Forty-one year-old Dulali Ray and her husband, from Radhanagar village in Deluti Union of Khulna, a coastal district in Bangladesh, was hit hard by cyclone Aila in 2009. They survived the natural disaster with their son and rebuilt their life, but her woes did not end there. Her husband passed away two years ago.

One of her major sources of income were her two cows. However, it was very difficult for her to source food and freshwater for them as the water and soil in Deluti area are prone to high salinity levels. She managed to turn this around by growing hydroponic grass—using a method that does not require soil and can be done using plastic or steel trays—to feed her cows, which drastically improved her income.

 

Hydroponic farming was introduced in Deluti by the Union Parishad (UP)[i], with support from UNDP. Dulali now uses this alternative technology and as a result, her cows produce more milk, bringing her a higher monthly profit.  

“My son was able to get an education because of these two cows. This new way of growing grass has changed everything for me,” she said.

She has been teaching other women in her area about hydroponic farming, as well as branching out to a crab farming cooperative. There are nine such cooperatives in Deluti Union that farm saltwater crabs—a proven climate-adaptive livelihood—operated entirely by village women.

 

One of those involved, Bishakha Sheel, 35, is the sole earning member of the family, as her husband was left paralysed in an accident. She lost her property due to river erosion, and her only means of earning was to work on other people’s farmlands on meagre wages.

She is part of a 10-women cooperative who were trained on crab farming by Khulna University professors. With her share of the crab harvest profit, she has been able to help her family. The current profit margin may be small, but the cooperative is happy to have a new income source that does not depend on freshwater.

Near the UP, a pond called Padma Pukur is a major source of freshwater for villagers. It was inaccessible to women in the past, as there wasn’t a proper ghat[ii] surrounding the pond. With UNDP’s help, the UP built a serviceable ghat on one end of the pond and installed lights on all corners. The ghat has also alleviated the risk of saline intrusion through leaching from the nearby rivers and regular storm surges. In addition, stairs and a meeting spot was built into the design to allow women a space for respite when they travel to fetch water.

In these areas, women are most vulnerable to climate change. They are usually in charge of collecting water and ensuring nutrition for their families. Due to high salinity levels, freshwater sources are far and few, forcing them to travel miles to collect and carry water back to grow crops in their yard, and take care of livestock. Moreover, male out-migration often leaves women with the additional sole burden of caring for their families.

 

UNDP and the UP’s goal is to provide them with alternative climate-adaptive livelihoods, and make it easier for them to collect freshwater—to make them better equipped to face climate change.

As part of the partnership with UNDP, Deluti Union Parishad conducted risk assessments, developed a baseline study and a climate action plan, specifically identifying and prioritising access to saline-free drinking water and adaptive livelihood options for women. They prioritised women’s challenges, and selected a hundred women for this pilot project.

The UP conducted a union-wide survey taking into account women’s land ownership, quality of land (i.e. salinity), annual income, infants and school-going children, and if they were affected by cyclone Aila or lived in a cyclone-prone area.

They were trained on hydroponics and crab farming in a newly-built women’s centre. The spacious facility provides a space for training and knowledge-sharing, and construction of a day-care centre is underway.

Deluti Union Parishad ensured they were afforded skills training and received start-up capital to comfortably conduct their business. With this support, the women were able to invest in crab farming using a cooperative model; few also started growing hydroponic crops.

 

The knowledge and information generated through the piloting in Deluti has been reflected and scaled up through LoGIC project of the Bangladesh Government and UNDP, which will facilitate 72 UPs (2% of total UPs in Bangladesh) integrating climate resilience investment plans that prioritise women.

The women in Deluti Union Parishad are spirited and hardworking, despite living in poverty in an unfavourable climate. They enjoy hydroponics and crab farming, and they hope to grow their business.

“Before we launched this project with UNDP, we had little knowledge about climate change, and its effect on women particularly. We learned about targeting beneficiaries and tackling climate change through this project, and have given special priority to women and climate action in our 2018-19 budget,” said Ripon Kumar Mondal, Union Parishad Chairman.

Deluti Union Parishad hopes to involve private sector partners in the women’s future endeavours to provide them with a steadier source of income, and help them build more skills.

 

Words: Aanila Kishwar Tarannum, National Consultant (Communications), UNDP Bangladesh

 

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[i] Union Parishad, or Union Council is the smallest rural administrative and local government unit in Bangladesh

[ii] A ghat is a flight of steps leading down to a waterbody

 

 

Originally published in the Gender Equality Newsletter Vol.3

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