Increasing Food Security in Bangladesh

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SEATTLE — Despite impressive gains in recent years, many concerns remain regarding Bangladesh’s food security. In October 2016, the World Food Programme (WFP) found that one in three children are still affected by stunted growth and that climate change threatens food security. However, efforts are being made to improve food security in Bangladesh.

Farming Assistance from ActionAid

Bangladesh’s soaring temperatures often cause farmers’ chickens to die before they can be sold. In April 2016, the organization ActionAid helped Bangladesh’s women farmers find new ways of preserving the chickens. The organization enlisted the help of local scientists to breed a “climate-resilient chicken” that tolerates heat better than an ordinary one.

“Having these chickens has meant I can feed my children properly and make more money,” said Bulbuli, a Bangladeshi farmer. Bulbuli added that having a climate-resilient chicken helps her and other farmers avoid debt risks. Being able to sell chickens helps Bangladesh farmers avoid taking out loans for additional income.

Helen Keller International Helping Women Farmers

Helen Keller International (HKI) has aided food security in Bangladesh since the 1990s. Through HKI’s Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program, Bangladesh’s women farmers establish yearly gardens to grow diverse varieties of fruits and vegetables for their families. HKI has also trained the farmers to raise poultry and discuss behaviors that contribute to better nutrition for themselves and their children.

“We know the program is increasing household access to and consumption of nutrient-rich foods, and allows for more interesting and varied diets,” said Jennifer Nielsen, HKI’s senior nutrition advisor. However, there was uncertainty in the program on how to improve child growth and health. In June 2016, Heidelberg University researchers made efforts to fill this gap via the Food and Agricultural Approaches to Reducing Malnutrition (FAARM) study.

Research Evaluating the EHFP Program

The researchers are evaluating the EHFP program in Bangladesh’s Habiganj district of the Sylhet Division. The FAARM study includes 2,600 women in 96 Bangladesh communities. Women chosen randomly from 48 communities receive HKI’s support to create productive gardens, raise chickens and adopt better dietary practices.

Following the study’s completion in 2019, the researchers will compare whether the farmers’ children less than three years old show improved health and growth. The children will be evaluated based on their growth in comparison to the children of 48 other villages where farmers did not participate in the study.

However, the researchers still conclude that HKI’s program is making a difference for food security in Bangladesh. EHFP has helped Bangladesh’s women farmers gain greater respect in their households because their gardens have become more prolific. “Their new skills give them greater self-confidence,” said HKI’s senior nutrition advisor.

Production of New Rice Varieties

In July 2017, the Bangladesh government revealed that 13 new rice varieties were helping the country’s agricultural sector. The rice is made via nuclear techniques and has helped Bangladesh farmers substantially increase rice production in the last few decades. “Plant mutation breeding” are some of the techniques used for producing the new varieties.

One of the new varieties, Binadhan-7, has become a popular rice variety in northern Bangladesh. “I have more rice for my family, and I now earn almost double with the rice and mustard seed I grow compared to before,” said Suruj Ali, one of the farmers using Binadhan-7 for rice production. Varieties like Binadhan-7 have helped stabilize food security in Bangladesh, shifting the country from an importer to exporter of rice.

Bangladesh’s National Plan of Action on Nutrition

On August 14, 2017, the Bangladesh National Nutrition Council and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the 2nd National Plan of Action on Nutrition (NPAN). The NPAN’s goal is to improve all Bangladesh citizens’ nutritional status. NPAN will particularly focus on Bangladeshi children, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

“The key stakeholders were involved in the development of the plan,” said Dr. Iftekhar Rashid, a core committee member for the NPAN’s finalization. The NPAN comprises direct actions in an array of sectors including agriculture, fisheries and livestock. The NPAN is also a step toward the country’s commitment to sustainable nutrition and other development goals toward food security in Bangladesh.

Food Security for Bangladesh’s Flood Victims

In mid-August 2017, heavy monsoon rains and landslides devastated residents of Bangladesh and other neighboring territories. On August 25, 2017, the WFP completed a week-long distribution of emergency food supplies to more than 200,000 Bangladeshi flood victims. The WFP also supplied 3.75 kilograms of biscuits to families who lost their homes.

The WFP reported that Bangladesh was at risk of “devastating hunger” due to the destroyed crops. “People need food right now, and the full impact on longer-term food security threatens to be devastating,” added the WFP. The military helped the WFP by using Air Force helicopters to drop packets of food, water and medicines to flood victims camping on higher ground.

Many entities are working to increase food security in Bangladesh. Farmers are able to produce more rice for their families via new agricultural techniques. Bangladesh’s government is also working to ensure food security for all of the country’s citizens in the coming years. Other efforts to improve Bangladesh’s food security will continue to be made.

– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

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