For as long as she can remember, Anita Rai Maguranguna has raised cows, chickens and roosters, and her husband has worked as a fisherman. And, for six months of the year, when the scorched earth of their home in Bangladesh is regularly flooded by monsoonal rain, Anita Rai has worked in the rice paddies, too. But it wasn’t enough.
“The extra money I could earn from the paddies helped. But, we generally had a hungry season the other six months of the year, and those times were filled with hardship and struggle,” she recalls.
That all changed with support from the Rural Enterprise for Alleviating Poverty II (REAP II) program. Through the program, Anita Rai and other rural Bangladeshis have found new ways to diversify their livelihoods as smallholder farmers. With the help of the program, they have produced enough to eat, connected with reliable markets to sell their products, are less vulnerable to natural disaster and other shocks, and have generally improved their overall economic situation.
REAP II officially operated in Bangladesh from 2012-2015 as a program funded through a USDA Food for Progress Award. Winrock International led the program and Land O’Lakes International Development provided tools, knowledge and on-the-ground support to help farmers like Anita Rai learn how to diversify the types of things they farmed and increase food production. The legacy is lasting.
For Anita Rai, it turns out that sustainably supporting her family of six meant investing differently in a somewhat unexpected livestock—her goats.
A goat investment
Anita Rai has always raised cattle. The process is time consuming and cost-intensive.
“It takes more than three years to get a bull big enough to sell and it requires a huge investment,” she says.
Each bull Anita Rai sells earns her the equivalent of $378. Production costs, mostly from animal feed, range from $250-315 per animal. The profit alone from her cattle is not enough to put food on her family’s table. And, what if something happened to one of her only cows, or times got so tough she had to sell them for quick cash?
Through REAP II, Anita Rai was encouraged to look holistically at her farming assets and think differently about how to invest her time and energy. It was time to diversify. For some farmers in the program, diversification meant investing differently in their aquaculture, for some dairy and, for some, like Anita Rai, it was goat rearing. Investing in multiple income streams is one way to survive natural disaster, disease or other challenges that hit small-scale farmers, which could otherwise threaten to totally wipe out all their productive assets and potential for earning income.
Through the program, Anita Rai received meaningful training on how to better care for the goats she already had and think of them as another way to earn money for her family—instead of as a ‘nuisance’ animal that simply munched on trash. Anita’s training included things like learning how to build raised goat structures to help fend off worms, and with them, disease. She also learned how to appropriately feed and fatten the goats to prepare them for sale.
“Goat rearing is far less cost-intensive, and I can sell a mature goat after less than two years of raising it, earning between $63-75 per goat, and sometimes even more,” she says.
Her goats grow to a reasonable size by eating available grass and monsoon rains allow Anita Rai to improve her practices further by cultivating grazing grass—simple Napier grass—for the goats to eat.
Anita Rai now has two goats and nine kids. Through this process, she was also connected to a goat-rearing group with 40 other members. By banding together, they are able to access reliable and more profitable markets and fetch a better market prices.
Sustaining a family of six
Raising goats has helped Anita Rai and her family shorten the hungry season down to only three months, and better weather unexpected shocks.
“While my goal is to raise each goat to maturity, I can sell one or two in an emergency. With limited cattle, selling one of my cows would really hamper my future potential for economic productivity,” she says.
While she still has two cows and works in the paddies when she can, Anita got out of the chicken and rooster business altogether once she started raising goats. She’s also making better use of all the goats’ outputs.
“I learned how to collect the goat manure and use it as a natural fertilizer in my paddy fields, which has been very beneficial,” she says. Collecting that manure is much easier now that she has a raised goat structure and pens them in at night.
For a woman who regularly struggled to feed her family throughout the year, she is amazed by the significant improvement in her livelihood and how she is now able to plan for the future.
“I never saved money before, but from goat rearing, I actually saved $126—enough to purchase a small plot of land,” she says.
It may not sound like much, but $126 is a significant amount in a country where the average per capita income is only about $1,000.
Anita plans to use her new land to plant trees that will grow alongside her 5-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. Ultimately she hopes to sell the full-grown trees to provide the school fees and other critical needs that will allow her children to move beyond the fifth grade education she received, and towards a better life.