Learning, collaboration and teaching about agricultural development, water practices and gender issues were all part of a recent trip to northwest Bangladesh in January by Shokhrukh Jalilov and Joyce Wu, members of CSIRO’s Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP) Bangladesh project team. During the six-day intensive program Shokhrukh and Joyce met with local agriculture and water agencies as well as farmers and NGOs operating in the agricultural sector.
Shokhrukh and Joyce visited several upazilla (subdivisions) within Rangpur, Bogra and Rajshahi districts and the Teesta Barrage, which provides significant water resources for more than 100,000 hectares of agricultural land through the Teesta Irrigation Project.
Understanding some of the issues facing farmers in northwest Bangladesh was an important part of the trip.
While the northwest region of Bangladesh relies heavily on groundwater supplies it does not experience water scarcity because aquifers are recharged during monsoon season.
However, rapid population growth and urbanisation mean that there is a growing scarcity of agricultural land. Female farmers feel this pressure more keenly as they need to fulfil both agricultural and household duties, as well as earning less than their male counterparts due to different agricultural labour agreements.
During our fieldwork we explored some of the typical understandings (or norms) about female farmers. For example, women are seen as unable to physically outperform men and therefore earn less from farming. At the same time, both women and men confirm that women perform the bulk of housework (cooking, water fetching, cleaning, childcare), while men help out occasionally in tasks such as fire wood collection. This is in addition to women’s agricultural labour. Furthermore, due to persistent gender inequality, women and girls have poorer food nutrition than men and boys which has long-term consequences in the development and growth of girls such as physical strength and poor maternal health in adulthood.
The linkages between poor food nutrition, gender division of labour and disparity between gender wages highlights the need to challenge gender norms and improve gender equality.
More positively, there is an increase of female extension officers who provide agricultural financial literacy and nutrition knowledge and training to both male and female farmers. As one extension officer puts it,
‘It is easier to get women’s participation as women are very interested in training and learn quickly.’
At the same time, because husbands and wives are able to train together, the men are supportive of women’s attendance at workshops.
‘They see how their wife is able to put the knowledge to use [in farming], so they all benefit.’
Shokhrukh and Joyce also provided their own training opportunity; conducting a session on survey administration and data collection methods for students of the Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Faculty of Bangladesh Agricultural University at Mymensingh. The training provided students with both theoretical and practical activities. There was energetic and robust discussion from the students who reflected on their own fieldwork experiences. For example a persistent challenge for female students is a lack of support for fieldwork research. One participant noted,
‘Female students need more security considerations than male students, especially when conducting fieldwork in rural areas. A lack of resources and support, as well as public perceptions about women travelling and working alone, mean we have less opportunities to apply our learning’.
The team would like to thank Professor Mojid and Professor Jahan and faculty members Wakilur and Palash at the Bangladesh Agricultural University for making this fieldtrip possible.
This work is part of a portfolio (SDIP) of investments supported by the Australian Government addressing the regional challenges of water, food and energy security in South Asia.
The SDIP2 aims to improve the integrated management of water, energy and food in the Himalayan river basins, addressing climate risk and the interests of women and girls. It seeks to: