They say chillies can be addictive, and I agree. As a keen cook and a big lover of spicy food, I use chillies to give a fiery kick to all kinds of dishes, from the obvious choices like chilli con carne and curry, to more obscure concoctions like avocado and chilli omelette and chilli hot chocolate. However, I never give a second thought to where the chillies I eat have come from or how they have been grown.
Oxfam recently got in touch with me to tell me about a campaign they are running to help women in Bangladesh’s poorest, flood-hit communities to make a living by growing chillies.
Many of Bangladesh’s poor live in areas that are highly susceptible to heavy rainfall and cyclones, making it difficult to set up stable homes, grow food or rear cattle. It gets even worse during the dry spell before the monsoon, when there is very little work available. Food is so scarce that it’s not uncommon for people to starve, and women tend to be the hardest hit because men usually travel to bigger cities to find jobs.
This is why Oxfam has decided to step in, working with partners in Bangladesh to teach farmers, most of them women, how to earn an income from chilli farming. They are shown how to form groups to pool resources such as labour and land, and helped to secure bank loans for use in investing in their chilli farming business. The money is spent on chilli-drying mats or water pumps for land irrigation, and the loans are not due to be repaid until the harvest comes in.
“Since chilli farming was introduced, we’ve seen a big change. We don’t have to starve like before”, Vice President of the Chilli Traders’ Group, Amina Begum, told Oxfam.“If we had something like rice or vegetables we would eat, but otherwise we would have to starve. Sometimes we went for two or three days without eating anything. Before, we were deprived. After training, we learnt a lot, which has helped me. With that help, my mind’s at peace now. The people who support this are helping me to get more food and live a better life, so I pray to God for them.”
Oxfam also assists the producers in creating business plans, saving money for the hunger periods and accessing government subsidies for fertiliser or pesticide. Most significantly, the charity has helped to set up a trading relationship between the chilli producers and a big Bangladeshi food processing company, PRAN.
By empowering Bangladeshi farmers to support themselves through chilli farming, Oxfam is hoping to instil lasting changes in flood-hit communities, lessening the impact of food shortages and creating more jobs.
So, next time I’m tucking into a chicken vindaloo or a spicy Thai stir-fry, I’ll spare a thought for where my food has come from and think about the Bangladeshi women who are making a living by growing chillies.
If you would like to make a donation to Oxfam, please visit http://www.oxfam.org.uk/donate.
This is not a sponsored post
What do you think about Oxfam’s chilli farming campaign? Do you support any charities? Jot down your thoughts in the comment box below – I read and reply to every single comment!