Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer Returns to Bangladesh to Provide Ongoing Support to Spirulina Farmers in Bangladesh
Dr. Shamsul Kabir
Ms. Neelam Canto-lugo, adjunct professor at Yuba College in California, signed the agreement with EnerGaia on May 12, 2019, to provide financial support that will help develop women contract farmers for household production of spirulina in order to generate new income opportunities and empower women in rural Bangladesh. EnerGaia is a private company focusing on spirulina production, processing, and marketing of fresh spirulina and value-added spirulina products to Thailand, Singapore, and India.
Ms. Canto-lugo came to Bangladesh multiple times in between 2017 and 2018 as a volunteer to help the youth entrepreneurship development initiative of Winrock International’s Asia Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F, 2013-2018) Program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She conducted training on soft skills development, women empowerment, and curriculum development to build the capacity of the trainers and youth beneficiaries. She was also a recipient of Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer of the Year Award.
After the Asia F2F project closed in September 2018, Ms. Canto-lugo kept in touch with the Winrock staff and her past hosts. She traveled to Bangladesh using her own funds to follow-up on the progress of the organizations and their beneficiaries, as well as conducted further training.
During one of these follow-up visits, Ms. Canto-lugo connected with the staff of the USAID Feed the Future Asia Innovative Farmers Activity (AIFA, 2015-2019) project, implemented by Winrock. Through those connections, she met with EnerGaia Bangladesh representatives and visited their spirulina research lab at the Department of Horticulture of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University in Dhaka. She learned about EnerGaia’s initiative to implement spirulina contract farming focused on providing income opportunities for rural women. Impressed with the potential benefits for the rural women, Ms. Canto-lugo promised to provide financial support for EnerGaia.
AIFA’s main mandate is to source, validate and market innovative agricultural technologies and practices for improving the lives of rural farmers. EnerGaia was selected competitively as one of the companies that would have its spirulina production technology tested and validated in Bangladesh’s local context. The AIFA project supported EnerGaia’s expansion into Bangladesh to benefit communities in need of more nutritious food and additional income opportunities. The project also worked to find funding opportunities for EnerGaia to establish a pilot spirulina production village in Khulna to empower women through improved livelihoods. Currently, EnerGaia is establishing a Spirulina Production and Training Center in Batiaghata Upazilla, Khulna District to train and develop spirulina contract farmers.
In May 2019, Ms. Neelam Canto-lugo returned to Bangladesh using her own funds and signed the agreement with EnerGaia to provide financial support. She visited the location of the spirulina production training center and met with the local women. Ms. Canto-lugo’s support will help develop 30 women spirulina contract farmers in Batiaghata under the EnerGaia contract farming model. These women will receive hands-on training from EnerGaia and a system consisting of 20 tanks (for each person) along with other essentials to produce spirulina. EnerGaia will provide technical assistance to the contract farmers for the production and buy back 80% of the production and encourage the rest 20% for family consumption. The initiative could change the lives of the women and their families and empower them with their own sources of income.