Greetings from BARCIK, Part One: Women and Agriculture in Rural Bangladesh

“Community-based climate resilience programme in Bangladesh” is a development cooperation project run by Student Union of the University of Helsinki and Bangladesh Resource Center for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK). In this column, we hear from our BARCIK colleagues about the results in the project area. At first, Ershad Ali, Project Co-ordinator of BARCIK, takes us to the village of Barshipara village in Bangladesh and sheds light on the role of women in Bangladeshi agriculture.

Text: Ershad Ali
Co-operation and photos: Tania Afrin 

In Bengali language, barshi stands for grasshopper – which provokes questions about the origin of the village’s name, Barshipara (literally “grasshopper place”). Perhaps there were a lot of grasshoppers around? If so, they could have been actively used by the local people in their everyday life – maybe they had been fishing with grasshoppers? After all, fishing has been common all over Bangladesh throughout the centuries, and a crunchy grasshopper seems like a great bait.

However, on arrival at Barshipara, it seems that the assumption about grasshopper fishing would be incorrect – no lakes or rivers near the village were to be found except for some small ponds and canals. Fishing seemed unlikely way to make a living, not to mention grasshopper fishing.

However, there was a partial truth hidden in this assumption: According to the inhabitants of Barshipara, a long time ago Bengali people from other parts of Bangladesh had moved in the area to accompany the local indigenous people. The local indigenous people had agriculture already under control, so there was not so much for the newcomers to do. Thus, they decided to focus on something that seemed unlikely – trying their luck in fishing on the small ponds in the area –  using grasshoppers as baits. Thus, came the name Barshipara.

Nowadays people of Barshipara still fish occasionally, but most of them make their living through agriculture. The variety of cultivated species is huge: from rice to potato, wheat, chili, cauliflower and neem, a multi-purpose tree species.

Throughout the history women have played an important role in agriculture. It was the women who first sowed the seeds of crops and grains to feed the village, and it still today mostly women’s responsibility in rural areas, such as in Barshipara, to ensure food security for their families.

Providing for the whole village is not an easy task, especially in these days when usual means of agriculture are challenged by man-made climate change. In the case of Barshipara, drought is one of the main issues: irregular, scarce rainfall and irrigation drain the soil, making cultivation more and more difficult.

As BARCIK begun working in Barshipara area, many women felt left alone – many of them had unique knowledge about local agriculture, small bits and pieces from here and there, but had no access to broader knowledge and education. Thus, Shantipur Women Organisation was initiated by BARCIK in 2016. The aim of the organisation is to empower and support women in agriculture in Barshipara. At the beginning only 26 women joined the organisation. As the time went by, nearly every woman of the village became a part of the organisation.

Nowadays Shantipur Women Organisation works widely on all aspects of agriculture. The organisation helps local women to share and gain knowledge on seed conservation, seed banks and seed trade, educates about women’s rights in labour and teaches the means of preparing organic manure and livestock rearing – just to name a few aspects. In addition, each member of the organization plant fruit and medicinal trees in their homestead, conserve uncultivated food plants and conduct varietals trials to select area specific crops with the support from BARCIK. These works have made the women confident and got them to be recognized.

Despite the challenging changes in climate, women of Barshipara are using their experience, skills and knowledge as well as resources to produce food and ensure the food security for all.

What are Student Union of the University of Helsinki and BARCIK doing in Bangladesh? Read more about the project here. 



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