Bangladesh has made great strides in expanding its power distribution network, but only 60 percent of the country has access to electricity and less than one third of households in rural areas are connected to the grid. Many of these areas are thus beyond the reach of traditional media like television or radio, so reaching people living in rural Bangladesh with basic information about health and nutrition is a challenge.
In order to reach these communities with key information about improving family nutrition, four Feed the Future implementing partners are working together to carry out a mobile media campaign to improve nutrition in remote villages across southern Bangladesh. Using portable large screen video messages along with interactive demonstrations and quiz games, these Feed the Future projects are educating rural families on proper nutrition and hygiene, as well as teaching them how to grow homestead gardens and improve the yield of fish, such as tilapia, that are raised in household ponds.
Members of the media outreach team travel to secluded areas by automobile and boats to share information through interactive sessions in villages. They teach families a variety of new practices, from using low-cost, hands-free “tippy tap” devices to wash their hands, to using higher quality fingerlings (young fish) to cultivate tilapia. The outreach teams also educate villagers about the importance of proper nutrition for pregnant women, exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age and complementary feeding techniques to help small children grow up to be healthy adults.
So far, the “media dark” campaign – so named because it promotes media in the “dark” parts of the country without electricity – has reached more than half a million individuals in 1,500 villages. Bangladesh print and electronic media have also taken interest in this innovative approach, attending several village outreach events and providing extensive coverage of the program.
Over a three-year period, this rural social and behavior change communications campaign will conduct 8,600 shows in villages that are either fully or partially unconnected to electricity.
By working together and combining resources, Feed the Future partners are harnessing their expertise to achieve a common goal and provide critical information to help some of the most vulnerable people in Bangladesh have a chance to lead healthy and productive lives.
With funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development under the Feed the Future initiative, this media campaign is implemented by SHIKHA through the combined efforts of the Aquaculture for Income & Nutrition, Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), and CIP-Horticulture projects in Bangladesh.
Since 1985, the United States has provided voluntary technical assistance to farmers, farm groups and agribusinesses in developing countries as part of the Farmer-to-Farmer program, which promotes sustainable improvements in food security and agricultural processing, production and marketing. More than 16,000 volunteer assignments – completed by U.S. farmers and other technical experts from all 50 states – have benefited approximately one million farming families in over 110 countries, representing over $31 million worth of volunteer time contributions to development in the last five-year program alone.
Today, as part of the Feed the Future initiative, the Farmer-to-Farmer program is continuing to leverage the expertise of volunteers from U.S. farms, land grant universities, cooperatives, private agribusiness firms and nonprofit farm organizations to respond to the local needs of host country farmers and organizations. Part of this effort includes supporting youth and university students, building their capacity to advance agriculture and food security in their home countries.
In Bangladesh, experienced U.S. volunteers have worked with a Bangladeshi NGO, the Center for Mass Education in Science (CMES), to build the skills of 137 youth trainers and students, introducing technical information and improved management practices to enhance poultry and dairy production, small ruminant animal husbandry, mushroom production and integrated pest management for horticulture production. By implementing Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer recommendations, CMES has been able to expand its operations and training capacity, increasing the number of demonstration farms it uses to teach young people about poultry production and attracting greater numbers of students. CMES has also adapted its integrated pest management curriculum to include environmentally friendly practices such as compost and eco-friendly pesticides.
“Farmer-to-Farmer’s volunteer technical assistance created wider opportunities and livelihood options for our students and farmers,” says Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim, CMES executive director.
Volunteers also have the flexibility to link up with existing agriculture and food security programs, which is why Farmer-to-Farmer in Guinea is working with another U.S. Agency for International Development program on agricultural education and market improvement.
At Guinea’s only dedicated agriculture university, Institut Supérieur Agronomique Valéry Giscard d’Estaing de Faranah (ISAVF), the two programs are supporting students through a range of curriculum improvements, experiential learning opportunities and public-private partnerships. Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have used their expertise to train ISAVF faculty and to support university students in leveraging their education to pursue technology development and further agricultural learning and certification opportunities. In addition, an institutional assessment supported by volunteers resulted in the improvement of an experimental plot at the university, which has since supported 33 agronomic field trials on crops including corn, rice, cowpea and soybeans.
Maggie Morse is a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer who traveled to Boyacá, Colombia during the summer of 2014 to support a young entrepreneur program run by the Government of Colombia’s National Learning Service. The program partners with local universities to increase food security and mitigate migration from rural communities to urban centers by stimulating job growth through grants for small agricultural enterprises. Young entrepreneurs are matched with advisors who assist them in creating a business plan, implementing basic accounting and record-keeping, and developing other critical business skills.
But advisors in the young entrepreneur program often lack technical knowledge to help improve the quantity and quality of agricultural production. That’s why Maggie’s expertise in value addition, improved nutrition, livestock management and agritourism were such an asset to the program.
Maggie’s main assignment was to assist señora Baez in Piapa, Colombia in the production of the southern highbush Biloxi blueberry, a high-quality variety perfect for Colombia’s tropical climate, but which had never been locally produced. Señora Baez’s experimental blueberry farm is currently in its second year of production. Maggie conducted trainings on partial shade requirements for growing Biloxi blueberries, as well as proper fertilization, pruning, pest management and disease control techniques to improve production. Over 30 local instructors, advisors and farmers interested in learning more about the crop and disseminating the information to young entrepreneurs in the community attended her training sessions.
“The classes were filled with instructors with marvelous ideas about agri-tourism and value-added products for potential enterprises. Their questions aimed to turn information into material relevant to their students,” Maggie says. “As a result of this assignment, a new generation of farmers will hopefully be able to develop businesses within their rural communities instead of fleeing to the big cities in pursuit of better jobs and income.”
Learn more about how to volunteer with the Farmer-to-Farmer program.
In Bangladesh, smallholder farmers are facing more extreme weather shocks and depleted soil, which can lead to devastating crop losses and reduced agricultural productivity. But with newly developed stress-tolerant rice varieties, rural poor farm households have been able to adapt to these new realities and overcome some of the challenges to rice production.
Stress-tolerant rice varieties are part of Feed the Future’s broader work in Bangladesh to introduce game-changing agricultural technologies to increasing numbers of smallholder farmers and help them diversify into higher-value, nutrient-dense commodities such as horticulture and fish. But rice remains the country’s most important staple crop, and targeted investments in that sector are helping Bangladesh approach self-sufficiency in rice, a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries.
In 2013, more than 300,000 farmers grew high-yielding rice varieties that were specially bred to help overcome climate-related challenges such as flooding, drought and increasing soil salinity. Compared to traditional rice farming, using stress-tolerant rice varieties is helping smallholders reap higher yields and incomes, and the new varieties are gaining momentum as more and more farmers adopt them.
One of these farmers is Rupai Begum, a widow and agricultural day laborer who cultivates rice on a small homestead farm. In the last few years, Begum’s rice harvest was suffering due to severe drought. The decreased rainfall also meant higher production costs, as Begum had to irrigate her land to reduce water stress, which made her crops more vulnerable to pests.
A local NGO supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Feed the Future helped Begum learn about and access two new rice varieties – one of them drought-tolerant and the other short duration (i.e. fast-growing) – and she immediately saw an opportunity to reverse her declining yields. She was surprised at how much more quickly the short duration rice grew on her land, requiring only 115 days to mature compared to the minimum 150 days for traditional varieties, leaving less opportunity for pests to cause crop losses. Begum harvested this new rice crop while most other rice fields in her village had just started flowering, leaving her extra time to cultivate a winter crop for additional income.
Aminur Rahman is another farmer who has benefitted from improved rice varieties. In his low-lying village, flash floods damage rice crops almost every year, leaving people at great risk of food insecurity. Before a Feed the Future program helped him access improved rice seeds, Rahman couldn’t grow enough on his less than half a hectare of land to feed his five family members, and he struggled to pay school fees for his children.
With new short duration rice seeds, however, Rahman was able to grow rice in a shorter amount of time, leaving him less vulnerable to frequent overflows from the local river. He tripled the amount of rice he could harvest in a calendar year by using varieties that mature in about 90 days. Now, Rahman has increased both his income and his family’s food security, and other farmers in his village are receiving training on how to use these new seed varieties.
Innovations like these are one of the reasons Bangladesh is seeing such transformative results in agriculture and food security. Despite increasingly variable climatic conditions, Bangladeshi farmers supported under Feed the Future are seeing greater rice production through the use of new seed and fertilizer technologies, leading to up to 20 percent increases in rice yields and raising farmer incomes from an average of $426 per hectare in 2012 to $587 per hectare in 2013. As these technologies are scaled up, they are helping increasing numbers of vulnerable families become climate-resilient.
In a rural village in the southern delta region of Bangladesh, Rajopa lives with her husband and their four children. She says that for years she and her husband have struggled to feed their family on a marginal income. Like many other illiterate women in her village, she was unaware of the need to provide complementary foods to her six-month old child, who was not receiving the calories and nutrients needed for proper growth. But with help from Feed the Future, Rajopa has learned how to turn the unused land around her house into the nutritious fruits and vegetables her family needs to thrive.
Feed the Future has helped thousands of families like Rajopa’s across the globe by providing much-needed technical assistance and access to seeds, irrigation and other inputs needed to improve crop production, food quality and availability. But while improved yields and diversified crops are important for smallholder farmers, they don’t always mean better nutrition – a prerequisite for future generations of healthy adults with the physical and mental capacity to break cycles of poverty.
Recent research suggests that to make a meaningful impact on chronic malnutrition, agricultural interventions must be sensitive to how they affect access to nutritious diets. For example, programs that seek to empower women need to be mindful of how they affect mothers’ time and ability to breastfeed. Likewise, a portion of increased income from better crop yields should be in mothers’ hands to best contribute to a healthy, diverse diet for their families.
Feed the Future is shifting mindsets to help agriculture and livelihood programs make greater contributions to nutrition. In Bangladesh, the Farmer Field Schools that Rajopa benefited from have long spread innovation and local best practices among rural farmers by promoting adult group learning and observation. Embracing the need to bridge the gap between field and fork, the USAID-funded SPRING Project now calls these learning spaces Field Nutrition Schools, tailoring agricultural education at the family level while also linking crops and animals to the nutritional needs of mothers and children under the age of two.
In small groups, pregnant women and mothers like Rajopa receive both agricultural training and counseling on a package of essential nutrition and hygiene actions. These easily “doable” actions focus on dietary diversity, women’s nutrition and hygiene to prevent disease transmission and reduce maternal and child undernutrition. Reaching the community through local NGOs and government agricultural experts ensures sustainability, with SPRING passing on the skills and expertise local institutions need to be able to train women and their families in the future.
By linking agriculture and nutrition knowledge and skills, Feed the Future is striving to end the vicious cycle of malnutrition, bringing the best of agriculture, health and nutrition programs together to make a lasting impact on vulnerable families and communities around the world.
As USAID’s annual letter this year notes, in development it is no longer enough to teach a farmer to grow a new crop—or in this case, to fish. Our work isn’t done until we help a farmer learn to run a successful business too. This is precisely what is happening in Bangladesh.
Consider Harun and Bina Majhy, who have co-managed a fishing business in rural Bangladesh for years. To take their small-scale operation to a commercial level, the couple needed training and equipment.
Enter USAID. In 2011, Bina received training from USAID’s Office of Food for Peace on nursery management and fingerling (young fish) production. The next year, Feed the Future (led also by USAID) trained Harun on fish hatchery management so the Majhys could begin producing even higher quality fingerlings at a larger scale. Today, the Majhys are confident business leaders in their community – not only do they manage their own successful fish nursery and hatchery business, they also provide others with steady employment.
Bina and Harun’s story is just one of many in Bangladesh of small-scale fish farmers who have taken their businesses to the next level through an innovative partnership that links Feed the Future’s long-term food security programs with USAID’s Office of Food for Peace to scale up aquaculture as a pathway to development.
Why aquaculture? In a country where nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, small-scale fish farming enables Bangladeshi farmers, particularly women, to provide nutritious food for their families and is an entry point to the cash economy. And while there is significant demand for fish in Bangladesh, small-scale fish farmers often struggle to produce enough fish for local and district markets at competitive costs.
So, in 2010 USAID launched two programs in Bangladesh that continue to change lives today. The first, managed by Food for Peace, teaches techniques that poor smallholder fish farmers are using to increase their productivity and incomes. The other is a multi-faceted Feed the Future aquaculture program aimed at increasing commercial fish and shrimp production in Bangladesh. Together with partners such as the World Fish Center, Save the Children, and ACDI/VOCA, these programs are building a comprehensive income-generation strategy to help poor households expand fish production in Bangladesh while increasing their profitability and market competitiveness.
Traditionally, Food for Peace works with poor and extremely poor households who are often landless and have limited access to the necessary technologies and techniques to start an aquaculture farm. Meanwhile, Feed the Future typically works with community champions in Bangladesh seeking to grow their established aquaculture enterprises into larger commercial operations. By bridging the gap between aquaculture start-ups and businesses looking—and ready—to scale, this collaboration is building long-lasting success in Bangladesh.
For the Majhys, the results have been promising. Before training from Food for Peace, Bina earned the equivalent of about $90 every month. Using her newfound skills, she now brings in about $129 per month through her family’s business. Equally important, she plays a vital role as a service provider, acting as a local facilitator for other aspiring women aquaculture entrepreneurs and providing quality fingerlings to her community.
Solutions to poverty and hunger are complex, which is why the U.S. Government addresses these challenges along the continuum from extreme poverty to commercial production.
“My income is increased by the Food for Peace project and my business has been expanded by Feed the Future,” Bina says proudly.
Solutions to poverty and hunger are complex, which is why the U.S. Government addresses these challenges along the continuum from extreme poverty to commercial production. Collaborating across programs is one way to increase impact and support poor families, helping them not just survive but thrive over the long term.
In Bangladesh, this partnership is helping fish farmers mitigate the immediate threats of poverty while also linking them to higher-quality fish that can help them access commercial markets. It’s a collaboration that has already benefited more than 34,000 households and 150 commercial fish farms – numbers that continue to increase every day.