How Oxfam is empowering Bangladeshi women through chilli farming

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.

Joygun Islam is a member of the chilli producer group, and has been receiving training from Oxfam on growing and selling chillies. Since training she has noticed a big change and has more confidence and self belief. She is proud of her bright red chillies. For her, they signify a huge change in her life over the last three years. âSince weâve been growing chillies weâve been suffering less during the flood,â She says. âWe sell them and we can save money- that money I can use to spend on food and clothes for my children, and also on school for my daughterâ.

Joygun Islam is a member of the chilli producer group, and has been receiving training from Oxfam on growing and selling 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.

Joygun Islam spreads chillies out to dry in the sun. They can take between 3 and 11 days to dry thoroughly. The dried chillies are then sorted for quality, colour and size. Only the best go to market. âAfter picking the chillies I dry them on the tarpaulin and then gather them together and store them in a sack. I give them to the traders and the traders send me money to my home. I make more profit like this but if I go to the market I'll make less money, thatâs why I give it to the traders." Joygun is a member of the chilli producer group, and has been receiving training from Oxfam on growing and selling chillies. Since training she has noticed a big change and has more confidence and self belief. She is proud of her bright red chillies. For her, they signify a huge change in her life over the last three years.

Joygun Islam spreads chillies out to dry in the sun. They can take between 3 and 11 days to dry thoroughly. The dried chillies are then sorted for quality, colour and size. Only the best go to market.

“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.

Amina Begum, 55, picks chillies in her field on Gabgachi char (river island), Gaibandha, northern Bangladesh. Amina has received training on growing, sorting and picking chillies, so she can earn a better income and cope with regular floods. As a result of the training, she is taking a lead role in her community - she is now vice president of the local chilli traders' group, and a vocal member of the local community organisation which helps to run the village. Amina is now growing twice as much chilli and earning more money to feed her family of nine, including sons, daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. She says âSKS [Oxfamâs partner] helped us a lot. The main thing is that they helped us know how to grow more chillies â what fertiliser we should use, how much pesticides we should use, and how much water we should use. Itâs a lot better than for us now. Before, we worked really hard but didnât get many chillies from our plants. But now weâre growing more chillies, and theyâre better quality.'

Amina Begum picks chillies in her field on Gabgachi char (river island), Gaibandha, northern Bangladesh

“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.”

Chilli Farming in Bangladesh

Amina Begum dries chillies in her home yard at Gabgachi Char in Gaibandha.

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!

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17 Comments

  1. April 14, 2016 / 12:07 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It makes you think of all those charities out there that go out there way to help people. Recently I have been sending money to a charity that buy chickens for orphanages in Africa.

    • April 16, 2016 / 6:09 pm

      Thanks Helen, I am glad you enjoyed reading this post. Sounds like a great charity that you’re supporting in Africa!

  2. April 14, 2016 / 1:29 pm

    I had no idea that Chilli’s took 3 and 11 days to dry, something I probably take for granted x

    • April 16, 2016 / 6:12 pm

      Me neither, it’s surprising what we take for granted.

  3. April 14, 2016 / 8:14 pm

    How fantastic – it is great that Oxfam are supporting this – and that you are spreading the word. I will think about this too. Kaz x

    • April 16, 2016 / 6:00 pm

      Thank you Kaz, glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. April 14, 2016 / 11:14 pm

    Hmmm I guess it’s great that Oxfam is doing this… but I also know that most of the profits they make, never go to charitable purposes. True story but whatever… :/

    Oliver • http://suedeandsymphony.com

    • April 16, 2016 / 6:11 pm

      Of course it’s a great campaign. That’s a bold statement to make, I know that often this can be an issue but I’d be keen to hear where you found out about this and how you can be so sure?

  5. April 15, 2016 / 1:17 pm

    This sounds lie an amazing project, Oxfam make such a difference to so many people.

    • April 16, 2016 / 5:59 pm

      Thanks Jenny, glad you liked it!

    • April 19, 2016 / 10:44 pm

      Thanks, glad you liked it 🙂

  6. Working mum Blog
    April 16, 2016 / 10:47 am

    This sounds really amazing! I shop at Oxfam second hand stores but have not made any ‘donations’ to them outside of that. Although I think highly about Oxfam I prefer to make donations to individuals on the ground through ‘go fund me’. That way I feel more sure that the money is really being used to help people.

    • April 16, 2016 / 5:58 pm

      I know what you mean, I tend to give more to individuals as opposed to charity campaigns too.

  7. Amy
    April 16, 2016 / 8:42 pm

    I try my best to give to charity as much as possible but it’s been a rough year, I’m raising money again in summer but I feel like I’ve let down the side a bit only giving to dogs trust & Cancer research ..

    • April 19, 2016 / 10:43 pm

      Aww no, you should never feel like that! It’s great to support any charity, let alone more than one! It’s the thought that counts.

  8. April 16, 2016 / 9:11 pm

    I think in the western world we take this once exotic food for granted. We often don’t consider who is growing, picking and packing out foods. Too often we just look at costs to us

    • April 19, 2016 / 10:42 pm

      Definitely, I enjoyed writing this post as it opened my eyes to this too.

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