Mohammad Islam is growing more vegetables after FAO installed a solar-powered irrigation system. The father-of-three resides Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. He finds great satisfaction in growing nutritious food, and he grows a variety of vegetables and beans, including aubergines, beans, cabbages, varieties of gourd (bitter, bottle and sweet), radishes, red amaranth and tomatoes.

“Water scarcity is a common problem in our area, and the irrigation cost is very high. FAO installed a solar-powered irrigation system, which helps to address the problem of water scarcity to a great extent,” Mohammad said.

In Cox’s Bazar, FAO is promoting improved irrigation practices that use solar energy and reduce water losses. FAO and Bangladesh’s Department of Agricultural Extension will replicate the initiative across the country to promote the sustainable transformation of agri-food systems.

Mohammad is the president of a farmer group that is supported by FAO, and he attended an FAO-supported Farmer Field School (FFS). FAO promotes the FFS approach to empower marginal and smallholder farmers worldwide. As the platform for farmer education and empowerment, FFS has been recognized as a dynamic and promising approach for interacting with farmers and managing complex systems, and FAO leads the way in advocating for it.

Under the SAFE Plus project, FAO has popularised the FFS approach in Bangladesh, establishing around 300 FFSs in the Cox’s Bazar region, benefiting around 6 000 farmers directly.

An FFS is comprised of 20 farmers. Around one third of the farmers are women.

The farmers work as groups, meet regularly, manage group bank accounts, attend training sessions on agricultural production and good agricultural practices, and carry out experiments.

FAO provided Mohammad with five types of vegetable seeds and training on vegetable cultivation and how to run a business. He found it a challenge to find people to harvest his crops during last year’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdown in Bangladesh. “During the COVID-19 lockdown, there was a shortage of labour. I struggled with getting people to work in my field. I also faced difficulties while transporting products to distant markets.”

Mohammad, who has adopted good agricultural practices, promotes climate-smart agriculture and uses integrated pest management techniques, including pheromone and light traps, to produce pesticide-free produce. To capture the profitable early market, Mohammad uses plastic greenhouse-style tunnels and sheds. The structures speed up growth by retaining heat and providing protection.

He has gifted some of his produce to his neighbours to help them during the pandemic. “I find immense pleasure when I know that some people are staying healthy consuming the fresh vegetables that I produce. During the pandemic, I offered my vegetables for free to my disadvantaged neighbours.”

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