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SHOUT, The Daily Star and UNDP Bangladesh have partnered up to bring you stories of impactful start-ups. These enterprises—all aligned with a singular or multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals—are part of Youth Co:Lab, the largest youth social entrepreneurship movement in Asia and the Pacific, co-created by UNDP and Citi Foundation.
Agriculture and the environment. Closely related and at times complementary, these two sectors of the economy are at the heart of our lush, green country. While environmental issues make for a relatively new chapter, agriculture – as lifestyle and livelihood – is a very old book. And Krishi Shwapno is taking it to a new level altogether.
Krishi Shwapno is a blockchain-based agricultural technology platform and business where farmers are connected directly to their business to ensure fair price and safe food for consumers with food traceability, all the while creating micro entrepreneurs.
"I belong to a farmer's family and know my parents' pain since childhood. They don't get fair price, proper farming advice and real-time information. The traditional agricultural supply chain gives scope to fraudulent activities and unsafe food. We want farmers to take farming as a business rather than just a means of livelihood. These awakenings led us to start Krishi Shwapno in 2019," shares Sayed Zubaer Hasan, founder and CEO of the start-up.
Over 76 percent of Bangladesh's farmers work on small and marginal lands. They lose their fair share of earnings when they sell their produce to local middlemen. Krishi Shwapno provides a one-stop solution by using blockchain technology in a very transparent manner, with pre-harvest to post-harvest monitoring for better yields and fair prices.
Ideas and efforts to assist the grassroots population and inspiring them to be part of the economic environment warrant plaudits. In a very similar way another start-up, Crafts for Conservation, is helping the local indigenous communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
In extreme remote areas of Bandarban, there still exists pristine old-growth rainforests that are home to some of the rarest biodiversity of Bangladesh. However, due to population growth of the local forest-reliant communities, extreme poverty, unsustainable agricultural practices and lack of governance, the forests are slowly eroding away.
"We aim to provide a livelihood option that is environmentally-friendly and culturally-appropriate. The idea was generated after discovering that the indigenous women and children in this area are highly skilled master craftspeople, so we created a supply-chain to help market their beautiful products in urban areas where there is a high demand," explains Asif Ibne Yousuf, Chair of Crafts for Conservation.
The project partnered and received support from organizations like Jatra and Aranya, and later became its own business in 2019. Without the intervention of an environmentally-friendly livelihood option, conservation of the area will be extremely difficult, as most project-based conservation initiatives rely on donor funding which is often highly competitive, uncertain and has time constraints.
Crafts for Conservation initiative started as a project of Creative Conservation Alliance in 2015 to provide a viable environment-friendly and culturally-appropriate income generating solution for the forest reliant communities of Bandarban Hill Tracts.
Our next two start-ups, Garbageman and Biotech Bangladesh, are closely working in what can be called a revolutionary environmental movement in the country.
Launched in 2018, Garbageman is more than just a waste management company. Founder Fahim Uddin Shuvo says, "During my undergraduate education, I saw the lack of planning, coordination, and management in waste disposal methods and consequent urban environmental problems.
We introduced an efficient and scientific approach to the waste management system and convert waste into resources to reduce the usage of landfill. We work to improve the environment and the socio-economic status of waste-pickers simultaneously."
The initiative set out to collect on-source separated waste, both organic and inorganic since 2018. And in the last two years, it has gained considerable attention from people and organisations for its work. Along with ongoing online social media campaigns, clean-up drives, school campaigns and a webinar series cleverly named "Trash Talk", Shuvo plans to launch a recycling platform app in the future.
Biotech Bangladesh, on the other hand, is already recycling used cooking oil from the food industry into renewable biodiesel and glycerin.
Abdulla Al Hamid, founder and Managing Director, shares, "The government awarded us with an innovation fund in 2016 to turn our idea into reality. We propose the restaurants that we would recycle their used cooking oil. This way, we try to prevent food adulteration as well. We offer them a monetary amount for their waste as we profit by recycling this waste into biodiesel. Therefore, we try to encourage them financially as well."
Currently, Biotech produces 6 tons of biodiesel every month. By 2025, it looks to increase production capacity and supply chain of 1500 tons monthly.
The abovementioned start-ups are supported by UNDP Bangladesh and Youth Co:Lab, the largest youth social entrepreneurship movement in Asia and the Pacific co-created by UNDP and Citi Foundation, and aligned with multiple Sustainable Development Goals.