“Our main agenda is to empower the farmers of Bangladesh,” said Awal. “The only way we can alleviate poverty is at the grassroots, helping farmers help themselves”.
Lal Teer Seed Ltd. wants to make sure Bangladesh’s population of 165 million is sufficiently fed. It is no small task for this socially-attuned family enterprise, but they welcome the challenge. They see giving back to this mostly rural nation as simply part of their DNA. The country has fostered Lal Teer’s ability to grow and expand such that it is the largest seed company in the nation.
One of Lal Teer’s initiatives has been in the area of women’s empowerment. By and large, Bangladeshi women fulfill traditional roles as housewives and child caretakers. What if, the Lal Teer leadership asked a decade ago, we could provide seeds such that each woman could grow sufficient plants around their homes to feed families and barter with neighbors?
The program was launched, and success has been marked by healthier lives, educational opportunities, and more inclusion of women in farming activities. “The women become small stakeholders,” said Tajwar Awal, a technical director, and business development officer who has been active in the company’s corporate social activism activities. “They can even provide the family money by selling the product at the market.”
The seeds are distributed two ways—either a few seeds in mini packets for family use or multiple seeds of the same variety in a larger packet for selling vegetables at the market. “We are still trying to assess the total impact,” said Awal, the youngest son of the founder, Abdul Awal Mintoo, an entrepreneurial and agriculture visionary. “We know that it has empowered women to become more prominent in society.”
Lal Teer gets the word out about advances in its seeds and overall best practice farming through various extension programs. The company’s outreach to women was helped along by piggy-backing with a previous USAID project called “Info Lady” in which specially-trained women would go into rural areas on bicycles. They would advise other village women on numerous health initiatives, even hooking them up with doctors by email or telephone.
“We began using that platform with our seed distribution outreach to women,” said Awal. “We gave them new training, new bicycles, and go house-to-house teaching basic crop development.
“Our vice-chairman, my mother Nasreen Awal, is president of the Women Entrepreneurship Association of Bangladesh, and she has been extremely helpful in getting more women involved,” said Awal.
While being one of the more successful companies in Bangladesh, Lal Teer has also had a leg up from a global program called Securing Water for Food, an effort backed by USAID, and the governments of Sweden, South Africa, and The Netherlands. Lal Teer entered a rigorous competition to be accepted into the program whereby it receives grant funding and technical assistance on how to be more efficient in agriculture and business.
“Our main agenda is to empower the farmers of Bangladesh,” said Awal. “The only way we can alleviate poverty is at the grassroots, helping farmers help themselves,” he said. Awal added that Lal Teer doesn’t simply look at the bottom line. “We’re good business people, but we don’t just look at making a profit,” he said.” We also consider the social aspect. Fighting for our country is our first priority.
This means giving farmers the tools—in this case, seeds—to fight salinity, pests, and too much water, in growing healthy crops so farmers can afford to farm and not flock to urban areas.
USAID, Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and the Governments of The Netherlands and South Africa invested $34 million in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.
This story was developed through the SWFF Social Impact Storytelling Initiative which was established to document innovator journeys and social impact as they work to improve the way water is being used for agriculture.