4 April 2022, Dhaka, Bangladesh – Farmers have celebrated the launch of 55 digital village centres with fairs throughout the country. Farmer producer organizations and their apex, the Sara Bangla Krishak Society (SBKS), established the digital centres with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture. The producer organizations were inspired by the government’s vision to build a ‘digital Bangladesh’, as well as FAO’s global 1 000 Digital Village Initiative.
In each digital village, a virtual call centre (VCC) collectively facilitates buying inputs for smallholder farmers and selling their produce. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 10 000 producers have benefitted, nearly half of whom have been women. SBKS leaders clearly stated that the initiative has reduced the risk of COVID-19 infection.
FAO has been supporting SBKS through the Missing Middle Initiative of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program to build strong rural institutions so that they can provide need-based agribusiness services to smallholder farmers.
Through the VCCs, approximately BDT 72.87 million (USD 851,455) of produce has been sold and BDT 11.93 million (USD 139,341) of agricultural inputs have been purchased.
Robert D. Simpson, FAO Representative in Bangladesh, said: ‘In line with the government’s Digital Bangladesh initiative, FAO’s Digital Village Initiative works to ensure that agricultural services reach smallholders, improving rural livelihoods through digital connectivity. FAO is committed to transforming agriculture through digitization.”
Service centre operator Rizia Khatun, from Bodorkhali village in Barguna, said: “Our villagers had to go to a faraway market to simply make a print of something or get information about farming or social safety nets. Having a digital village service centre means that important digital services are now available on our doorstep. In addition, the centres offer information and communication training to rural youth. This is a great asset for our community.”
In line with Bengali custom, all walks of life participated in the village fairs which celebrated the launch of the digital centres. The digital village service centres had a stall where the range of digital services available were displayed to visitors. Other participants – ranging from upazila agriculture, livestock and fisheries officers to local banks, telecom operators, mobile financial service providers, private nurseries and input companies, also had stalls to display their services and products.
The General-Secretary of SBKS, Obydul Haque, said: “We organized these fairs to introduce villagers to the services available at their digital village service centre – making them feel at home so that they are comfortable and confident to connect and use the information services from government, private sector, and banks.”
The fairs were inaugurated by upazila administrators in the presence of local government officials, extension agencies, and producer organization representatives. Local handicraft workers, potters, bamboo and cane artisans, and cottage food entrepreneurs came to sell their produce. Some Bengali traditional sports, folk songs and stage dramas were also organized. Participants shared how much they enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere.
A potter from Babuganj said: “As the market for plastic materials expands, we, the Pala community, who make our living through pottery are struggling. I shared this with the centre operator and they told me they can help improve our design and sell our goods more competitively using an online marketplace.”