Climate change is the biggest global crisis we have ever faced, but the world has never been more aware or more equipped to face it. The yearly Frugal Innovation Forum at BRAC brings together leading practitioners from the NGO, corporate and entrepreneurial sectors along with academics and policy makers. It has proven a great platform
If there were a simple recipe for social innovation, anyone could easily transform an idea into an impactful solution reaching millions. Unfortunately things are a lot messier on the ground. Many ‘amazing’ innovations that promise to save millions of lives fail to scale and quietly disappear. Who’s to blame: the innovation, the innovator, the strategy
BRAC has been working in the agriculture sector since 1972. The objective is to enhance food and nutritional security by ensuring the consistent supply of quality agricultural inputs including resilient varieties, promoting sustainable production technologies and appropriate mechanisation to reduce post-harvest losses.
Quality seeds are one of the necessary factors for high yields. To ensure quality seed supply, BRAC has been marketing hybrid maize seeds since 1994, and hybrid rice seeds since 1998. It also started producing hybrid maize seeds in 1996-97, vegetable seeds in 1996, and hybrid rice seeds in 2001. BRAC has established the value chain system of production and distribution for seeds and other agricultural inputs, allowing the enterprise to offer fair prices to the farmers. BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise focuses on supplying quality agricultural inputs, appropriate production and post-harvest technologies to enhance production and reduce post-harvest losses to optimise the profit of poor and marginal farmers. Additionally, it is important to BRAC to use sustainable methods, so that agricultural development does not occur at the cost of environment harmony.
BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise today
BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise has three agricultural research and development centres in Gazipur, Bogra (Sherpur) and Dinajpur (Birol). The centres are conducting applied research on plant tissue culture, vegetables, rice and maize. It has a soil-testing laboratory with the capacity of testing around 3,000 soil samples per year. Our researchers focus on discovering new varieties that meet the needs of both regional farmers and consumers. BRAC has developed five hybrid rice varieties, four hybrid maize varieties, 10 hybrid vegetable varieties and three open-pollinated vegetable varieties. It has registered 12 hybrid rice exotic varieties through government authorities.
With 22 production centres and about 7,000 contract farmers around the country BRAC is the country’s largest producer of hybrid maize seed and second largest producer of potato seed. It has the largest market share for rice seed (hybrid and high-yielding varieties), maize seed, potato seed and vegetable seed. The seed and agro enterprise has established five seed processing centres with a processing capacity of 12,000 metric tons per year, along with 11 modern storage systems with the capacity of 4,400 metric tons. To ensure high quality seeds, the enterprise uses automatic polymer seed coating treatment (fungicide) and an automatic packaging system. Furthermore, it promotes environment-friendly farming by marketing micronutrients like zinc and boron in order to tackle the rising micronutrient deficiency in soil.
BRAC’s seed and agro enterprise has built the value chain system of production and distribution through a wide network of 450 dealers and more than 4,500 sub-dealers around the country. BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise is now marketing 26 hybrid varieties and 27 open pollinated varieties of vegetable seed, 13 hybrid varieties and 19 high-yield varieties of rice seed, 14 hybrid varieties of maize seed and 5 varieties potato seed. During the production season 2014-15, the enterprise has marketed 1,600 metric tons hybrid rice seed, 1,300 metric tons high-yielding varieties of rice seed, 590 metric tons hybrid maize seed, 125 metric tons vegetable seeds and 9,600 metric tons potato seeds. In the seed business, BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise has 19% market share in hybrid rice, 23% in hybrid maize, 36% in potatoes (of organised seed supplied) and 8% in vegetables. In tandem, BRAC is also importing quality seeds regularly to increase the national production of high-yielding varieties invented across the globe.
Besides the core seed business, the seed and agro enterprise is currently working with two projects, ‘agri-business for trade Competitiveness Project (ATC-P) Bangladesh’, which ensures the availability of quality vegetable seeds at hard-to-reach areas and ‘SUSTAIN’, which aims to ensure nutrition-enriched orange flesh sweet potato production and promotion on chars and areas with salty soil and water. Previously, BRAC Seed and Agro Enterprise worked on the USAID Horticulture Project to improve incomes, nutrition and health in Bangladesh through the cultivation of potato, sweet-potato and vegetables. The enterprise also collaborated with CIP, under FoodSTART, for a project funded by IFAD to ensure food security through roots and tuber crops. Another project was conducted in collaboration with Katalyst, under Swisscontact, which involved the promotion of maize cultivation through increasing awareness, access to information and quality inputs in the southern region of the country in order to allow farmers to generate income.
At a glance
3 agriculture research and development centres
22 production centres
5 modern equipped seed processing centres with the capacity of 12,000 metric tons per year
11 modern storage system with the capacity of 4,400 metric tons
5 own developed hybrid rice varieties
4 own developed hybrid maize varieties
10 own developed hybrid vegetable varieties
450 dealers and over 4,500 sub-dealers in supply chain
Marketing 53 varieties of vegetable seed, 13 hybrid varieties, 19 high-yield varieties of rice seed, 14 hybrid varieties of maize seed and 5 varieties of potato seed
Marketing 1,600 metric tons hybrid rice seed, 1,300 metric tons inbreed rice seed, 590 metric tons hybrid maize seed, 9600 metric tons potato seed and 125 metric tons vegetable seed annually
“Emphasis has been given to ensure taking tech-based education system to every corner of the country,” said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today at the official launch of the new, interactive digital multimedia content. The digital content covers the entire curriculum of primary education (grades 1-5) and will be accessible on any device.
“To improve the quality of education, we have developed this new interactive multimedia content that will be accessible from any corner of the country,” the PM said.
Through this initiative, all of Bangladesh’s twenty million primary school students will be able to access their entire curriculum online via any device. In public schools, it is being accessed on the computers that the government has already integrated into over 1,500 digital classrooms across the country as part of its Digital Bangladesh vision.
Present as a guest Minister of Primary and Mass Education Advocate Mostafizur Rahman, MP said, “We have already prepared 55 PTIs with multimedia projectors and they have developed interactive content. They have also trained the teachers on the content. We are training teachers on the use of multimedia projectors, digital devices as well.”
The government initiated to transform 17 books made by National Curriculum of Textbook Board (NCTB) into interactive multimedia digital education content a decade back. The multimedia content creates an innovative and engaging learning environment, moving away from the traditional teacher-centric classroom.
It was developed in response to the success in classrooms of the content previously developed by BRAC to cover Grades 6-10. The new content was funded by the Government of Bangladesh and created by BRAC and Save the Children.
Explaining this as a revolutionary initiative, state minister of ICT Mr Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP said, “The multimedia based interactive digital content is an approach to make education more interesting and fun for children. So far, we have made multimedia classrooms in 5,000/1500 schools and we plan to reach 65,000 by 2021, thus contribute creating a digital Bangladesh”
According to research, visuals improve learning by up to 400 percent, and now those visuals will be available anywhere in Bangladesh that an internet connection can be found. Every screen, in a country where over 50 million people are online, will now be a space where families can experience fun, animated learning.
Congratulating government BRAC founder and chairperson Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, KCMG said, “BRAC has always emphasised on education from its beginning. We started our “Computer aided learning” project in 2005 to bring technology in education sector. We appreciate the government for adopting our learning and taking it all over the country. It will change the education scenario in future”.
Amongst other distinguished guests, present at the event were secretary of primary and mass education Md. Humayun Khalid, secretary of ICT Shyam Sunder Sikder, Interim Regional Director South/ Central Asia of Save the Children Mr Michael McGrath.
Interactive multimedia content is available here: http://digitalcontent.ictd.gov.bd/
To find more about BRAC’s education porgamme visit: http://education.brac.net/
Watch the event coverage here: http://www.brac.net/live
BRAC has won the Urban Resilience Challenge launched by Amplify/OpenIDEO. The idea submitted by the BRAC Urban Development Programme (UDP) for this challenge is among the 8 winning ideas which were selected from a total of 350 submissions globally. BRAC UDP’s idea involves developing community-led fire prevention and response mechanisms in the urban slums of Bangladesh.
OpenIDEO is an online collaborative that enables people from all over the world to collaborate in developing innovative solutions to pressing social and environmental challenges. OpenIDEO runs the Amplify programme which focuses on improving the lives of the billion people living in extreme poverty around the world.
Amplify will fund BRAC UDP up to 800,000 USD for a 12 months project. Amplify will also support BRAC UDP to build capacity on human-centred design approach to problem solving and develop prototypes.
The idea submitted by BRAC UDP for the Amplify/OpenIDEO Urban Resilience Challenge can be viewed in detail here -
A pioneer of silk-farming in Bangladesh
After Bangladesh gained its independence, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, the founder and chairperson of BRAC, searched for an income generating activity targeted towards the poor. With a high demand for silk in Bangladesh, he deemed this as a great opportunity to help those rural poor, primarily women, to empower themselves. Thus, in 1978, BRAC started its sericulture project and initiated the sericulture industry in Bangladesh.
Eventually, this project evolved into an enterprise when it established its own mulberry plantations and silkworm rearing farms in northern Bangladesh. The locations provide a temperate climate for silkworms which are sensitive to erratic weather. Currently BRAC Sericulture has 13 cocoon production centres and two silkworm rearing centres. BRAC purchases cocoons from the farmers at the cocoon production centres and with them produces silk yarn.
The early days
Initially, the sericulture project gave loans to farmers to lease land on mulberry plantations, where they could rear silkworms. It provided secured employment and timely payments for women in rural Bangladesh. As the farmers did not have access to any stable credit facility to be borrowed from outside resources, BRAC created a more reliable microfinance system. To support its sericulture project further, BRAC established another social enterprise called Aarong which primarily focused on textile production. Although the sericulture project initially used to directly supply Aarong with silk, this linkage has now ceased to exist. Furthermore, in spite of its good intentions, BRAC faced a number of challenges with this development programme, including the low productivity of mulberry trees, inability of farmers to pay back loans, marginal farmers taking additional loans from other landlords, and farmers using the land for purposes aside from the intended mulberry cultivation. Repayment problems persisted, and as a result, BRAC stopped administering loans to lease land on mulberry plantations.
Livelihood opportunities in the supply chain
Production of silk occurs in four distinct steps: cultivating mulberry trees, rearing silkworms in these trees, producing yarn from those silkworms and weaving the yarn to produce fabric. This process is carried out by marginal farmers cultivating mulberry, cocoon rearers, yarn reelers, and weavers. At BRAC Sericulture, it is mainly women who fill these positions, although the enterprise struggles to maintain a consistent workforce because it tends to lose a proportion of its workers to the seasonal fruit cultivation.
Synergies with the Ayesha Abed Foundation and Aarong
Today, BRAC Sericulture only produces silk yarn to sell to contracted weavers. These weavers work for the Ayesha Abed Foundation (AAF), which is under the supervision of Aarong. Employees of AAF sell completed silk fabrics to Aarong, creating an indirect linkage between BRAC Sericulture and Aarong.
Continuing the legacy of ensuring fair wages and fair prices in silk-farming
Because of its dedication in having a positive social impact, BRAC Sericulture does not operate in a normal profit-maximising manner. However, it does have a profit-making principle to some extent, in order to self-sustain and support BRAC’s development programmes. BRAC Sericulture strikes a balance between marketing silk at competitive prices while also ensuring a fair price for BRAC Sericulture workers to provide them with sufficient income. If these workers worked elsewhere in the sericulture industry, they have high chances of neither receiving fair wages nor fair prices for their silk.
BRAC Sericulture has recently identified the need to produce more value-added products. Traditionally, BRAC Sericulture has focused on the production of silk yarn. In August 2011, it began producing fabric and selling it at BRAC Kanon (one of BRAC’s green enterprises) for BDT 55 (USD 0.66) per kilogramme. BRAC Sericulture also has plans to increase its production and export silk fabrics. Right now, the enterprise is limited to hand looms, but there are plans to purchase mechanised looms to produce good quality silk at a faster rate. The enterprise is also considering silk garment production to be commercially retailed. Although BRAC Sericulture currently makes a modest surplus, these value-adding endeavours will hopefully bring greater returns which BRAC can reinvest into its development programmes.
Moreover, the health workers and health volunteers working at Shushastho (BRAC’s health centres all over Bangladesh) also recognised the great necessity for an assortment of medical kits which would facilitate safe births. As a response, BRAC initiated the production of the ‘Kollani Delivery Kits’ for rural women in 1999. They were similarly affordable, hygienic and bio-degradable.
Evolution of an enterprise
The production of the sanitary napkins and delivery kits was achieved by employing female members from BRAC’s targeting the ultra poor (TUP) programme, providing them with fair-wage employment in the manufacturing of sanitary products. Initially manufacturing started in one production house with 30 women from the TUP programme in the Kurigram district of Bangladesh. These products were not directly retailed to the target group, but rather were provided by the health workers and health volunteers, selling them for a small profit during their visits to households. Each health worker/volunteer is assigned 100 households in the villages that they serve. In order to distribute these sanitary products to a larger population across the country, production was increased and the enterprise was created in 2004.
Quality products at affordable prices
In order to ensure quality control, the production and expiry dates are always included on the packets. A packet of Nirapod Sanitary Napkins commercially retailed both in the rural and urban market since 2004, costs only BDT 50 (USD 0.64) or BDT 28 (USD 0.36) depending on size (large or small) and the Kollani Delivery Kit costs only BDT 40 (USD 0.52). The cost of these products is kept low by using carefully selected raw materials.
Livelihood opportunities for disadvantaged women in rural communities
Currently, 284 women and 2 men are working in the five production centres located in the Manikganj, Baniachang, Nilphamari, Gopalgonj and Kurigram districts of Bangladesh. Although still somewhat little-known in the urban market, the Nirapod Sanitary Napkins and Kollani Delivery Kits have been widely popular in the rural areas, and have also been commercially retailed in many hard-to-reach regions like Teknaf, Tetulia, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Download the latest factsheet here.
Salinity for the rural poor and sustainable livelihood for farmers
Due to a lack of health awareness and malnutrition, many people from rural communities in Bangladesh suffer from various mineral deficiencies like iodine deficiency, which can cause diseases such as goitre and prenatal ill-health. When BRAC Salt enterprise was initiated in 2001 in the Cox’s Bazaar district of Bangladesh, iodine deficiency was acute amongst the rural population across the country and BRAC ventured into producing iodised salt to help curb this problem. BRAC enterprises are mostly known as pioneers in many sectors throughout Bangladesh and BRAC Salt is no exception. Its entry into the iodised salt market inspired many entrepreneurs to produce iodised salt as well.
However, addressing iodine deficiency was not the only motivating factor for BRAC to start operating as a salt enterprise. There was a much deeper mission, one that would ensure sustainable development by encouraging local salt farmers to continue on their income generating paths, especially in view of the supply deficiency for raw salt in Bangladesh which had compelled the government to import salt from other countries. However, BRAC's position on this was that if import of salt was allowed, then two things may happen: Bangladesh's salt market would be externally controlled and local salt farmers may even lose their livelihood due to competition. With this in mind, BRAC started producing salt and eventually convinced the government that there is now less need for imported salt.
BRAC Salt not only supports the salt farmers but also its consumers, who almost exclusively belong to the underprivileged social groups from the rural northern regions of the country.
People precede profit
Although BRAC Salt has had a significant social impact, as an enterprise it has faced some considerable setbacks. Firstly, it became difficult for BRAC to compete within the salt market as it did not want to follow the competitive practices because it would jeopardise its social impact. Moreover, the natural grey salt that it produced also lacked the refinement demanded by the urban population. Therefore, BRAC Salt lacked demand and a steady profit from the urban market, which adversely affected its sustainability. The management even considered closing down the whole enterprise, as it was only a small-scale business and the surplus it made was too small for any further expansion plans. However, taking into consideration over the 120 workers who are dependent on this enterprise for their livelihood, the management decided to downsize, rather than shutting down the entire operation. The enterprise is currently focusing on increasing efficiency and introducing new products to the market.
BRAC Salt today
One of the latest products BRAC Salt introduced into the market is Minamix, a supplementary cattle feed. Researchers at BRAC’s cattle-related enterprises and Bangladesh Livestock Research Centre (BLRC) realised that there was a mineral deficiency in the cows reared by rural farmers, which led BRAC and BLRC to co-create Minamix. It is essentially a high mineral-based salt, containing essential components lacking in the cows. It can be mixed directly into cattle feed, helping farmers raise healthier cows that will produce a higher yield of milk and meat. The challenge now lies in reaching out to rural farmers to educate them about iodine deficiencies in their cows and introducing Minamix. The enterprise is hopeful that once the targeted market recognises the benefits of this innovative product, BRAC Salt will get the chance to revive itself and be established once more as an innovative leader in the salt market.