Char dwellers livelihoods typically comprise a diverse set of income-generating activities including both farm and non-farm sources. The vegetable value chains in the Char lands are, however, severely constrained by a small scale production, lack of capital, quality seeds and other inputs, the absence of storage facilities, poor transportation infrastructure and significant distance to urban markets. To overcome these situations women need group formation along with institutional supports and active participation for innovative institutional mechanisms and business model through an organized body of them to enable small scale producers and capture market opportunities. The establishment of farmer organizations and other forms of institutional supports can considerably help to improve rural livelihoods in the Char lands particularly for women livelihoods. The research will contribute to identifying the factors that facilitate women farmers’ participation in lucrative value chain activities by forming in formal vegetable or other char product-marketing group.
Riverine islands formed by fluvial deposits (chars) constitute important settlement areas in Bangladesh. Despite their fertile soils, livelihoods on these islands are generally characterized as insecure and uncertain (e.g., Lahiri-Dutt 2004; Rahman, Davis 2005; Islam 2010). Though the charlands hold potentiality for a number of economic sectors (i.e.livestock rearing, agriculture, handicrafts etc), but geographical isolation, absence of basic and economic services and effects of climatic shocks (i.e. floods, drought) make them poor and vulnerable and lead to further resource degradation and socio-economic differentiation (Chowdhury, 2003, Bahadur KC, 2011). Among other things, occasional flooding in the rainy season increases the risk of crop damage, constant erosion of soil causes vulnerability in reference to loss of cultivated land and homesteads leading to a need for repeated household relocations, and almost regular flooding causes further deterioration to poor infrastructure and a lack of social services that largely excludes char land inhabitants from the benefits of mainland Bangladeshi society. To solve these problems and to identify best alternative for achieving socio-economic development, it is inevitable to identify the relationship of socio-economic and biophysical condition in the different spatial grades of an area. Because location-based approach to solving problems can be tested for future recommendations with the combination of local knowledge and scientific expertise (Bahadur KC, 2011, Agrawal 2001, Pretty 2003). Growth and development of any country largely depends on womens’ socio-economic conditions. Women of rural areas participate in agricultural activities much more than what study reveals. Lahiri-Dutt (2004) stated that rural households on the Char lands face a burdensome life characterized by heavy physical work, where women carry a great share of this burden. As in many other rural areas of the tropics, women perform all the household chores including water and fuel collection, preparation of meals, rearing of animals, childcare and washing-cleaning (Lahiri-Dutt 2004). Though women play a crucial role as a major part (producers and workers) of agricultural development but are often excluded from the gainful part of agricultural value chain. Where value chain, which have no concrete reality, is a framework for trying to realize how the world works and a series of activities that participate to bring a product or service from it conception to its end (Kaplinsky and Morris 2001). Women in agricultural value chain (both traditional and modern) are not given equal opportunities to employment. Even they face many troubles than men in terms of assets, finance, education, information and technology, cultural and legal discrimination that minimize the chances to get involve in markets. Women and female-headed households in particular, are generally marginalized both within the household and within society (Samanta, Lahiri-Dutt 2005, 2007). To overcome these situations women need collective actions and active participation for innovative institutional mechanisms and business model through a organized body of them to enable small scale producers and capture market opportunities. Livelihoods typically comprise a diverse set of income-generating activities, such as farming, livestock rearing, fishing, petty trading and farm and non-farm wage labor. The cultivation of vegetables is a common livelihood activity in the Char lands, which is particularly important for women (Hasan, Sultana 2011). The sand bar cropping technology promoted by an NGO, Practical Action Bangladesh, has opened up further opportunities of growing pumpkins as an additional farm income source. The development of high-value agricultural practices and local value chains, therefore, has the potential to significantly improve the livelihoods of Char land dwellers. Yet, currently there exist only few accounts of successful value chain development projects in the Char lands. For example, Raswant et al. (2010) report a successful dairy value chain development project. Experiments by the Rural Development Academy (RDA), Bogra, with contract growing of milk and supply of animal dung for biogas production indicate initial success, but the sustainability needs empirical examination. Based on practical experience, of research and development organizations (i.e., ODI, IDRC, DISS), which are working across Africa and Asia for past decade, have been developing language and approach for rural poor to upgrade their position in viable value chains. Where upgrading is a process to improve their competitiveness and move into higher value chain activities through acquiring the technological, institutional and market capabilities. The establishment of farmer organizations and other forms of collective action can considerably help to improve rural livelihoods in the Charlands (particularly for women livelihoods). Through increasing linkages of social networks, augment farmers’ bargaining power vis?a?vis buyers, improving their access to farm inputs and assisting with the provision of technical knowledge and marketing services, collective action can help to improve agricultural value chains (e.g., Pyburn et al. 2010). There currently exist some examples of farmer cooperative associations in the Charlands, which are aimed at improving farmers’ livelihoods (Rahman, Davis 2005). However, women typically do not benefit much from these rural organizations and cooperatives as they often tend to be male?dominated and not oriented towards the particular needs of women (Mehra, Rojas 2008). The other issues include the alternative forms of community?based organizations, structure and conduct of contracts, space for women to be integrated with the mainstream value chain, impact of women integration on household food security, and types of interventions needed to improve women’s participation in the production as well as value chain development. There are many success stories of farmer organizations leading to active and effective farmer participation in value chains (Hellin, Higman 2003), one of the better known is the milk industry in India. Indian households, who have one or two milk animals, have produced more than 70 percent of milk and they form part (shape branch) of a nationwide network of dairy cooperatives (FAO, 2004). Collective action, especially farmers, is considered for a while as a surrogate for reliance on profitable or civic delivery of pre- and postharvest services. Within a liberalized marketing environment, farmers’ collective action is most likely to be a complement to commercial or public delivery of pre- and postharvest services, minimizing the operational cost faced by outer service providers in availing scattered smallholders to the position where service provision becomes viable. Smallholder cooperatives can play a great role in the long-term viability of smallholder farmers in rapidly modernizing value chains. It is this background that the present research is proposed. The purpose of this research is to investigate how farmers groups are organized and contribute to improve women participation and their household livelihoods in the Charlands, thereby increasing the empirical understanding of collective action in value chain development in an agro- ecologically disadvantaged settings of a densely populated developing country.