I love spicy food and often use chillies (both fresh and dried) when I'm cooking. I like to think I'm quite good at buying fair-trade, organic and local produce when I can but really, beyond that, how much do I actually know about the people who grow and supply my food? Oxfam work with food producers in impoverished areas around the world to help improve their lives from a roots level. This project with women chilli farmers in Bangladesh really caught my eye.
As part of Oxfam's bloggers against poverty campaign, I've been able to learn a bit more about what they are doing in this bit of the world.
Although Bangladesh is apparently becoming well known for its chilli farming, this doesn't mean that it's without problems. Many of the people growing chillies live on shifting river islands or 'chars' which are prone to monsoons and cyclones. Because of this, often men leave to find work in the cities, leaving the women to farm the land, which is why it's the women Oxfam are targeting with this project.
What impressed me most is how a lot of their work focusses on empowerment and training rather than crisis support and reactive help. Of course those are both very important but Oxfam's work here goes deeper than that. Using local partnerships and training they are teaching people to make their own lives better, tackling poverty at it's root to ensure a more sustainable future for these communities.
Oxfam has helped farmers to form producer groups to pool resources and make easier work of group tasks. They've also set up relationships with Bangladeshi food companies and with local banks to help farmers trade, access loans and invest in their businesses. This covers everything from buying equipment such as chilli drying mats and water pumps to fertiliser and importantly, allowing farmers to save and plan for when natural disasters strike in the future.
I can't imagine for one second what it must be like to live in fear of losing my crop and cattle to flooding and have to start again with nothing, or to be hungry all the time because of the conditions in which I live and work. Of course I can't, I'm sat here typing this on my Macbook Air with my washing machine running in the background and my favourite tunes playing on Spotify Premium. I'm a world away from this story. But, what I can imagine is that the approach Oxfam has taken to helping these women gives them dignity. And that means a lot to them, I'm sure. You can hear the pride in the quotes below from two women who've been helped by Oxfam:
Amina Begum is the vice president of the Chilli Trader's Group and supports an extended family of nine and an invalided husband through her work. She is confident that chilli producing is having a positive impact on Bangladesh.
"Since chilli farming was introduced we’ve seen a big change, and we don’t have to starve like before. It was really hard for us to get enough food before. 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 learned a lot, which has helped me. With that help, my mind’s at peace now"
“I’ve been vice president of the CBO for two years and I enjoy it. In the meetings we learn things, like how to grow more chillies or how to make our cows fatter. ... We mostly eat dried food, and we try to save some rice if we know the ood is coming. Sometimes we have two meals a day, but some days we only have one meal. I’ve benefited a lot from growing chillies. I now eat better than I used to before. I wouldn’t be able to eat before but I’m getting good quality food now. I now have some disposable income to spend on things like chicken and fish.”
Next time I use dried chillies in my cooking, I'll certainly stop to think about where they came from. If you want to help, you can donate to Oxfam by going to their website here.