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Farida, the tech-savvy maize merchant

  • Published at 06:33 pm January 2nd, 2020
Climate Tribune_December 2019_Pg 12-13
Farida at her home. Photo: Courtesy

A story from Dimla

When we walked into Farida’s home, we immediately felt a sense of community. Women had gathered around in a circle, sitting on the blue tarp under the open sky in front of her house. We sat down with these women, asking them probing questions to comprehend how the PROTIC project changed the lives of its beneficiaries.

‘Farida’ was the name several of these women mentioned upon asking “Who do you turn to in times of need? Who helps you the most?” Farida, who was present herself, remained silent. But it was clear to us that she was someone that these women trusted.

Farida is someone that these women look up to because she is a story of success. She built herself from scratch. She was a housewife living in a divided home with her two mothers-in-law always fighting. She pleaded with her husband to move out but was unsuccessful in the first three years of her marriage. Even though they eventually started living in a separate part of the house, she still dreamed of building her own home.

She took steps to make her dream a reality by starting to work. To gain some experience, she started as a healthcare volunteer, working with pregnant women, teenage girls, and children. With her two years of experience, she was able to get a paid job managing a sanitation project that built toilets for 200 families. At her next job, she raised the platforms of 20 houses in her community, increasing their resistance to flooding. She also started cultivating maize but struggled to make a profit because she could not manage pests. Through a training from Pollisree, she learned how to use fertilizer and pesticides as well as planting techniques to increase her production.

Through this experience, she was inspired to start her own maize business along with four other partners, using a Tk53,000 grant she received from Pollisree. Their business model said goodbye to middlemen and hello to higher profits. Farida would directly take their pooled product to the bazaar to sell to shopkeepers instead of a middleman negotiating the pricing on her behalf.  With the help of her social connections, persuasive power, and entrepreneurial mindset, she was able to make a good profit.

When she started with PROTIC, she drastically reduced the time she spent going to the bazaar to convince shopkeepers to buy her maize. All she had to do was click a photo of the yellow seeds with her smart phone and send it to her potential customers. With a phone call, the buyer would go to her directly or send a car to pick up the goods. No cash passed between hands – it was all digital, thanks to bKash. She had the power in the palm of her hand.

Years of her hard work paid off, as she was able to build her dream house on her own. However, Farida did not limit her success to herself, but used her power and influence to help others. Outside of the projects that she took on early in her career, she shared her knowledge with those around her. Her neighbors came to her to ask for advice about agricultural techniques when they saw how well she was doing. Through Facebook, she would post pictures of problems with a description of their solutions. Instead of selling her excess vegetables, she gave them away to her neighbours so that they could feed their families. She also shared her fish with her neighbours without thinking twice.

Farida helps her community with her connections as well. For example, she helped Saleha, another PROTIC animator, get a job at the healthcare NGO where she used to work. When NGOs came to her community, she shared her insight on the community’s problems and suggested who needed the most help. She truly cares about others, and for her social welfare work she was awarded the Joyeeta award.

Farida taught us that technology is more powerful than knowledge. If one has knowledge but lacks technology to implement their ideas, the path to one’s goals will be slower and more roundabout. Conversely if one does not possess knowledge, they can gain it by accessing technology. Farida’s phone gave her access to valuable information, and she used it to drive her sales of maize up. She was exceptional in that she understood the power of technology. In her own words, “Knowledge was power. But now, technology is power.” Everything that she learned through her smart phone gave her a cutting edge, and she knows that no one can take it away from her, even if she lost her phone.

Farida has goals, knows what she is doing, and realizes her dreams. She has the house she always wanted, the money she needed, and the security that lets her flourish and give to others. She is the driver of her own life, and she is always willing to help others who need her guidance.

Tania Ahmed and Mity Mahmuda are research officers at ICCCAD

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