.

She was compelled to move back to her hometown after her son was born due to a better family support system and was hopeful of better educational opportunities. She joined a BRAC non-formal primary education school as a teacher, but continued to look for opportunities that would ensure a stable and secure life for her children.

Sustainable Livelihood Through Agriculture

Shikha realized that she could earn a sustainable livelihood if she engaged in agricultural activities and that to do so, she needed training on ideas and practices that she previously had little or no knowledge. She then underwent training in the Upazila Agriculture Office on integrated pest management techniques.

Solidaridad’s Sustainable Livelihoods, Food Security and Linkages (SaFaL) programme took into account Shikha’s interest, intelligence and prior attempts to work in an agricultural capacity and developed her as a 'Lead Farmer' who would further build the capacity of 120 more farmers.

Shikha received a series of trainings on identification and management of high quality seeds, production and management of organic compost, key points on safe food production without biological or chemical contamination, develop business plans, use biopesticides, sex pheromone traps, and various generic trainings that included safe and free mango plantation, farm record management and so on.

She then took forward the lessons she had learned and acted as a changemaker in her own community by helping local farmers manage their farms and produce better. She undertook several learning tours and farm visits around the region and was fascinated with vermicomposting undertaken by SaFaL’s farmers.

Shikha decided to engage in the project and was able to produce up to 80 kgs of vermicompost on a monthly basis. She also inspired 70 of the 120 farmers to produce their own as well.

To establish the effectiveness of the trainings she had received, Shikha organized various demonstration plots for pointed gourds, bitter gourds and so on, using different bio-friendly techniques. She now owns around 1.6 ha cultivation land which serves as a demonstration plot of the ideal mango orchard. Selim Reza Hasan, Country Manager, Bangladesh says:

“Solidaridad is empowering women so that they can better optimise their full potential for leadership in economic, political and public life. In Bangladesh, Solidaridad is strengthening the leadership of over 37,000 women farmers and entrepreneurs for their productive engagement in enterprise agriculture and agri-business. We salute Shikha Rani and the thousands of women those who are moving ahead and are determined to change their lives.”

Tenacity to Ensure the Best for Everyone    

Shikha’s success has much to do with ensuring that not only her family, but her neighbours, fellow farmers and especially women are happy, healthy and able to live in a dignified manner.

She is known in her community for lending support to SaFaL’s Community Nutrition Volunteers in organising nutrition sessions, and helping struggling farmers find financial solutions through local organisations like Solidaridad’s partners Uttaran, amongst others.

Most impressive is Shikha’s dedication to helping marginalised women find some form of relief in their own communities. She has employed 45 women in her work and taught young female school dropouts 32 different types of sewing methods making them self-reliant that would allow them to work independently even if nobody hires them.

A Pioneer in all Fronts

Shikha Rani remains a frontrunner in her community. She was able to send her husband to work abroad with her savings. Shikha is amazed at how simple, techniques like the pheromone sex trap and vermicompost allows for improved production. 

Solidaridad undertakes a gender inclusive approach for the productive engagement of women in agriculture as farmers, service providers and entrepreneurs. The SaFaL programme is facilitating development of women’s leadership capacity and extending facilitation supports for positioning them in social and economic development processes. This is complemented through capacity development and strengthening of women’s agency and relations for the adoption and adaptation of technologies, access to information and finance. Women are provided skills on leadership and decision-making ability for their inclusive engagement in small businesses and employment.