The wind of change
The Agro-Ecology Project in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which is funded by AFD and implemented by Caritas Bangladesh, is addressing the needs of vulnerable indigenous people by increasing and diversifying food production, reducing spending on chemical commodities and strengthening local commercialisation processes to improve food security. So far, the project has reached out effectively to communities from 100 villages in 14 unions of five Upazilas (sub-districts), all of which lie under the three districts of Bandarban, Rangamati and Khagrachari in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The Agro-Ecology Project began its journey with the Mru community in 2018. With the intention of supporting the community restore the forest, the project provided members with proper training, along with crucial supplements like seeds, pillars, strings, etc. Since then, the forest has awakened again and is bustling with flora and fauna today. More than 200 bird houses placed throughout the forest have restored its avian population. The forest is now being utilised by the tribe for a lot of things, including honey farming and bamboo plantation.
To ensure seed security and generate extra income from selling seeds, a small group of farmers, including Riong, created a communal seed bank with the support of the Agro-Ecology Project. This seed bank, which Riong and four others now manage, has made the Mru more self-reliant. Farmers can borrow seeds for free from the bank whenever they need it, under the only condition that they return double the number of seeds after harvest. This system lets the Mru farmers not only store seeds, but also preserve the genetic diversity of seeds from the harvested vegetables, fruits and grains. The Mru can also sell their preserved seeds to farmers from other communities without visiting the market. Through this approach, farmers like Riong are actively serving their community and helping others to grow.
Beekeeping has also played a critical part in sustaining rural livelihoods since it is a low-input and low-investment business. Kumari Tripura started beekeeping and livestock management after attending training sessions on agro-ecology. A resident of Provat Kabari Para in Ali Kadam for the last 15 years, she has produced and sold honey for a very competitive price in the market for the last two years, and is a leader in her community today. “I started beekeeping out of my passion. It has brought me luck and fortune. I want other women in my community to start beekeeping and expand their businesses just like I did,” she says.
Various agro-ecology practices have been promoted through colourful posters, festoons and placards written in the Mru language. All these ideas were facilitated and implemented in Rumbet Para by the project.
Further, more opportunities for women to work within the community have been created. Men who left the village to get jobs in the towns are back and are helping their wives run their households. The community has indeed succeeded in turning its fortune by embracing agro-ecology.
The Agro-Ecology Project has trained 1,204 farmers from marginalised indigenous communities in 115 locations, helping them implement agro-ecological practices and share their knowledge with others. The resulting changes are immense.
The project has ensured more nutritious food as 608 beneficiaries are involved in fish farming and small-scale livestock and poultry farming. Farmers have greatly benefitted from the new cropping patterns which have increased the chances of growing more crops on the same land. They have also become self-sufficient in preserving seed varieties through ten seed banks in the area. Ultimately, this project has inspired 2,690 beneficiaries to apply agro-ecology techniques focusing on organic farming, contributing to sustainable agriculture as well as food security.
It has also adopted an improved approach to sustainable natural resource management, conserving natural biodiversity, promoting peasant practices, and valuing indigenous peoples’ practices, as well as mitigating the impact of climate change via land stabilization and prevention. The communities are thriving and climbing the ladder of prosperity. This project has unleashed the economic potential of the indigenous communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts through sustainable methods and empowered them to build a golden future for themselves.