A Sweet Story

Improving health and creating wealth with household farms

The only thing to distract from Sabrina’s wide smile and lively eyes, is the beautiful and vibrant traditional Bangladeshi dress that she is wearing. As she walks quickly across the dirt courtyard towards the front door of her one room house, the bright orange fabric billows around her and brings a festive, celebratory feel to her every move. Sabrina enters the house and quickly appears back at the door way with her arms full of sweetpotato roots and vines. With her telltale smile she proudly lays the produce out before her as if to show off her bounty.

The roots are large and smooth. Harvested just that day they are clean and ready to be cooked at home or transported to the nearby market for sale. Sabrina has been out in the field that morning alongside her husband and her neighbor harvesting her plot of orange fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) for these roots and vines – something she has been doing for the last 4 years ever since she was introduced to this resilient and nutritious crop.

Women led orange fleshed sweetpotato production

Life in this small village, on the outskirts of Faridpur in central Bangladesh centers almost entirely around farming. Like Sabrina, many in this region make a living and grow food from small plots of land beside their house. Sabrina moved here 9 years ago when she married her husband. Over this time, the two of them have worked together to establish a small, vibrant household farm on the land he inherited from his family.

Sabrina has cultivated OFSP as one of her core crops for the last four years and this has made her something of a local expert. Having received training through the USAID Horticulture Project, Sabrina has been able to establish a vibrant OFSP crop in her farm which she takes to market, sells to neighbors and cooks at home for a nutritious meal. The USAID Horticulture Project helped demonstrated that women-led OFSP production systems can bring multiple benefits at a time – helping women to earn an income, providing access to nutritious crops and increasing their ability to make household decisions. And Sabrina is a perfect example.

The USAID Horticulture Project, which was co-implemented by the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) and CIP was a four year project which included training of 12801 female farmers to establish home gardens for promoting consumption of vegetables and OFSP roots and leaves in Barisal, Jessore, Patuakhali and here in Faridpur.

Sabrina continues to receive technical and agronomic support through a DFID funded Scaling up Sweetpotato through Agriculture and Nutrition (SUSTAIN) project which CIP is now implementing to scale up sweetpotato production and consumption in key locations in Bangladesh. Through this new project Sabrina has been able to access new varieties of OFSP and has receive specialized support and training on cultivating the crop and expanding market opportunities in the local area.

A small plot of food diversity

Sabrina recognizes her husbands support was crucial in this venture: “my husband owns the land. If he didn’t assist me, I wouldn’t have been able to move ahead. He gave me his complete support and helped me with OFSP cultivation”. But it is clear that Sabrina has become a skilled and knowledgeable small-holder farmer in the region and is a source of support and knowledge to her neighbours.

The farm she runs is now a vibrant collection of crops spread over 0.40 hectare of land (on lease) where she grows everything from cucumber and cowpea to zucchini, chili, banana and of course orange fleshed sweetpotato. From the earnings she made from OFSP Sabrina was able to invest in other crops, lease land and expand her farm. This diversity brings peace of mind to Sabrina as she knows that she can provide a varied and nutritious diet to her family and can meet the varying demands of the local market throughout the year. It also brings Sabrina some security giving her the ability to deal with environmental challenges and changes throughout the seasons.

Turning sweetpotato in assets

The first time she cultivated OFSP in 2012, Sabrina earned just under BDT, 25,000 (approximately US$319.00): “with this money I bought a cow for BDT 22,000 (US$281.00). I sold the cow for BDT 95,000 (US$1212.00) after keeping it for almost a year and with the profit I took care of a range of family and household costs and also bought another cow for BDT 27,000 (US$345.00) which I still have today. I will eventually sell this cow as well but I am waiting until I can get a good price before Eid-ul-Adha (eid festival) or if I need quick access to cash”.

Sabrina is able to save BDT 3000 (US$38.00) per month after household expenses. Since planting and selling OFSP four years ago, Sabrina has been able to build a one-room house and to purchase a wider variety of crops to grow. Sabrina sells the sweetpotato vines in bundles at Teliberi ghat – the local market – and for a small bundle she gets about BDT 50 (US$0.65). There are other farmers selling OFSP but the demand for this nutritious crop is high and Sabrina never struggles to sell her supply.

For Sabrina and her husband orange fleshed sweetpotato and the vibrant, diverse farm they have established act as an insurance policy for them. The money they have made has allowed them to expand their farm, to build a small house and to buy 2 cows. Without children, life for the elderly in rural Bangladesh can be challenging and so Sabrina is working hard now to ensure that she and her husband can save money to secure their future.

Diversity in both diet and income is vital. And Sabrina is a great example of how a small piece of land can build a future for families in Bangladesh. With orange fleshed sweetpotato at the heart of her farming ambition she has widened her scope to establish a small but vibrant household farm to bring hope, health and security to her and her husband.

In Bangladesh, the International Potato Center is currently implementing the SUSTAIN project which is a 5-year partnership (2013-2018), coordinated by CIP and financed by the UK Department for International Development, to scale up the nutrition benefits of bio-fortified orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) in Bangladesh, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Rwanda and the spillover countries of Zambia and Tanzania. The goal is to reach 1.2 million households with under-5 year old children. SUSTAIN supports integrated interventions in agriculture, nutrition, utilization, and marketing to strengthen production and consumption of OFSP. SUSTAIN emphasizes rigorous measurement and evaluation in order to assess the scalability of these interventions and contribute to global evidence on achieving large scale nutrition outcomes through bio-fortified crops.

CIPs Bangladesh projects are building on continued progress in sub-Saharan Africa where the International Potato Center (CIP) has been working to bring the nutritional benefits of OFSP to nearly 2 million households in countries across sub-Saharan Africa affected by vitamin A deficiency. Over many years of working on OFSP, CIP has demonstrated that rigorous research in agriculture and health sciences can be combined to create solutions for global nutrition challenges and that these can be scaled up to reach millions of vulnerable families.