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How a man lost everything in cyclone, then became a changemaker

  • Published at 09:37 am May 4th, 2021
climate resilient
Prashanta Kumar Ghosh is administering vaccines in his village of Raruli in Khulna. Photo: Belayet Hossain

Prashanta Kumar Ghosh’s story shows that providing access to proper information, and capacitating the local communities regarding alternative livelihood can be good adaptation tools in the context of climate change

Bangladesh is exposed to various natural disasters due to the geographical location and climatic characteristics. Flood, tropical cyclones, landslides are very common to hit every year. Among other parts of Bangladesh, the coastal belt is the most vulnerable and deprived due to the prevalence of tropical cyclones. One of the most severe one in recent times was cyclone Aila in 2009, which affected the lives of people in the coastal areas immensely.

Twelve years have passed since the Aila struck, but its impact is still affecting the marginal communities of the region. One of the witnesses of this climate-induced disaster in coastal areas is Prashanta Kumar Ghosh, a permanent resident of a small village, called Raruli. The village is situated at Raruli union under Paikgacha sub-district in Khulna district. Due to cyclone Aila, his family lost almost everything, pushing them down from being in a solvent economic class to poverty. 

Prashanta completed his SSC before cyclone Aila and was trying to get a job in addition to farming. He had to change the plan as the cyclone severely affected the whole area in south-western districts. “That was a very tough time for me and my family, we were struggling to manage three meals a day regularly. I could not find any work in my village. I travelled even to Khulna and Gopalganj in search of work but failed to manage any”, Prashanta stated. Prashanta was in such a miserable state that he had stopped his child’s education and was burdened under the huge debt with the microfinancing agencies. “I was unable to meet the basic needs of my family. Local shop owners stopped selling products on credit and neighbours denied help, as they were also struggling”, he added.

Previously, Prashanta lived on livestock farming making a moderate profit every year. His children used to go to school. His family was solvent and happy. “We used to be happy and manage our expenses by our business. My husband would work hard and sometimes help me as well. Our livestock business was profitable, so we did not have any loan burden. But everything has changed after Aila”, said Champa Ghosh, wife of Prashanta.

During that period, they could not think of any alternative as he did not have any expertise other than livestock rearing. Prashanta and his wife jointly tried to recover with homestead gardening, but it did not work out well because of salinity. He started to seek support from the government and non-government relief programs. He tried to take support from local livestock departments but could do nothing as he did not have that much connection.

By 2009-2010, he was supported by some of the international and national NGOs which came forward and noticed the experience and interest of Prashanta in livestock rearing. He participated in several training on livestock which sharpened his skill. But unfortunately for Prashanta, the training alone was no good. He needed investment to restart the business. “I did not have any savings, furthermore, I was burdened with a huge loan from microcredit associations. I have tried with those all, but none was coming forward, no one agreed to provide me with any more support. I was wondering how to step ahead”, said Prashanta.

By this time, Prashanta has been skilled in livestock rearing, saline tolerant forage farming, and vaccination with the support from Upazila Livestock Offices and got the attention of the Upazilla Livestock Officer (ULO). Upazila Livestock Office then in collaboration with some external support provided him financial assistance. In 2012, with that start-up support, he bought a calf. This provided a glimpse of hope for him, as he was trying hard to manage some extra earning from informal sources. 

As soon as he started, he experienced a crisis of fodder for the calf, because the grass production was also severely affected because of Aila. Then again, he took support from the ULO. With ULO’s suggestion and technical support, he sowed some seeds in his land. He started to grow saline tolerant Napier grass for livestock and found it profitable. “I recommended to him to try a new type of grass as it would not require insecticides and could also be harvested eight to nine times per year,” said Bishnupada Biswas, the ULO. He started to earn Tk3,000–3,500 per month by selling the surplus grass to the villagers after feeding his cows.

Over the period, Prashanta improved his livelihood options. Owing to his academic knowledge and interest, he could easily grasp the new techniques and knowledge he was being provided with. Around 2018-19, with the support from ULO, he learned about the primary treatment of livestock and he encouraged and engaged his wife in rearing poultry. At the initial stage of this new skill, he was even mocked by the villagers as ‘Gorur Doctor (doctor of cows)’, but it did not falter Prashanta. “I have seen the sad part of my life, and I am aware any time it might come back again as we are living in the climate-vulnerable area. So, I am getting myself ready this way, this is my way of adapting. I am not worried about who is saying what”, stated Prashanta.

By this time, Prashanta had worked hard and expanded his business gradually. Along with grass, he started to sell milk. Currently, he earns around Tk11,000 per month by selling milk. In the last two years cow selling generated Tk1,43,000, and with this money he purchased more land for grass cultivation. Now he has 6 cows in his farm, and he expects a good return every year.

By the last couple of years, he has been a lighthouse for the community. He has been part of the local producer groups and works as a Local Service Provider. The story of prashanta shows that providing access to proper information, and capacitating the local communities regarding alternative livelihood can be good adaptation tools in the context of climate change. As an avid learner with good connectivity with government organizations and NGO initiatives, Prashanta has been able to access updated information and has utilized this to contribute to his wider community as well. “Prashanta da guided us so efficiently that we have restarted our farm and are making a profit again. With the help of Prashanta da, more than 100 livestock farms were regained in our community”, said Brojen Ghosh, one of the local livestock farmers. Like Brojen, Prashanta has helped more than 100 disaster-hit families to recover by adapting new techniques of farming. 

Prashanta is a changemaker who has taken his life experience to bring change in his life while committing to change and support others in this community. Talking about his vision for his community he said, “I have suffered a lot; I have seen the impact of a disaster in my life; I don’t want others to do the same. I always try to step ahead to learn as I know this is important in the context of climate change. And, therefore, I also support others as we cannot advance alone for climate change issues”. 

Moumita Sen is working in Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as a Junior Programme Officer under Climate Change and DRR, her research interest lies in Urban Disaster. Can be reached at [email protected]

Md. Kamruzzaman Khan is working in Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Center (BDPC) as a Field Coordinator, his research interest lies in Climate Change and DRR. Can be reached at [email protected] 

Ashish Barua is working with Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as Programme Manager, Climate Change and DRR, his research interest lies in Empowerment, Justice and Social Equities. Can be reached at [email protected]

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