Bringing high quality jute seeds to Bangladeshi farmers
Kalam Mahmud is a 52 years old farmer, living in Danganolta village in Bangaldesh's Satkhira district. Together with his wife, he produces rice, jute, radish and winter vegetables in his family's 20,000 m² of land, while their three children (two girls and boy) attend school.
As a project beneficiary, he became a member of one of the 640 jute producer groups established by the project that cater to 16,000 jute producers across 4 project districts in the North-West and South-West of Bangladesh.
The groups, comprising of 25 producers each, discuss practical field experiences during training sessions where they exchange advice and issues related to production with the assistance of 16 local field facilitators. To be selected as a project beneficiary, each prospective group member has to comply with some basic requirements including basic literacy level, jute production experience, open mindset and good interpersonal skills.
Training courses, each of them spanning over 3 to 5 days, are a recurrent project activity provided to jute producers every year before the sowing season in March and April. Lead by government appointed agricultural block supervisors or by representatives of the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) area offices, trainings provide a platform for learning modern methods of jute cultivation, joining the producer's group savings scheme and receiving a number of facilitative services such as linkages to local input service providers, organic fertilizer producers, jute millers for direct fiber selling.
Being an active member of this group of jute producers, Kalam joined several trainings on modern jute cultivation procedures, such as line sowing, identification of good quality seeds, usage of organic fertilizers in jute fields, harvesting, retting and extraction of jute fibre, drying, fibre grading, alternative retting processes, organized by the project's partner NGO Uttaran working in Satkhira district.
For decades, the jute supply chain has not been much systematized in Bangladesh. As a consequence, supplies of jute seeds remain a constraint for jute producers: the Bangladeshi jute seed is good in quality but the available quantity only meets 40% of the domestic demand, with the remaining 60% being imported from neighboring countries although often farmers do not receive imported seeds at the right time of cultivation. The local jute supply chain is also inadequate in that storage facilities and market linkage at the community level are missing.
Addressing these issues, the farmer beneficiaries of the SWITCH-Asia project sit together in regularly scheduled meetings to share their respective situation and identify effective solutions to their cultivation problems during production times and of fair prices during marketing and sale season.
During one of these meetings, Kalam came to know that thanks to the project's linkage building initiative with the partner NGO Uttaran jute producers could get free-of-charge quality breeder seeds from the Bangladesh Jute Research Institute (BJRI) that are otherwise not available for purchase in the local markets.
Breeder seeds, which are the source for the production of other classes of certified seeds found in the local markets, are in fact directly controlled by the originating or sponsoring plant breeding institution or designee thereof. In the case of jute seeds, BJRI is producing the jute breeder seeds and then the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) collects them from BJRI for field trial, multiplication of seeds and wider marketing.
Impressed by this information, Kalam filed his request to receive such breeder seeds from the BJRI regional unit. Accordingly in September 2014 he received from the nearby BJRI station 100 grams of jute breeder seed to be cultivated in his own land.
In the consecutive months, Kalam sowed a proportioned amount of breeder seeds in his 161.84 m2 of agricultural land, intercropping it with radish. He prepared the land with cow-dung manure. During vegetative growth, he took some inter-cultural operations such as weeding irrigation that he had learnt from the project trainings. Three months later, the plants started flowering and in March 2015, Kalam got 18 kg of jute seeds as final produce.
From the trainings conducted by the SWITCH-Asia project, Kalam also learned how to preserve the seed just after harvesting.
Out of his produced 18 kg, after meeting his own need, he sold the remaining 14 kg of produced seeds to 13 project farmers and 3 other local farmers at Taka 150 (EUR 1,75) per kg, while normally jute seeds are sold at the market at taka 100-140 (EUR 1,17 - 1,63) per kg. Despite Kalam's own seeds being costlier than locally available seeds, farmers bought them because of their higher quality: the market available jute seed germination percentage is 80-85% while Kalam's seeds reach up to 96%.
"Jute seed production is a good option for jute farmers to have timely and better quality jute seeds", commented Kalam after his first experience. "Last year I produced 18 kg of jute seeds from 161.84 m2 of land. Due to its better quality, huge demand and higher price, this year I am planning to allocate 1,335 m2 of land for jute seed production."
Inspired by Kalam's success, many of the group farmers are now planning to grow jute seeds in their own land next season, which will help meeting up the ongoing demand for better quality jute seeds.
(Written by: Mahbub Ullah, Khaled Golam Mortuza)
(Edited by: Silvia Sartori)