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Winrock International

In Cox’s Bazar, An Early Adopter

PROJECT NAME: Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL)
SYNOPSIS: Disseminate management methods to help communities better collaborate with local and national governments to balance biodiversity protection with sustainable economic development.
YEARS ACTIVE: 2013-2018

When members of Winrock’s Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL) project, funded by USAID, came to Josna Akhter’s village of 240 families, they were looking for local service providers — people well respected in their communities whom they could train to share skills and link others to agricultural markets. They found even more, someone who could take those skills to a higher level.

CREL selects local service providers (LSPs), and Akther, one in a family line of midwives, was chosen. The LSP training not only expanded Akther’s technical knowledge of farming practices, but also connected her to information sources. She learned new ways to grow vegetables and fertilize crops. She began to trust her own instincts more, too.

Akther first used her own fields to demonstrate new farming techniques, such as growing vegetables organically, but she quickly realized that many families lacked access to land. Here’s where her early adopter instincts kicked into high gear. Emboldened by her knowledge of improved farming methods, Akhter contacted a wealthy landowner and asked if she and other women could grow vegetables on the banks of his pond. He happily obliged, and the women of the villlage began growing red amaranth, cucumber, squash, bitter gourd and sweet gourd, keeping some of the vegetables for their families and selling the rest. The vegetables were so good that they won a cash award from Standard Chartered Bank. “We distributed part of the money to our team and part of it we deposited in the bank,” Akhter says. “From my share I bought cows and started a poultry farm.”

The changes wrought by CREL have had many positive ripple effects. “Before, if we needed vegetables we’d have to go to the forest to cut a tree or bamboo, take the wood to market, sell it and with that money we’d be able to bring the vegetables back home. Now we have our own vegetables,” Akhter says.

As the family’s income rose, Akhter and her husband no longer needed to collect and sell wood from the forest. Her husband now works for a farming company in nearby Cox’s Bazar. Other men have begun working outside the village, too, often thanks to job leads that Akhter supplies. Five families bought cows.

“My life before was full of fear,” says Akhter, who hides her face in her hands to show how frightened she used to be. “Now I go to all the places — I go to the local government offices, I go to the hospital, I go to the market — without any fear.”

Her whole village is thriving because of it.