Farming with Rahima Begum
Star Insight talks to yet another successful woman entrepreneur
Why do you consider yourself to be a successful micro-entrepreneur?
We come from Kolghesh, Sundarban, where poverty reigns. I got married to Ekramul Gazi from the same village, and making ends meet for the extended family was difficult. At the time my husband used to cultivate fish as well as work on land owned by others for money. We had children, and the difficulties kept rising. To afford two meals a day, I also had to work hard sometimes. I would sew quilts, catch fish and do other little jobs to earn a few and make our living conditions better.
After my sons grew a little older, I took out a loan of Tk. 3000 from Noabeki Gonomukhi Foundation to start crab farming. Slowly my business expanded. On the 20th of November 2000, I took out a loan of Tk. 30,000 and started my micro-entrepreneurship. Currently I own 4 acres of land through this business, where I have set up a crab farming project, where 13 people are employed and are able to afford proper meals through a planned and assured earning. From this business I have also bought a small daily shop and started a battery manufacturing factory. All this makes me a successful micro-entrepreneur.
How do you manage both the business and your family? Can you compare your situation to that of other women in the society who are not micro-entrepreneurs?
The truth is it was very difficult for me to initially manage both my business and my family particularly when some of my children were still young. Then my children started to grow older and my husband and my father in law helped me out a lot. I used to find it very difficult to do business because of my lack of education, but I had the support of everyone from my family. Now we all look after this business together. One of my sons has finished his BA and looks after the business. Initially I faced problems due to financial constraints as NGF started out by giving me loans in small amounts which increased gradually. I had to look for funding elsewhere. At first, some people envied me. But even before six months had passed, their attitudes changed. To me, my work was like my religion. Slowly, money began rolling in. I began to feel more independent. One day, these very people started to come to me for advice and guidance. Now almost everyone in the neighborhood seeks my advice on every matter. I am their darling.
What challenges do you have to face as a woman? How do you deal with them?
My residence is in a remote area. Besides that, I was married into a religious Muslim family. That is why my in-laws did not want me, the wife of the house, to step outside. But poverty made me take on this project. After a while I had to face a lot of different problems. My capital was low, it was difficult to grow the business. But my husband gave me a lot of support. Later, the other members of the family overcame their reluctance and held out a helping hand. Also, bookkeeping and naiveté about the market presented quite a challenge for me. But with the help of my husband and sons I was able to overcome those obstacles. Now, my husband helps me sell the crabs in the market. I am always busy with my project. This is how I managed to successfully tackle the challenges I faced.
How have others benefited from your efforts and what help does your family get from your project?
My efforts have provided employment for six of my family members. Along with them I have five full-time and eight seasonal employees who are my neighbors. Their earnings from this project help them support their families. The project also serves as a source of income for ten other people who are crab buyers and sellers, crab food sellers or distributors. Thus several people from my village and elsewhere have found work because of me.
Since I am from a poverty stricken family I was not able to educate my children properly. So, they could not find work. So, out of my six sons, five are directly involved in my efforts and thanks to their tireless work, the project is being run smoothly. Besides that, there is also the constant assistance of my husband. My children help me to buy and sell merchandise, transport it, supply food, move water, fill water, analyze the market etc.
What are your future plans with regard to your efforts?
I want to expand my efforts and after increasing my earnings, buy one or two cargo vehicles. Also I want to purchase some land for my project. Slowly I want to become a wholesale crab seller and earn higher profits by exporting overseas. I also want to create job opportunities for more people, especially for the widows and divorced women who live near me. I want to make these women independent by creating jobs for them.
Tell us why your project is an ideal one with examples.
My project is situated in the salty areas skirting the Sundarbans. Most of the disadvantaged people in this area fish in the sea or rivers or collect wood and honey from the Sundarbans to make a living. Besides, the area is good for fish and crab farming, this is why I started my crab farming project. Initially I took a 5000 taka loan from Gonomukhi and in the year 2000, I took a 30,000 taka loan to create my small enterprise. Slowly my project grew. Currently, thirteen people directly earn the money needed to support their households from my enterprise. Indirectly, hundreds of people are enjoy benefits of my efforts.
I was married at the age of 12.When my husband and I were spending our days in poverty, my only concern was how to increase our income. Our capital was also low, which is why we needed something that had low loss margins. At that point, my eldest son Shamim had an accident while driving a lorry and he returned home and started working at a local crab wholesale shop. He gained some experience and that shopkeeper motivated me to create my crab project. In the meantime viruses and other diseases were ravaging fish farming. Since my house and project was near the river and the water of the river was saltier I made an effort to get my crab project off the ground. An added benefit was that the loss margin was low in this business. This is because unlike bagda chingri, crabs do not die as much. It was not very difficult to obtain the necessary raw materials. In that situation, thinking about the welfare of all the members of my family, I decided to create a crab project. Abroad, the demand for crabs is ever growing. That is why prices are also increasing. Along with that, white fish that makes up the diet for crabs can be collected easily from the nearby fish farms. Heavy rain or storms do not really hurt crabs much. We buy small (K.S.-3) grade crabs from the market and we nurse and feed them in our project for 7-10 days. The price of these crabs is Taka 250 per kilogram. 10 days later I get (F-2) grade crabs from my project, which are worth about 500-550 taka a kilogram. The demand for this grade of crab is quite high in the market. It is worth mentioning that, after an investment of about taka 10,000 in food and other expenses on 100 kilos of (K.S.-3) grade raw material, if I get 80 kilos of (F-2) grade crabs then I can sell them on the market for taka 40-45 thousand. So, my profit each week is around taka 10,000. Also, it is very easy and cheap to obtain crabs, labor and raw materials. This is why I think that my crab project is an ideal project.
Tell us of the distribution of the crabs you produce.
Right now, my project is very close to the local wholesale market, Nawabenki; it is only one river crossing away. That is why I can supply my crabs to the wholesale market within 30 minutes. From there, my crabs are transported by lorry to Dhaka and exported abroad. Crabs are usually sold for cash.
What is the growth potential of your enterprise? How do your efforts benefit remote areas?
I want to make my enterprise or project larger. Right now my project is spread over two plots which have a total area of four bighas. In the future I want to buy or lease more land to help grow my enterprise and open a wholesale store and export my crabs to Dhaka or abroad by lorry. As a result of this, more people in the area will find employment and the financial picture of the area will be transformed. I feel that the benefits of my project reach out to remote areas. This is because the main source of income for 50% of the people of this area is the river or catching fish or crabs from the Sundarbans rivers. They can sell their crabs to my project at a fair rate. Besides, a lot of people have directly or indirectly benefited from my project.
Has your enterprise ever defaulted on its loan repayments?
My enterprise has never defaulted on paying back its loans.
Talk about the sustainability of your project.
Since I run my project after considering the environment, manpower, raw materials, supply etc, I find it to be sustainable. Also the demand for crabs abroad and prices have been increasing and I hope that the profitability of my project will also increase. The chance of incurring losses is also less, given the fact that minor storms and viruses do not lead crabs to die. Three batches of crabs can be nursed and exported a month. Food for the crabs can also be found easily and cheaply.
Have natural disasters affected your project? If so, how did you tackle them?
I have protected my project well. I have surrounded it with nets and bamboo barricades. Nature hasn't adversely affected my project much.
But in times of heavy rain, if too much water builds up, the salinity goes down and crabs may die as a result. This is why on days of heavy rain, I reduce the level of water and add the required amount of salt after measuring the salinity of the water.
Give your thoughts on whether your project is harming the environment.
Since the project is located on a riverbank away from any locale, generally the environment is not harmed too much. But sometimes if crabs die, they rot and pollute the water and can harm the environment. So whenever crabs die the dead crabs are buried underground and the polluted water is discharged into the river through a drain. Besides this, the project is run using modern technologies. This is why environmental pollution is minimized.
Speak about the accounting/ bookkeeping of your project.
My eldest son and I mostly carry out the bookkeeping of the project. There is a separate book for the purchase and sale of merchandise. Employee wages, the food for the crabs as well as the transportation costs are accounted for. It is quite easy to figure out the annual costs and earnings of the project.
Md. Nazmus Sakib and
Nazia Tariq Rahman
(R) thedailystar.net 2008