On 18 June 2021, Work for a Better Bangladesh (WBB) Trust opened its first farmers’ market in Dhaka as part of a project sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The project sought to increase low-income residents’ access to healthy and nutritious food grown without chemicals and to help farmers market their produce. An additional goal was to improve public space in Dhaka by converting a street used for dumping trash into a lively and attractive public space each Friday morning.
On 19 August 2022, WBB started a second farmers’ market, with many more to come—for a total of sixteen markets to be organized in Dhaka, Gazipur and Naryanganj.
There is a natural resistance to change. When you are barely getting by, a small change could mean dropping below the subsistence level. The concept of growing “safe” food (with few or no chemicals) was already radical. Farmers were used to selling their produce to middlemen and thus not worrying about the marketing. They failed to see any benefit in getting to know those who would eat what they grew.
But slowly that resistance changed into acceptance. In the case of one farmer, Farhad*, that change came when he saw a photo of the first farmers’ market. The photo, taken from above, shows a colorful collection of farmers and customers. Something about the photo sparked Farhad’s imagination and he agreed to join. Each week he arrives with leafy greens, various local vegetables, guavas, mangoes, and jackfruit. He talks with the customers. He explains how he grows his food without chemicals, and helps them understand how to choose the best fruit. Over time, he has developed relationships with individual customers. While profit is his main reason for joining the market, he now has personal reasons for attending as well.
Amir Hamza* was accustomed to using a variety of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Chemicals in farming have become so widespread as to make their use seem inevitable and necessary. When he received training from the government in growing food without chemicals, his initial resistance was overcome. As he realized how dangerous the chemicals are, he was thrilled to learn how to grow food without their use. He took pride in his new growing methods and wanted to share his knowledge and healthy produce with urban consumers directly. The farmers’ market gave him the opportunity to have direct interactions with customers.
Yasmin* was out for her morning walk when she saw the market being set up on the street. She saw the signs indicating that the food sold in this new street market was grown without chemicals. She waited around for it to start and was delighted to see that milk was on sale. Now she comes every week to buy fresh, wholesome milk for her aging mother.
Mahsum*, an older man, was at first scornful about the idea of a farmers’ market. “A market on the street? It will be chaotic! People will toss trash everywhere! It will create traffic congestion!” he ranted. Mahsum returned repeatedly to make his admonitions and see if his predictions came true. But the market was well-organized and staff cleaned the street promptly after each market. In fact the street was cleaner than it had ever been before, as WBB staff had to remove trash in order to set up the market. As the old gentleman wandered over one morning, he saw jackfruits for sale. He reached towards one, but the farmer who had brought them suggested he buy a different one instead. On later visits, he immediately asked the farmer which fruits he suggested: “He knows better than me, he’s the expert!” Mahsum exclaimed.
Farmers are learning to grow food without chemicals and to take pride in selling their fruit, vegetables, chicken, eggs and milk directly to those who will consume it. Customers not only gain access to healthy, safe foods but also get to meet those growing it and learn about their farming methods and their lives. A street that was used as a trash dump has been converted into a lively, colorful market. And now, instead of just one market, another fifteen will be opened over the next several months.
It is an ambitious project delivering multiple benefits and helping achieve the goal of livable cities for all.
--Naima Akter is Project Manager and Mithun Achyarj is Market Supervisor (Farmers’ Markets) at WBB Trust
* Names have been changed