Pumpkin farming changes char women’s fate

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DHAKA, Dec 10, 2020 (BSS) – Achhia Khatun lives in the Brahmmaputra char in Chilmari area under Kurigram district. The 40-year-old woman who was abandoned by her husband only belongs four decimal of land near her house.

Achhia started hard struggle of changing her life by capitalising on this land. Her eight-year-old daughter Lolita Khatun and 12-year-old son Saiful Islam helped her during this struggle.

She cultivates different types of vegetables including chilli, gourd and sweet pumpkins at different times of the year. After keeping some vegetables for her family she sells the extra ones. Through this income, she began vegetables farming on others’ land. She changed her fate after triumphing the struggle. She gave marriage to her son and daughter and she is now leading a happy life.

Not only Achhia, women of different villages of Brahmmaputra and Teesta chars in the northern district changed their fate in this way. Though different types of crops produced by them reach the markets across the country, nobody knows their contributions to this end.

Achhia said: “We give hard labour and do our work. We fight against the rivers which sometimes devour and sometimes develop. I changed my fortune with two children. Now extra money exists in my hands … I express grateful to almighty Allah for this.”

While visiting the area, this correspondent came to know that the huge char area situated on the confluence of the Teesta and Brahmmaputra is experiencing various disasters like flood, river erosion, storm, drought and cold wave throughout the year. As a result a severe food crisis exists in the region at a certain time of the year. Due to various natural calamities, the huge number of people living in vulnerable environment fall into extreme poverty.

Rahmatullah, a union parishad member of Chilmari, said they heard that the government allocates money in the budget every year for the char people.

“But due to lack of the institutional structure, this money could not be spent. That’s why, we demand to the government for spending the budget money properly by forming an institutional structure,” he said.

It was learnt that despite the various problems including lack of infrastructures, many local and international organisations have taken initiatives to make the marginalised people self-reliant. And ‘Parctical Action’ is one of such organisations.

Since 2005, the Practical Action is working to organise the women of landless farmers families and encouraging them in cultivating pumpkins and other high yielding crops by using new technologies.

The organisation started their work first with the families living on the banks of Nilkuthi embankment in Gaibandha. Through the programme, it has so far engaged more than 19,000 families in new technology-based farming.

The workers of the organisation give various advices to the families including technological advice as well as using of proper seeds and fertilisers and marketing of their produces. Ninety percent of beneficiaries of the project are women. So the scheme is playing an important role in women empowerment.

The workers of the organisation said that female farmers get only 150 days for cultivation. At first land was allocated to them in the char emerged in the rivers for cultivation various types of vegetables like pumpkins, squash, tomato, cauliflower and carrot after discussing the matter with local government and administration. For this ‘samity’ (association) was formed with local women, and one area is earmarked for every ‘samity’. A member of the samity gets scope for farming pumpkins in one line, while numerous pits are dug on the land for it.

Achhia, a member of a samity, said, “In line with the advice of the field workers, we sow various types of seeds of pumpkins in the pits.”

She said workers of the Practical Action give technological advice to prevent diseases when pumpkins grow in the plants.

About marketing of the pumpkins, local youths said the land is filled up with sweet pumpkins in three or four months. These could be preserved at the house for nearly one year.

As the pumpkins are not perished, it has good demand. The traders coming from outside are purchasing the pumpkins.

The ‘Practical Action’ started its journey with the project titled “Pumpkins against Poverty” in Chilmari in November 2016. Earlier, a severe flood took place in July-August months. The extreme poor took shelter on the embankments after losing their houses during the deluge.

While distributing relief goods, the Practical Action provided about seven metric tons of sweet pumpkins among the flood-hit people. After that the organisation mainly started this scheme.

According to Practical Action, a total of 2,101 farmers (90 percent are women) produced 575 metric tons of sweet pumpkins at 25 spots on 210 hectors of char land last year. Its local market price (Tk 8 per kilo) was Taka 5 crore and 26 lakh.

Saidul Islam, an official of the Practical Action, said through the project, they extended support to the farmers for setting up natural ‘macha’ for preserving pumpkins and their marketing.

According to Department of Agriculture Extention (DAE), 5000 members of the samity produced nearly 27,000 MT sweet pumpkins at 740 chars in Kurigram district last year.

Their all plights go away when they return to their homes with various sizes of green and red coloured pumpkins during the peak time of their harvesting.

A female farmer named Joyonti Rani told this correspondent that she earned about Tk 30,000 by selling pumpkins last year. This income of the char women has helped consolidating their positions in their families.

They have changed their fortune by rearing cows and cultivating sweet pumpkins.

DAE Deputy Director in Kurigram Dr Md Mostafizur Rahman said the char women have created a revolution by farming various types of vegetables including sweet pumpkins in new method. As a result their position in the family and society is being stronger.