Rezaul Karim Siddique
Fellow Since 1993
This profile was prepared when Rezaul Karim Siddique was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
Formerly an agricultural journalist on a television program, Rezaul Karim Siddique is now helping to introduce new hybrid cattle breeds to Bangladesh. Through livestock farming, Rezaul provides poor rural families with a means of supplementing income and a positive avenue of self-employment for youth.
The New Idea
Rezaul Karim Siddique sees the rearing of hybrid cattle as an underdeveloped but potentially important method of bringing economic self-reliance to landless farmers, providing jobs for unemployed youth, and decreasing the high infant and child mortality rates caused by malnutrition.The majority of rural Bangladeshis do not have access to arable land. Given the scarcity of arable land, cattle rearing provides an alternative form of subsistence for poor families. In their spare time after agricultural cultivation, family members can raise and rear one or two hybrid cows or goats. The benefits are numerous; the children receive adequate nourishment and the parents can sell the milk and milk products. By helping introduce hybrid cattle and giving practical demonstrations of how a poor family can care for them, Rezaul has put cattle and goat farming within the reach of most Bangladeshi families. These breeds are less susceptible to disease than other breeds being used and require less food to grow and thrive.On a larger scale, Rezaul's work to encourage cattle raising will increase local supplies of protein rich dairy products and meat and reduce Bangladesh's expenditures on imported powdered milk and meats.
In Bangladesh, 67 percent of children under five years of age suffer from malnutrition. This statistic is aggravated by the scarcity of milk. Malnutrition is the prime cause of the country's high child mortality rate and low adult life expectency level.Cattle are extremely important in daily rural life. They are used for cultivating land, as village transport, and as major sources of fertilizer and domestic fuel. However, cattle are underutilized as a food source. At present there are 23.4 million cattle and buffaloes and 26.4 million goats and sheep in Bangladesh. While annual per head demands for meat and milk respectively are 43.8 kg and 87.6 kg, the production per head of meat and milk is 3.95 kg and 12 kg respectively. To compensate for the insufficient supply, Bangladesh imports large quantities of powdered milk. Livestock commonly seen in Bangladesh are not generally of a high-quality breed. A hybrid breed cow could give seven to 27 liters of milk per day as compared to the common breed that gives one to two liters per day. At present, only eleven percent of total livestock are of hybrid breed. Most farmers do not possess the basic knowledge to undertake cattle rearing. Government training efforts have been half-hearted at best, and the farmers do not have access to other sources of technical assistance in this field. Few private organizations provide practical, accessible help to farmers or marginal groups. Thus, even while 7.2 million families in Bangladesh are involved in cattle rearing, few are able to make a profit and most consider it a highly risky endeavor. The cost of the initial investment-$300 for a single cow (almost twice the average annual income of Bangladeshis)-bars most people, let alone the landless, from getting started. Farmers are also doubtful of the feasibility of breeding hybrid cattle, since they require a balanced diet and special care.
Rezaul began his work in 1987, when he organized a small group of enthusiastic youths and farmers to rear hybrid cattle. Their success made him confident that his approach could be replicated and improve the situation of rural people across the country. In the course of this early prototype development he also learned that he could actively involve marginalized groups, notably unemployed youth, women, and farmers with very little land. Involving these groups added powerful energy to the idea.Rezaul and those he is training work directly with potential cattle rearers, advising them on appropriate technology and procedure. Most important, he helps them learn how to plan their livestock venture economically. For instance, some farmers may not have the large amount of money needed to buy a cow but can afford the small price of a goat. As the goat gives birth to kids, the kids can be sold for three or four times the initial investment. In this way, the farmer can afford a cow within a year, all the while improving the family's nutrition with the goat's milk.Rezaul believes that it is crucial that people be informed of the resources available to them. There are government-funded artificial insemination centers, nonprofit animal hospitals, and vaccination production centers at the sub-district level. Farmers are also trained in hybrid cattle breeding. Balanced diets are ensured by growing grass in the boundaries of grain fields or the banks of ponds.The initial program has since spread to Sirajganj and Siddirganj districts. Rezaul has collaborated with business groups to give talks and training courses on livestock breeding as an agribusiness. He has gained credibility with the government's Livestock Department, Livestock Research Institute and the Central Dairy Farm who assist him in his efforts by providing information, technology, training etc. In the field he is assisted by local citizen groups.
Rezaul is a self-taught agriculturist and livestock rearer. He received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Khulna Azam Business Institute in 1982. Since 1983, he has been a regular organizer for the popular TV show "Mati-O-Manush" (Farm and Farmers). In the course of preparing these programs, he gradually became convinced that cattle-rearing, properly adapted, was a major unexploited opportunity for Bangladesh. In his own words, "In 1984, I had presented a successful story of a widow named Saleha Bibi, who was about 50 years old. She was not so well off but was able to support her family. Her two cross-breed cows produced ten liters of milk per day - sufficient for her family of five. This successful story inspired me and, after a period of three years, I started a program in the Savar area on livestock farming. Saleha Bibi is no more. She died in 1987 and her cows were destroyed during the devastating flood in 1988. But this widow is still an inspiration to me." Rezaul has written numerous articles on environmental issues, public health, socioeconomic policy, and other topics for various newspapers and periodicals. His experience, skill, and contacts in the media help him gain the broad audience he needs. His years of interviewing both grassroots farmers and experts gives him the ability to communicate sympathetically and effectively with both these key groups.In 1987, he joined Savar College as a teacher and began to involve the students and community in his cattle rearing project. He has gradually refined his methods and now he feels he has found a reliable approach that he can spread widely and quickly.