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Bangladeshi Women Are Igniting the Spirit of Agro Machinery Entrepreneurship

By: Sarah Gazi

· Asia,Social Entrep,Women,Agriculture,Technology

The Exploitation of Women Laborers

In Bangladesh, women disproportionately face social stigma regarding appropriate behaviors and work roles which often keep them out of entrepreneurship and leadership positions. They are often limited to household duties, child-rearing and cooking. Moreover, the average garment worker in Bangladesh is more likely to be a woman, as her rights are easier to undermine, her voice is powerless, and her labor is more prone to be exploited.

Bangladesh is a leading producer of clothing for multinational brands at the lowest costs with the fastest and most flexible production outcomes. In a labor-intensive industry, this is achieved through cheap labor, pushing for longer work hours, and reducing work and environmental standards. While some may see the need for women in the garments industry in a positive light towards female emancipation, women are actually hired in an extremely exploitative context. Bangladeshi women work long hours for basic wages with no opportunity for advancement.

This is the scenario across many industries in Bangladesh where female employment comes at the expense of long work days, minimum pay, and little to no bargaining power. What this perilously does is restrict women from reaching their full potential to contribute fully to the economy. While there is a high demand for women in the garment industry, it is in exploitative roles where their labor is reduced to a mere commodity. What this collectively endangers is the country’s potential to grow inclusively as a nation, where women and men are equal contributors.

Empowerment in Agricultural Entrepreneurship

Hand Training for the women.

Photo credits to Rowshan Anis

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia – Mechanization & Irrigation project (CSISA-MI) is leading initiatives to create positions of empowerment in agricultural entrepreneurship. The project operates in Southwest Bangladesh and creates local agricultural service providers like women farmers who own and rent out agricultural machinery to scale modern agricultural mechanization.

Before the arrival of scale appropriate agricultural machinery such as the power tiller operated seeders (PTOS) and the CSISA MI project, seeding jute—a type of plant with fibers that can be spun into coarse, strong threads—had been an exhaustive manual venture in Baliandangi in the Rajbari District of Bangladesh. The laborious task of preparing land for seeding, manually sowing seeds by digging soil, and simultaneously placing seeds, posed a nearly insurmountable challenge. A power tiller operated seeder mitigated these challenges. Crop health improved through uniform seeding depth and plant spacing. Overall, this would enable farmers to save on seeds, cut costs, increase yields and have quality time for family.

Women Agricultural Entrepreneurs

Dipty is a woman farmer and upon receiving project training on the operations of the seeder, she effortlessly pushed her PTOS forward and seeded her jute field. Exemplary in her community, she has become a repository of knowledge concerning seed and agronomy. Dipty would employ women and provide training on machinery operation to dispense services to other smallholders nearby. She would maintain logs, calculate profit and loss figures, and make a notable contribution to agriculture in her own space. But there is a much broader impact, something that has rarely happened before–the empowerment of rural women to run a viable agricultural machinery business.

Dipty working in the field.

Photo credits to Rowshan Anis

With high hopes and ambitions, more women like Dipty are coming forward to be entrepreneurs. The accessibility of these roles to women will eliminate barriers and inspire other women to make a mark in a sector that is overrepresented by men. A climate of exclusion–or inclusion in a highly exploitative context for women, has prevailed for too long. There is a need to balance a gender fluid landscape with women’s unique skillsets. Women need to know their worth, and the possibilities they can create.

Women entrepreneurs are now leading the way for a generation of women in agriculture through machinery service provision and ownership. They will inspire entrepreneurship roles in Bangladeshi agriculture. Their emergence in agriculture can propel the rural population into self-sustaining individuals who can effectively take charge of a business and improve the development of the economy.

CSISA-MI is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and iDE global, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

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