Asma Begum continues to struggle for a better life
31-year-old Asma lives in Gulni village in Sylhet’s Gowainghat upazila with her husband and 4
children. The village, unlike other upazilas in Sylhet, is relatively protected from annual floods and serious climatic disasters. Asma’s family owns some land next to their hut where her husband grows vegetables, enough to meet the consumption needs of the family. He is also hired by rice farmers in the region to cut paddy during harvest season as a day labourer. They have a little pond in front of their home with small fish including saral puti and carp, both nutritious varieties of fish.
Asma’s children are 11 years, 7 years, 5 years, and 2.5 years old. Her eldest child is a student in the local madrasa, where his education is free.
From the outset, it would appear that Asma’s family and homestead are self-sustaining. However, with very little income coming in from her husband’s work as a day labourer, Asma is often worried about external expenses in terms of education of her children, adequate sustenance, and healthcare for the family.
Suchana’s field staff visited Asma when she was pregnant with her youngest child. They asked if she might be interested in joining a preliminary meeting with some other women in her community. At the meeting, Asma learnt of the need to eat nutritious foods while she was pregnant, along with having regular antenatal care checkups. As with all beneficiary groups, Asma’s producer group also received seeds and seedlings from the programme for homestead vegetable gardening.
Finally, the programme deemed Asma suitable to participate in poultry farming for income generation. As with all women selected for poultry farming, whether for household food production or income generation, Asma was trained in how to rear healthy, disease-free chickens.
Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) are an integral part of Suchana interventions. However, due to an unwillingness to save from Gulni residents, Suchana did not form a VSLA in Asma’s area. Asma learnt, however, of the need to save for a rainy day. She has been saving with a savings association at a local NGO for the past 3.5 years, where she deposits BDT 40 every month into the savings account. The savings association provides loans for disasters, or to start and expand businesses for members. Asma is happy to have that option in her life, but has thus far not needed to use the service. She will invest the fund to expand her small livestock business, if required, or hold onto it for a rainy day.
Asma did not retain everything she learned about poultry rearing, and following declining income has since stopped rearing poultry commercially.
Absence of services. Vaccination services and veterinarians were difficult to reach following the phasing out of the Suchana programme. Vaccinators still visit when many homesteads in the region gather their poultry and ask them to visit them, but these visits have petered out over time. Poultry mortality rates have risen again.
Inability to maintain hygienic coops and hazals. While Asma appreciated the benefits of these structures and safekeeping guidelines, she did not
maintain the hazals and the hen coops. Hazals require a special form of clay which is not readily available in her region, and Asma was not willing to travel to maintain her hazals. She kept her chickens safe from foxes at night in her own bedroom, and
was more aware of poultry rearing practices, but was less careful about following these guidelines. As a full-time mother, she prioritised other needs of the homestead over the safety of her poultry.
Reluctance to sell collectively. Asma did not have the support of her neighbours in collective sales of chicken and eggs once the programme had phased out. It did not make sense to travel long distances to the market to sell her produce, especially with four children to care for, and Asma was soon forced to sell to her neighbours or traveling retailers. The lack of bargaining power and knowledge of market prices meant that she was no longer able to profit from commercial poultry rearing as she once was.
Asma sold most of her chickens. From her final 12, she kept 5, and sold the rest to invest in a goat. The goat was pregnant when she bought her, and the kid is growing healthy and strong. She is not earning an income from livestock rearing yet, but Asma is eager to turn that to a profitable venture soon. This knowledge of reinvestment and business training was disseminated through Suchana’s varied training activities. While Asma might not have found success in poultry rearing
IGA, she now has the business know-how to engage in small entrepreneurial activities.
Suchana’s graduation model takes into account the overall, sustained improvement in the lives of beneficiaries in terms of improved nutritional practices, improved access to or production of nutritious food, and increased incomes to ensure sustainable development. Participants who have met all these health, nutrition, and income requirements are graded “Green”, i.e. they are considered a full graduate. Participants who met most requirements are graded “Yellow”, denoting that there are still some aspects of their lives they should improve.
Participants can “degrade” from green to yellow if their situation worsens. This is what happened to Asma. She was a successful commercial poultry farmer, but then sold her chickens to buy a goat. Even though this was a great first step for Asma in becoming a rearer of livestock, and although she is meeting her family’s consumption needs, she neither produces enough eggs, nor rears enough
chickens anymore to generate an income from poultry rearing.
Asma’s family has once again become solely reliant on her husband’s income as a day labourer. While he is trying to grow vegetables commercially, he cannot grow enough to sell them at the market value. Excess vegetables are often sold off to their neighbours, most of whom are too poor themselves to pay market prices. These circumstances have put Asma’s family’s nutritional intake at risk, deprived her family of an adequate safety net, and resulted in her degraded status to Yellow.
Asma has not given up hope. She wants to raise her goat’s kid, and continue on her path to commercial goat rearing. Asma also wants to ensure proper education for her daughters. She is less worried about her sons, as they are educated by their madrasa for free. Asma has dreams of her eldest son being trained as a faith leader in their community.
Suchana: Ending the cycle of undernutrition in Bangladesh is a multisectoral nutrition programme which aims to reduce chronic undernutrition leading to stunting among children under two years of age in 235,500 poor and very poor households in the Sylhet and Moulvibazar districts of Bangladesh. The programme adopts an integrated approach to nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions and generates a sustainable and replicable model that can be scaled. Suchana is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the EU, and is implemented by a consortium of 8 different
development organisations and research agencies: Center for Natural Resource Studies (CNRS), Friends in Village Development Bangladesh (FIVDB), Helen Keller International, icddr,b, iDE, Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), Save the
Children, and WorldFish.
The consortium is led by Save the Children.