Overcoming rural poverty through farming innovations
VSO, in partnership with Syngenta, Bank Asia and DfID is helping 100,000 farming households to increase yields, income and create thriving agricultural communities by 2020.
Farming in Bangladesh
40% of Bangladesh’s population live on less than $1.25 per day. Among the poor, 75% live in areas where agriculture is the predominant source of income. Yet, farming is increasingly failing to meet the demand of a fast growing rural population. Food security is far from guaranteed.
Small plots of land, dated techniques and limited access to markets make it difficult for Bangladesh's smallholder farming communities to produce enough to feed themselves and their families, let alone make a profit. These factors are compounded by the effects of climate change which can make growing crops in traditional ways more difficult.
Primary research with smallholder farmers in northwest Bangladesh revealed struggles with market prices, debt-driven cycles of high interest crop financing and a lack of agricultural extension services and knowledge.
Growing Together has already supported 10,000 farmers. We’ve worked with a range of organisations including NGOs, institutional funders, private sector partners and corporate social enterprises.
The collaboration has created a project based on three areas:
- community development
- agronomic training
- access to markets.
Pivotal to its success has been the construction of six for-profit Farmer Centres, which provide access to training, machinery, quality inputs and new financial services, as well as facilitation of contracts with national and international buyers.
- Increased income for farmers by average of 200%
- Increased yields by over 20%
- 50% reduction in pesticide use per kg harvested
- 70% less fertilizer used per kg harvested
Growing Together has worked through 100 different volunteers – including corporate, national, international and youth volunteers. This unique way of working and collaborating enables us to create change. Our 2015 research with the Institute of Development Studies showed that by using different volunteering models, programmes can better reach marginalised communities by promoting community ownership and agency.
The future - 'Joikko'
We are transitioning from a funded project to Joikko - a self-financing social business that is sustainable and scalable.
We're working in collaboration with Bank Asia who are providing financial services to farmers through the centres, Berenschot and Accenture Development Partnerships who are supporting the franchise business modelling, G&S Communications who are working on the brand development and Grant Thornton who are providing legal advice.
VSO is at the heart of this cross-sector collaboration – brokering and convening relationships and ensuring that at every stage, all stakeholders have the wellbeing of farmers at the centre of what they are doing.
[Joikko] celebrates farmers being at the heart of development. This is a very good example of collaboration. When we put our hands together, nothing is impossible.
Md. Afran Ali, Director, Bank Asia
The social franchise will work through a growing network of Farmer Centres that will be to account through a standard catalogue of fee and no fee-based services.
Farmer centres are run by Farmer Centre Entrepreneurs and are supported by mobile Agri-Entrepreneurs who take the services up 5km out into the villages to ensure no one is left behind. Central to the model is the nested value chain concept that encourages investments in farming communities that benefit the whole market system.
To date, we’ve established 230 farmer groups and 45 youth groups. These meet monthly to discuss the social and agricultural issues that are affecting them.
Members work together to identify and solve issues in their community, such as child marriage.
Women make up more than 50% of the agricultural labour force, yet cultural norms often prevent them from playing a full part in the process.
We created women-only farming groups, allowing women to train and farm in a safe and comfortable environment
Farmer training on good agricultural practice
A key approach of the agronomy training has been ‘learning from peers’. This requires each of the 230 farmer groups to establish a demonstration plot in which nominated lead farmers share new techniques learned from qualified field facilitator agronomists.
These plots enable farmers to test new techniques in a risk-free environment and to directly compare progress with their own fields.
Case studies from Growing Together
Women farmers working together
28 year old Selina Kerketa is the Secretary of an all female farmers group from Bangladesh. She talks of her ambitions for the future.
Farming together for better profits
Abdul Latif has been farming all his working life, but he has still learned a lot of important lessons from being part of the Bugra Para farmers group. Abdul discusses the benefits of farming together.
- Syngenta, financing the pilot under its sustainability strategy, 'The Good Growth Plan' and supplying multi-functional skills from around its global business.
- RDRS, a Bangladeshi NGO, leading community mobilization and the delivery of training, farmer mentoring and M&E data collection.
- Bank Asia, opening retail financial services branches in Growing Together farmers' centres and with the first opening in December 2016.
- Berenschot and Accenture Development Partnerships are supporting the franchise business modelling
- Grant Thornton are providing legal advice.
- Funding from DFID is enabling the Growing Together project to scale up to reach 100,000 farmers.
Partner with us
If you are interested in partnering with us, we'd love to hear from you.
Contact: Zoe Ives, private sector engagement manager.
Phone: +44 20 8780 7517
Our partnership with VSO is proving to be very successful with measurable benefits for rural communities and our volunteering employees.’
Juan Gonzalez Valero, Head of Public Policy and Sustainability at Syngenta
Growing Together Reports
- Download Growing Together In Bangladesh - Syngenta and VSO 2015-16 report. (PDF)
- Download 'Growing Together in Bangladesh' - Syngenta and VSO report 2014-15 (PDF)
- Find our more about our work in Bangladesh
- Find out more about our work around the world
- Find out more about our work improving livelihoods