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Changing Lives Through Chilli: How economic development of the chilli market might be the key to unlocking social change

September 21st, 2014 by Posted in Resilience

Md Golam Fazle Rabbani and Quynh Trang McGrath

In rural Bangladesh, the poor struggle to make ends meet. Geographical and financial isolation result in extremely low income-earners. In particular, climate change plays a large role in threatening livelihoods and maintaining poverty. Monsoon season brings the looming threat of floods annually, which have been increasing in frequency and the quantum of negative impact they have. Bangladesh, largely a flood plain (80%), suffers greatly from this, and communities with crops planted on flood plains are susceptible to losing a harvest. Women, especially, are vulnerable to poverty and as they often have to rely solely on their husband’s income, this often makes them more susceptible to harassment and abuse.

Oxfam works to eradicate extreme poverty and empower women in doing so.

Gaibandha is one of the most remote and disaster prone districts of Bangladesh. Women there are less aware about human rights as a result of their customs, ethnicity, and religion.

In the Fulchari district of Gaibandha, many local villagers depend heavily on the chilli market as their source of income. The chilli market of Bangladesh is relatively unstable due to large chilli imports from India, making it challenging for local individuals to sell large volumes to processing companies. Without a sustainable income source, the poor can’t build wealth and can’t break out of the poverty cycle – allowing the effects of poverty to last generations.

SKS, local partner of Oxfam in Gaibandha, has recently partnered with a local enterprise in 2013 – Fulchari chilli Traders’ Enterprise (CTE-f) – to aid social change in Fulchari. Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Program (EDP) invested in CTE-f to help developing a market demand for local chillies and ensure a steady supply from the local farmers to large processors. This secure market linkage would allow more locals to be involved as well as increase profitability and incomes. Their work in Fulchari has already made a significant difference in the lives of the chilli farmers and their local market for chilli.

Moreover, many locals had problems securing money to invest in production of chillies, and had to turn to local creditors for loans. With high interest rates and uncertainty of demand, this would turn many investments unprofitable. However, CTE’s relations with financial providers put it in a position to grant loans. Last year, with help from EDP, CTE-f was able to fund over BDT 9 million ($116,857) worth of seasonal loans to 101 producers, 98% of whom were women. The seasonal loans had a very significant impact on the individual level as well, such as for chilli producer Ajbhanu Begum, who without the loan wouldn’t have been able to produce:

 ‘Before, I had an expensive loan from a local creditor. This year, I got a 5000 TK from CTE for fertiliser and irrigation in my chilli field. If I hadn’t gotten a loan from CTE, I wouldn’t have been able to produce chilli’. – Ajbhanu Begum, Chilli Producer

Thanks to the seasonal loans, the local producers avoided around BDT 5 million of interest.

Joygun Islam with chillies ready for market. Photo: Abir Abdullah/Oxfam

Joygun Islam with chillies ready for market. Photo: Abir Abdullah/Oxfam

CTE and Oxfam haven’t finished making a difference yet. They have long term projects that will pave the way to a more sustainable future for the locals in Fulchari.

In 2013 over 300 chilli producers (91% of whom were women) were provided training on chilli cultivation, processing, and marketing in hopes to increase both confidence and incomes from chillies. These trainings hope to have an extensive effect on the people of Fulchari. At the producers’ level, tarpaulin sheets (which protect the produce from harsh weather conditions or dust) provided by CTE have been able to add BDT 3 million ($38,952).

In the near future the enterprise will be starting the chilli powder business at the local level, and plan to expand to the regional and national level as well. This will provide a whole new slew of job opportunities and expand and strengthen market demand.

The Chilli Trader’s Enterprise in Fulchari and Oxfam’s EDP have endeavoured to improve the lives of woman and have a lasting impact. In Fulchari, where the majority of producers are women, they work to help empower women economically by providing opportunities to increase their income and independence by strengthening the local market. Local women benefited largely from the seasonal loans (as seen with Ajbhanu Begum) as with training on chilli production. CTE-f has also provided over 60 tarpaulin sheets and aprons and hand gloves, along with around 50 improved cooking stoves in hopes to reduce household workload. By encouraging economic involvement of women locally, they wish to empower women and improve the quality of their lives.  Additionally, women in Fulchari are encouraged in leadership by attending awareness meetings with community and family members hosted by CTE-f.

SKS Foundation in Gaibandha – Oxfam’s local implementation partner – is at the forefront of this initiative that is making this difference. Oxfam recognizes  the achievements in Fulchari but looks forward to even further successes social change, economic development, and empowerment of women in the area.

  1. One Response to “Changing Lives Through Chilli: How economic development of the chilli market might be the key to unlocking social change”

  2. By Dr. Monowar Hossain on Nov 8, 2014

    The article is interesting as that provides some information how seasonal loan and training can improve the livelihood of the poor women chilli growers at Fulchari. I would like to get the full paper to share my experience in chilli production and marketing in char areas of Shariakanda of Bogra.

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