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Meet the organic compost celebrities of northern Bangladesh

CARE-trained compost entrepreneurs like Mohine and Radhika are helping transform small scale farming in northern Bangladesh. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

CARE-trained compost entrepreneurs like Mohine and Radhika are helping transform small scale farming in northern Bangladesh. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

The first step is to sieve the cow dung through a fine metal crate.

“Then come the worms,” says Mohine, a compost entrepreneur in Bangladesh.

“The worms digest the dung, and their castings become fertilizer. The worms also reproduce, and we can sell them alongside the ready fertilizer.”

The dung and fertilizer go in the concrete container where straws keep them warm and moist, and then, after about 15 to 20 days, Mohine’s family packages the fertilizer in white sacks, secures the worms in small plastic buckets, and delivers the final product to customers around the country.

Mohine’s family sells one kilo (2.2 pounds) of this specialized, organic fertilizer for around 10 cents, and one kilo of worms for around $12, which is equivalent to around 1,331 taka in Bangladesh. Every month, they sell an average of 3,600 kilo of fertilizer and 15 kilo of worms.

Starting out

Mohine, 45, and Radhika, 36, embarked on their entrepreneurial journey a few years ago with their two sons, Sonaton and Krusho.

Like any other business, the family faced initial challenges.

“We could sell compost only in our village and produced a quarter of what we are able to produce today,” Mohine says.

They needed help to get where they wanted to go, and this is where CARE’s Joint Action for Nutrition Outcome (JANO) project stepped in and provided the training and guidance on the technical know-how of compost production and marketing to expand their business.

The result was remarkable. In the same way Mohine and Radhika’s fertilizer has helped ensure the local soil has the best conditions to grow the best crops, the JANO program has helped make sure Mohine and Radhika have everything they need for their business to reach across the country.

What is JANO?

JANO is an innovative nutrition project by CARE funded by the European Union (EU) and the Austrian Development Agency. It’s geared towards ending malnutrition in children under five, adolescent girls, and addressing the nutritional needs of pregnant and lactating women. In Bangladesh, 40 million people are food insecure, with 11 million suffering from acute hunger. CARE research has shown over and over again that in these circumstances, women and girls are particularly affected.

In these circumstances, it’s essential to make the most of food production and distribution.

One of the JANO program’s main goals is to help make nutritious food affordable and regularly available for local communities — which means not only helping farmers grow the food but helping JANO-trained, home-based entrepreneurs serve as the last-mile support in delivering it as well.

Aside from training, participants like Radhika also received ring containers and a shed from CARE to kickstart their business. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

“Now we can do it ourselves”

Once Radhika learned what to do, the family business flourished.

“The process to make good fertilizer is easy,” she says. “Everyone can learn it, man, woman, and elderly.”

One of the main innovations they learned through the training offered by JANO, in partnership with Bangladesh government’s Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), was to use a different type of compost.

“Traditionally, we farmers used chemical fertilizers, which attract insects. But this compost doesn’t,” Mohine says.

In addition to acquiring technical expertise, the JANO group also got compost essentials, like ring containers and a shed.

And, of course, worms.

With guidance from Radhika and Mohine, one of their neighbors Basonti has already started producing compost. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

The changemakers and the changing community

After the training, Radhika’s business grew substantially. Earlier, they would only use cow dung from their own livestock, but because of the new demand from farmers, they needed dung from other households as well.

One ton of cow dung costs around $22, and since the whole process can take up to three weeks, it was a risky venture. But the family felt like it was worth it.

“Not so long ago, we faced financial hardships, struggling to afford basic necessities like food and clothing. That’s when we ventured into the compost business,” Mohine says. “Gradually, we managed to meet some of our needs, and now we sell our product countrywide.”

Radhika and Mohine currently generate a monthly income of approximately $330 which is equivalent to around 36,500 taka in Bangladesh. Before venturing into this business, they were solely involved in agriculture like most other villagers, earning around $45 per month. Their income has surged by over seven times since then.

The impact of this venture has been nothing short of life-changing for Radhika and Mohine. What is even more heartening is that their success is also rippling through their community. Their neighbors are not only excited about this business but also eager to join in. The couple is sharing their knowledge and training others to start their own organic fertilizer journey.

“We are inspired by the Roy family,” Basonti, one of Mohine and Radhika’s neighbors says.

“Now, with their guidance, we too can earn better by producing organic fertilizer.”

She is taking the first steps with one smaller ring container, and with the dung produced by her two cows.

“Currently, we are using it in our own fields, but we are determined to expand and start selling it as well.”

Radhika and Mohine also use their own fertilizer for farming on their own fields, and the results have been outstanding.

“Since we began utilizing our homegrown fertilizer, the production has increased drastically, and the vegetables have virtually doubled in size,” Mohine says. “We’re now able to not only feed our family with the harvest but also sell the surplus crops, creating an additional source of income.”

Radhika and Mohine's two sons actively support the family enterprise to flourish. Photo: Sarah Easter/CARE

Going online, countrywide clientele

Radhika and Mohine’s eldest son, Sonaton, 19, played a pivotal role in taking the family business to new heights. He came up with the idea of using online marketing and platforms like Facebook to create ads for the business, and so now the family now boasts an impressive following of 5,000 supporters, and their business has blossomed beyond their expectations.

“It’s incredible what my son has achieved,” Mohine says. “His online marketing has been a game-changer for us. In the past, we primarily sold our products at half the price to local villagers. Now, our products find homes across the expanse of Bangladesh.”

The shift from struggling to sell their products to having more orders than they can handle is phenomenal.

“We are extremely delighted. Now I get so many calls from all over the country. We can now save money. We have already built a larger, more comfortable home. Our plan is to expand our business even further. I sometimes feel like a celebrity.”

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