Helping Women in Bangladesh Through Livestock Development

Dharakantar, Bangladesh─At 20, Ayesha Siddik was married to a day laborer who generally earned less than a dollar a day. She lived in a mud and straw hut in this farming village in northern Rangpur district.

Today, Ayesha is the owner of nine cattle worth Tk225,000 ($2,941). She lives in a three-room building that stands out in a village of mostly tin-roof houses, sends her two children to school, and has convinced her husband to help her raise cattle.

Livestock is commonplace in Bangladesh, a tropical delta nation of 150 million people. The government estimates that 85% of families in rural Bangladesh—where some three-quarters of the country’s population live—own livestock. But traditional methods of rearing cattle put the animals at risk of malnutrition and diseases such as foot-and-mouth and anthrax. Poor families are frequently ruined by livestock deaths, which also result in losses to the national economy, as livestock farming accounts for about 3% of gross domestic product.

The Second Participatory Livestock Development Project was launched in 2004, following on the success of the first project, with a loan of $20 million from ADB’s concessionary Asian Development Fund, $22.1 million from the Government of Bangladesh, and $11.1 million from nongovernment organizations (NGOs).

Being implemented in 157 subdistricts and 20 districts in northern and central Bangladesh, the project provided training to 598,000 farmers on how to raise animals and protect their health. Including microfinance and technical assistance to farmers, the project also featured a women’s empowerment component and a gender action plan.

In Ayesha’s case, the results were remarkable. Six years ago she received a cow as a dowry from her father, but it died while giving birth to a calf. She raised the calf until she could sell it for Tk5,000 ($65). With that money she bought a 2-year-old cow and started feeding it a mixture of urea, molasses, and straw (better known in the livestock development project as UMS), which is used for fattening non-dairy cattle. Three months later, Ayesha sold her fattened cow for Tk25,000 ($326), making a good profit. She bought more cattle, sold more, and prospered.

“The project contributes to raise livestock production, boost incomes, and improve nutrition in poor rural households by making meat and milk available,” says Arun Kumar Saha, project officer of ADB’s Bangladesh Resident Mission. “Thousands of poor are now better fed and even capable of saving money for rainy days.” 

Uniting against disease

Ayesha’s success has inspired her co-villagers. Today the farming village of Dharakantar has become a village of livestock entrepreneurs, and keeping the cattle healthy is essential.

Five years ago Belal Miah, a 41-year-old cattle farmer, lost three cattle to foot-and-mouth disease.

“Not long ago we used to see vultures hovering over our village because there used to be dead cattle left in the fields," he says.

The livestock development project has brought about intervention against disease by encouraging cattle farmers to form common interest groups for livestock training and veterinary services.

Masudur Rahman, a local livestock official, says each common interest group comprises 20 members who are given livestock management training, including de-worming, vaccination, and proper preparation of UMS.

When prevention is not always the cure, the livestock development project provides microfinancing to help farmers get back on their feet.

Kohinoor Begum, a 40-year-old owner of 23 milk-giving cows, lost 11 of her herd to foot-and-mouth disease 3 years ago. She was devastated. But help came in the form of a low-interest loan of Tk150,000 ($1,960) to start again.

“It was great to get this loan,” says Kohinoor, who comes from Khasbagh village, just outside Rangpur. “It helped me to get started once again.”