Momotaj Fighting with Climatic Vulnerabilities

Momotaj (left) and her family

Momotaj (left) and her family

When I walked up to Momotaj’s home in the village of Dakkin Kadamtola, she was surrounded by 25 smallholder women and men farmers in her courtyard. This image alone was enough for me to understand how much the community values her leadership in bringing about positive changes in their lives by fighting together in addressing climatic vulnerabilities. This is not a common scenario in Bangladesh’s socio-cultural context, but there she is: Momotaj Begum, a 30-year-old Change Agent of climate-smart development, amongst farmers and her family – her husband, Enamul Haque (46), and daughters, Anny Akter (12) and Eshita Akter (6).

But it wasn’t always like this for Momotaj. Momotaj came from a very poor family, where it was difficult for them to meet their basic needs, meaning that Momotaj couldn’t continue her studies after secondary school because she needed to help the family.

Momotaj and her family live on the bank of the Dharola River, which steadily erodes the bank each and every year. She and her family live with the threats and repercussions of erosion vulnerability every day. Her family has 96 decimal (approx. 3,900 square metres) of cultivable land, which her husband uses to cultivate rice and vegetables using traditional methods. However, each year their crops have been damaged by repeated flash floods, droughts, long cold spells and dense fog.

Further, due to these adverse climatic events, Momotaj’s family is in a situation where they have to spend 6,000-10,000 Bangladeshi Taka (approx. 65-115 Euros) to repair their house after the monsoons. The monsoons and other weather events also bring with them a variety of diseases that affect their poultry and livestock, a lack of safe drinking water and sufficient shelter, disrupted communication, washed away or blocked roads and embankments, and a break in education for her daughters.

To make ends meet, Momotaj’s husband also works in a welding workshop as a daily laborer on a very low minimum wage that does not cover their expenses for their basic needs, such as food and clothing.

“It was really difficult for my husband to cover family expenses with his daily wage earnings and fragile farming income. Sometimes we starved during the day and only had the chance to have our meal at night,” Momotaj said.

This situation had been going on for years, until Momotaj decided to figure out how else she could support her family.

“My husband thought about moving [migrating] to other places for work to support our family, but then I decided to fight back and started to desperately look for opportunities to learn how to overcome the problems we were facing from climatic impacts,” Momotaj explained.

“Luckily, CARE was working in our community to improve the resilience of rain-fed smallholder farmers to address climatic vulnerabilities. So I joined as a Farmer Field School [FFS] member with my husband and soon, with the help of CARE, I began working as a ‘Change Agent’ in our community and my life started to change,” Momotaj said.

In 2014, CARE Bangladesh initiated the Where the Rain Falls project, which has a Community Based Adaptation component for improving resilience in Northern Bangladesh. As part of the project, two FFS groups were formed in Momotaj’s village in association with 464 smallholder farmers who are dependent on rainfall for their crops and stable weather patterns.

As the project got underway, it was determined that changing rainfall patterns are a barrier to cultivating crops in the normal season and unpredictable floods were causing extensive damage causing these farmers to lose everything, including their crops, poultry, livestock, fish and household materials, which was leading to increased food insecurity, migration, and gender disparity.

Momotaj & FFS farmers observing the performance of flood-tolerant rice that has been submerged in water for the last 24 days.

Momotaj & FFS farmers observing the performance of flood-tolerant rice that has been submerged in water for the last 24 days.

To begin addressing these problems, the FFS groups decided they needed a leader and selected Momotaj, requesting CARE to recruit her as their Change Agent. CARE recognized Momotaj’s respect in the community and also valued her opinions and relationships and so Momotaj participated in trainings that would equip her to lead the FFS group.

Momotaj selected 464 smallholder women and men farmers in her community and began training and facilitating the group to experiment with adaptive crops and varieties, adaptive technologies and diverse cropping patterns, and worked on identifying the most suitable cropping system for their situation. Her two FFS groups identified five adaptive crops, six adaptive technologies, and one new adaptive cropping pattern that would work.

This marked a turning point for Momotaj. At first, she set out to experiment in her own field to build up her skills and confidence, and then encouraged the other farmers to adopt what she was doing as well as to discover things on their own and to share their experiences.

Momotaj quickly saw her yields and, in turn, her income, increase significantly. In years before, her family would earn 15,000 Bangladeshi Taka (approx. 170 Euros) from a normal crop, but on her first crop season using the new knowledge, their earnings more than doubled to 35,000 Bangladeshi Taka (approx. 400 Euros). The income increase allowed her and her family to provide education for their daughters, medical treatment and repairing their house. Additionally, Momotaj was able to preserve 96 kilograms of adaptive seed that she can use for her next crops, as well as to sell to other farmers, which has motivated her to support her husband in starting up a small business around adaptive agricultural inputs.

Many of the local farmers have changed their thinking process on farming and agriculture through Momotaj’s and the project’s help and support, and many have felt the same positive changes that Momotaj and her family have.

One of her neighboring farmer Keshna Begum says “Momotaj has given us a new life,” neighboring farmer, Keshna Begum, said.

Momotaj has established a very good relationship with the Department of Agriculture Extension, Union Parishad, and research institutes and continually updates the groups and communities when she learns anything new about adaptive agriculture. In fact, Momotaj facilitated and encouraged the Union Parishad to establish a seed bank with adaptive varieties to ensure sufficient adaptive seed for farmers who are tending crops while addressing climatic vulnerabilities.

“I really need such a development agent like Momotaj who is sincerely fighting back and addressing climatic vulnerabilities teamed up with the farmers in my Union,” union chairman, Amir Ali Bapary, said.

by Tayeb Ali Pramanik, CARE Bangladesh Programme Manager

For more on the Where the Rain Falls project click here

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