Change Maker: Back to roots to set up agro farm
It is expected that a student graduating from a reputed university would want a good job in the big city.
A female Dhaka University graduate in Bogura, however, broke the stereotype to become an entrepreneur, finding success in cultivating vermicompost and helping her fellow villagers learn the business.
Twenty-six-year-old Razia Sultana Sumi, of Goriarpara village in Shibganj upazila, completed her honours and master's degrees in social welfare at DU in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
"Like every student of DU, I also dreamed of being a BCS [Bangladesh Civil Service] cadre or getting a good job in a reputed organisation but the urgency of life returned me to the village."
While many fellow graduates were preparing for exams and struggling to land government jobs, Sumi said she did not want to waste time.
"After finishing my master's degree with good results, I came straight back to my village and started helping my father in the fields," said Sumi.
Her journey was not easy. She was initially shamed and verbally insulted by neighbours and villagers, mostly boys and men, while harvesting paddy in the fields with her father and sister last year.
They said that a girl who graduated from Dhaka University harvesting paddy in the fields was such a shame -- that she had wasted her parents' money and efforts, Sumi recalled.
"Every profession is great if you take it to heart. Agriculture is my father's profession. I wanted to find greater success in agriculture," said Sumi.
Against all odds, Sumi did not stop. She and her 30-year-old sister Shamima Begum took various initiatives to become agro-entrepreneurs, but they were initially unsuccessful.
Later, the sisters started producing vermicompost, a technology by which fertiliser is made from cow dung (or other organic matter) and earthworms, with eight kilogrammes of earthworms in 24 concrete rings in May last year.
They named their project Shamima Agro Farm and after seeing success, the sisters set up another 17 concrete beds (larger than the rings).
In October last year, Sumi and several others in the village participated in a training on vermicompost by an organisation called Sabuj Paribahan.
Sumi then involved 10 villagers struggling to get by and formed a community organisation "Chetonayon". They all now receive profits from the vermicompost project collectively.
"We are now getting a lot of orders to supply vermicompost to Dhaka, Cumilla, and other parts of the country. But we can't supply this demand as we have low production due to less investment," said Sumi.
Regardless, the others who learned the business from Sumi are happy to sell vermicompost and earn some extra money from their small farms.
Zamshed and Rasheda Mondol of the village said they had been struggling to get by with their work in the fields. After Sumi involved them in learning how to set up a vermicompost farm, they were able to recently sell around 100kg of vermicompost as well as some earthworms, said Zamshed.
Fifteen-year-old Saida Binte Shahinur of Goriarpara village said, "Sumi aunty taught me how to cultivate vermicompost at home."
She started recently with five rings and has already made profits. "I sold vermicompost three times till now and 1kg of earthworm for Tk 3,000."
Md Al Muzahid Sarker, Shibganj upazila agriculture officer, told The Daily Star that what Sumi is doing after completing her master's degree at DU is praiseworthy. "Modern agriculture needs more highly educated youth like Sumi."
Demand for vermicompost is increasing day by day as chemical fertilisers reduce soil fertility, he said.
"Sumi sometimes visits our office for advice. We are trying to help her by providing training and market access," said the agriculture officer.
Sumi urged the government to provide loans at a low interest rate to small vermicompost entrepreneurs so they are able to expand their businesses.