A Snapshot from Bangladesh: Building Farmer-Extension Relationships
Contributed by: Patrick Trail
With 160 million people living in an area the size of the US state of Georgia, cropland is not an overly abundant resource in the country of Bangladesh. In order to meet the ever growing needs of its population, it is not uncommon for farmers in this delta nation to produce 3 consecutive seasons of rice on the same piece of land in a given calendar year. This relatively recent intensification of the land doesn’t come without its costs, and relies heavily on expensive external inputs, a dwindling of irrigation water resources, and an uninterrupted invitation extended to crop pests and diseases.
Before receiving a visit from an agricultural extension agent last year, Abdul (the farmer in the picture ), had never been introduced to or attempted to grow a Green Manure/Cover Crop (GMCC). Unaware that cover crops offer numerous soil building benefits through Nitrogen fixation, the addition of organic matter, weed suppression, and surface temperature reduction, he likely would have been wary to give the concept a shot on his valued piece of land. Not without the nudging of a trusted Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Bangladesh agriculturalist friend that is.
Enter the farmer-extension relationship, a key link in the agricultural value chain. The link that connects the research and the farmer, and more importantly, the farmer’s needs to those doing research.
Leveraging ECHO’s regional field trials of different Green Manure/Cover Crops last year, one very good agricultural extension agent was able to take the research to the farm. By working together with Abdul Motin, he and ag extension agent Jahangir Alam were successful in many regards. Data on the comparison of GMCC varieties was successfully obtained, supplying ECHO valuable information to be compiled and disseminated throughout its wider network (research); MCC Bangladesh improved its standing and credibility in the community through good work and an additional field demonstration site (extension); and Abdul learns a new approach to building up his soil fertility in a way that is practical and appropriate to his environment (farmer).
At the conclusion of the field trials, Jahangir suggested to Abdul that as he plant his next round of crops in the field he might try and half his regular rate of nitrogen to see for himself the benefits the legumes had provided. Abdul did as was suggested and found that the cauliflower he planted on the GMCC portion of the field grew just as well as usual, and that in fact grew better than those on the portion of the field not receiving GMCC treatment!
A great reminder that growing better crops often starts with growing good relationships with people.