Bringing pride back in agriculture: Shoaibur’s Changemaker Journey

Shoaibur and his team are bolstering farmers' livelihoods and changing their peers’ mindset towards the vitality of agrarian life.
Source: Ashoka BD

Shoaibur grew up in a village where the predominant income-generating activity is agriculture. He observed farmers struggle with traditional farming methods, threatened by food insecurity. Determined to study innovating agricultural practice in university, he also discovered disinterest in students at his school to study agriculture. Instead of giving up, Shoaibur decided to address both student apathy and food insecurity through changemaking. Today, he encourages other agricultural students in his own community to collectively drive solutions for the issues they face in their community while changing mindsets towards the potential of their occupations and futures.

A question Shoaibur regularly asks himself is “If the problem I have recognized is going to be solved by someone in the future, why can’t I be that someone?”

Bangladesh is a predominately agrarian economy. Farming provides employment to over 63% of the population, while making up nearly 20% of the national GDP. Growing up in a small village in Bangladesh where farming is the norm, Shoaibur witnessed first-hand the struggle of farmers.

Between rapid environmental changes, droughts and dated farming practices, many farmers and their families battle food insecurity. “I have grown up in villages for that I have always been engaged with the farmers from where I identified the problems but had no knowledge to work out those problems honestly.”

Inspired to alleviate their fears, Shoaibur launched a social venture called Agri-Science Society while in university. His venture works closely with farmers to co-create solutions for innovative farming practices and host seminars on farm management to encourage sustainability in nearby farms.

However, Shoaibur’s changemaking journey didn't start when he launched Agri-Science. Instead, his journey started back to when he was 10 years old. When he was 10, Shoaibur would assist his father by cultivating crops on their land. His father had many clients, and constantly worried about not being able to fulfill demand for his harvest. However, when Shoaibur visited farms in another town and compared what he saw to his father's farm, he noticed other people were farming differently. When he started asking questions to these farmers, he learned that they were experiencing higher yields, more produce, and, perhaps most importantly, more money than him and his father.

Pondering this discovery, Shoaibur felt that farmers in his community were working extremely hard and spending most of their time in the fields, yet that didn't yield desired results. In addition, he noticed local farmers investing large sums of money to prevent the spread of diseases by spraying insecticides and pesticides, dumping an excess amount of chemical fertilizer to provide essential nutrients for plants. Conversely, these practices harmed the environment, and the farmers’ livelihoods, more than helped. However, farmers like Shoaibur's father felt as if these practices were their only affordable option.

After being accepted into Agricultural University at Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University (SAU), Shaoibur read about agriculture every chance he could. In May 2019 with a team of six other students, each eager thinkers and innovators, Shoaibur founded an agricultural organization named Agri-Science Society (AgSS).

Agri-Science Society partners with farmers to create sustainable solutions for today’s agricultural needs. The team kicked into action by asking farmers and students of agriculture about their ideas for improving local practices. Many gave energized answers with their bold ideas for change, but became dismayed when they thought about the lack of smartphone usage.

Shaoibur held onto this learning, hoping it would inform an idea in the near future. Instead, encouraged by their academics, the team arranged informative seminars about farm management, introducing new tools and techniques for farmers in their home communities. “At first, [farmers] did not take part in the seminars,” Shoaibur says, reminding himself of the difficulties early on in his venture in getting farmers in the door for a seminar.

To increase attendance of their first few session, the students brought in their teachers, experts in the field, to boost the team’s credibility. To the team's delight, farmers began attending the seminars and inviting others to join.

When thinking back to his time farming with his dad as a teenager, Shoaibur recalls being frustrated that people were not checking the weather online. “They had no idea whether it was going to rain tomorrow and that they would not be able to collect their grains.”

Attempting to outsmart the weather, the team developed a smart app and an online learning platform, which aspires to bridge agriculture and hand-held technology. They aspire for the app to include an agri-dictionary for agriculture students and community members to learn more about the trade. On the app, they plan to publish stories about rural life, uplifting the personal journeys of their neighbors and neighborhood.

In less than a year, the Agri-Science team conducted 12 successful workshops, motivating farmers and other young people studying agriculture to shift their perspective toward the importance of sustainable agriculture and rural development. And by exciting the next generation of farmers, the team of ambitious students hopes to reverse the trend of urban-to-rural migration and build more vibrant rural communities.

When thinking about the skills of him and his team, Shoaibur says “I think empathy is the most important thing for changemaking. When we start doing something, if we don’t think about the problem, its reasons, and its consequences, if we don’t visualize it, then we would not be able to relate to the problem.”

This empathy, Shoaibur believes, enables young people to become more self-aware and committed to encouraging others to be more aware, too. These experiences while young shaped him into the changemaker he is today, enabling him to exude the true meaning of leading young while gaining the confidence and mindset of a movement builder.

Although Agri-Science focuses its work primarily in the Feni district of Bangladesh, over the next few years Shoaibur aims to make agriculture aspirational once again to young people across his country. By revolutionizing the farming industry through student voices, Shoaibur and his team hope to advance Bangladesh’s agricultural sector to ensure food and job security as well as environmental protection for people and the planet.

This story was written by Vedha Bandaru.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.