When I walked up to Momotaj’s home in the village of Dakkin Kadamtola, Bangladesh, she was surrounded by 25 smallholder male and female farmers in her courtyard. This image alone is enough to understand how much the community values her leadership in bringing about positive changes in their lives by fighting together to address climatic vulnerabilities.
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. The river steadily erodes the bank each and every year, and Momotaj and her family live with the threats and repercussions of erosion vulnerability every day. Her family has 96 decimal (approx. 3,900 square meters) 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, erosion, droughts, long cold spells and dense fog.
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.
This situation had been going on for years, until Momotaj decided to figure out how else she could support her family.
“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 the project got underway, it was determined that changing rainfall patterns were a barrier to cultivating crops in the normal season. Additionally, 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.
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.
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 increased income allowed her and her family to provide education for their daughters, acquire medical treatment, and repair 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.
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.