From hesitation to financial success
Stepping into business lifts a family and helps feed the city
Mahfuza says “NICE Project has enabled me to become well respected in my family and society, as a result, I feel more dignified. I have a regular income which gives me financial and social independence. Since I started my Nutrition Farmers’ Hub business, I have enjoyed the best time of my life. I am optimistic that NICE project will achieve more for women’s empowerment.”
Returning from urban jobs to one’s farming village, can be hard. The NICE project helps women entrepreneurs to take the step successfully. At the same time, it boosts healthy and nutritious food production.
For millions of people, life during the COVID-19 pandemic was miserable. Among them were Mahfuza Begum from Bangladesh, her husband and two children were victim of poverty. The couple got into financial difficulties and had to start a new life. Before the pandemic, Mahfuza’s husband worked for a decade in the textile sector in the capital, Dhaka. When COVID hit, he left his job and they all moved to Dighon, a village near Dinajpur city. Mahfuza’s father grows paddy rice there and her in-laws farm both rice and vegetables. Mahfuza wanted to do something related to agriculture but had neither the money nor the knowledge to get started. Fortunately for the family, roadshows in the area were busy promoting the Nutrition in City Ecosystems NICE Project, including the role of Farmers’ Hub (FHs). Mahfuza went along and was chosen as a Agri-Entrepreneur candidate. Two points in her favour were that she had access to land near the city and that her husband was also eager to join in. Furthermore, the couple’s family already had experience in agriculture related work. But Mahfuza initially hesitated to take what she considered the risky step of owning a Farmers’ Hub.
With her husband's support, Mahfuza took a step forward and participated in trainings to become a successful Agri-Entrepreneur. She received financial support and technical assistance to set up a Nutrition Farmers' Hub (FH), following the well-established business model of Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture Bangladesh. To supply vegetables to lucrative city markets, smallholders need good inputs, advisory and market linkages. However, they often have difficulties finding good seedlings. FH’s close this supply gap for smallholders.
Mahfuza and her husband named the Nutrition Farmers’ Hub as Dighon Farmers’ Hub. Initially, they borrowed BDT 70,000 (Approx. $650), from a local microcredit organization in addition to receive grant of BDT 200,000 (Approx. $1,820) to establish and operationalize FH’s business. In September 2022, she proudly opened the business on about 0.03 hectare. She started with 50 seedlings trays with seeds of cabbages and cauliflowers seedlings, soon they had to add more 200 seedling trays for tomato, chilli, papaya, bitter gourd and brinjal (eggplant). Mahfuza produced 26,000 seedlings of 7 different nutritional vegetables. Mahfuza sold the lot within three months, earning BDT 50,000 (Approx. $500). This let her start repaying the loan. By mid-2023, she had sold 4000 chilli seedlings; 15,000 brinjal seedling; 700 papaya seedlings, but the big earner was 80,000 tomato seedlings sold for BDT 1,60,000 (Approx. $1463). Along with selling seedlings, Mahfuza is connected and advises 25 nearby smallholders on farming, right through harvesting. Besides producing seedlings, she provides machine rental services of sprayer, weeder, seedling transplanter and digital scale access to the farmers. Apart from these, she provides Agri-advisory services, aggregation, buying and selling fresh and nutritious vegetables in the urban market. She also connects the farmers to the market in Bahadur Bazar. She collects safely produced vegetables like brinjal, tomato, bitter gourd, cucumber, chilli, red amaranth, bean and many more vegetables. The vegetable van sellers and shop owners buy those freshly produced vegetables for selling to the city dwellers. Mahfuza added, “Demand is increasing every day, I am really glad that I’m part of NICE project and followed the learnings from training on agribusiness management, connecting to input and output market linkage. This has helped me understand the modality of running a business. Moreover, I have also received training on safe food production and agroecology. Establishing Nutrition Farmers’ Hub has significantly changed my life.” She is confident her business will one day be an attractive option for her son. Rural entrepreneurship enables young people to make a conscious choice to stay in their villages rather than migrate to often menial jobs in cities.
NICE is continuously working to empower the small businesses of women and youth entrepreneurs. Unlike Mahfuza there are 31 hub owners working together for the betterment of their own working with the farmers producing vegetables and supplying those for Dinajpur city dwellers.