Ali Ahmed demonstrates one of his rice transplanters at Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar (Photo: Asmaul Husna)
The Feed the Future Zone of Resilience (ZOR) in south-east Bangladesh faces specific challenges in agriculture due to its geographical location and the impact of the Rohingya refugee crisis. The USAID-funded Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia–Mechanization Extension Activity (CSISA–MEA) has emerged as a catalyst for sustainable change, with a particular emphasis on agricultural mechanization and youth empowerment. One of its notable achievements is that young women and men with higher educational degrees are engaging in agriculture as machinery solution providers (MSPs) or choosing to work in agriculture-based light engineering (ABLE).
Around 73 MSPs and members of the ABLE workforce from the youth demographic – aged between 18 and 29 – are currently collaborating with CSISA–MEA, representing 50 percent of the Activity’s engagement in the ZOR. Most of these young women and men have tertiary level degrees. Ali Ahmed, a 23-year-old MSP from Ukhiya upazila, Cox’s Bazar, is a fourth-year honours student at Ukhiya College, and also farms 2 acres of leased land. He has embraced the use of innovative agricultural technology and invested in three machines – a reaper and two rice transplanters – which he uses to cultivate rice, wheat and seasonal vegetables, and hires out to farmers in the locality to provide services which cover around 60 acres of land.
Ali’s journey in agricultural mechanization began in 2021 when he attended a CSISA–MEA demonstration workshop. This inspired him to buy a rice transplanter, using a 70 per cent government subsidy also facilitated by the Activity. He found it a struggle at first to convince other farmers of the advantages of using machinery in farming, but when his increased profits became apparent, they started to come to him for information. Over the past two years, Ali has slowly but surely created his own space in the agricultural machinery business, with the goal of becoming an active agent in service provision and a successful entrepreneur.
Ukhiya has just one rice-growing season, so compared to areas like Chakaria or Cox’s Bazar Sadar which have two or even three seasons, farmers like Ali encounter greater financial challenges and can find it hard to break even or considering investing in modern farm machinery. CSISA–MEA provides practical, market-based solutions to encourage smallholder farmers to adopt agricultural machinery to increase their productivity – and with this support, Ali has seen his net earnings increase from BDT100,000 (c.US$920) in 2021 to around BDT150,000 (c.US$1400) in 2022. These gradual, steady improvements have led him to expect an even better income by the end of the year.
CSISA–MEA training has now skilled Ali to operate a variety of machines, including combined harvesters and reapers, as well as his first inspiration, the rice transplanter. This has enabled him to significantly increase his farming output while reducing the amount of time and effort usually required for labor-intensive tasks. He says, “CSISA–MEA supported me to enter the field, provided technical and operational support to increase crop output, and allowed me to diversify my agricultural activities. Now I’m the family’s sole earner, and agriculture pays for my education.”
CSISA–MEA is unlocking the potential of young people in the ZOR to become change agents by providing them with the tools and training they need to switch up their agricultural activities and establish competitive businesses. Along with boosting their own output, these empowered young people motivate and support their neighbors to embrace modern farming methods. These are just some of the ways that CSIS–MEA is harnessing the energy of the country’s rural youth and nurturing an innovative and progressive farming culture in the ZOR.