Rashida Begum: A New Entrepreneur

Rashida in her garden

Rashida in her garden

Rashida and her husband live with their two sons in Howalvangi, a village in southern Bangladesh. With her husband’s meager income, Rashida says “I could not feed our family. Sometimes we ate only once a day. We used to own a few goats and sheep, but had to sell them to buy food.”

To supplement their diet, Rashida tried to cultivate vegetables in their home garden using the traditional approach: simply scattering seeds on the ground without preparing raised beds, protecting seedlings or adding compost to the soil. Her harvest was limited to a few vegetables in the winter (peak growing season). The region’s poor soil made growing vegetables difficult for Rashida, as it did for other women in the village.

Rashida joined a group of women in her village participating in Homestead Food Production (HFP), an innovative program spearheaded by Helen Keller International (HKI) that empowers women and feeds families. Meeting at a model farm in the village center, Rashida and the other group members received training in improved gardening practices, including pest control, crop diversification and the use of organic fertilizers to enrich the soil. HKI also distributed nine varieties of vegetable seeds to the women, including spinach, pumpkin and other gourds that were carefully selected for their high levels of micronutrients and their ability to grow in local conditions. This enabled Rashida to produce many more vegetables than ever before – enough to feed her family, with some left over to sell for additional income.

Despite this success, Rashida and the other group members encountered some challenges. “Selling vegetables at a distant market place is difficult for women,” Rashida said, referring to social barriers that limit women’s ability to travel, “and we were not given the opportunity to sell vegetables locally.” With HKI’s assistance, Rashida and her other group members established a “Sales Center” at the Hawalvangi bazaar (marketplace), located within walking distance of their village. Here, group members could pool together their extra vegetables and sell them to other community members. Rashida was nominated to run the Sales Center and is responsible for collecting the vegetables, earning extra income for her family. “People are happy to buy fresh vegetables from us,” explained Rashida, “because before they had to travel to a market three kilometers away and only bought vegetables once a week.”

Rashida and her husband at the Sales Center

Rashida and her husband at the Sales Center

The Sales Center also gives other group members an opportunity to earn a small amount of money for the vegetables they contribute.  Every day, 12 to 15 women contribute vegetables to the shop. Sahina, a group member, adds, “This vegetable shop is very important for us. Before, we did not have that much interest in selling the small amount of vegetables we had left over at far-off markets. But now this shop is located in a nearby place, so it is easy to stop by to drop off our vegetables more frequently.”

Rashida says that in the future she would like to save her earnings to build a tin roof for her family’s house, which will better protect them from the rain, as well as purchase a herd of small livestock. In the meantime, “I am happy that I am able to meet my children’s needs, especially ensuring that we have three good meals to eat every day.”

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Categories: Asia-Pacific, Reducing Malnutrition

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  1. Pingback: Growing nutritious vegetables to empower women and feed families | Science on the Land

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