Bangladesh has made a reasonable economic and social progress in the past few years. Despite this, it is a country where each day is a challenge and where the gaping eyes of women and children await the day when the curse called ‘poverty’ will be uplifted from their heads and they will be able to breathe in freedom. So can one expect a change? Of course – with ACDI/VOCA’s (Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance) undertaking to save millions reeling under poverty in Bangladesh.

Current challenges:

Almost half of Bangladesh’s population live below the poverty line. Children suffer from stunting and malnutrition; and though most of the Bangladeshi’s are agriculturists, they still depend on food imports due to lesser productivity or highly unpredictable prices. Adding to these fluctuations are the natural disasters of floods and cyclones which just don’t allow the people emerge out of poverty.

The road map:

USAID has chosen to rescue millions of poverty stricken Bangladeshis through their 5 year and 1 year programs. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace has awarded ACDI/VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance – an NGO working towards poverty alleviation and economic development of communities worldwide) a five year $45 million dollar PL 480 Title II program to reduce poverty in the Khulna Division of south-western Bangladesh. USAID has also awarded ACDI/VOCA a $130,000 one-year sub award, for developing a sustained and economic growth in the agricultural sector of Bangladesh.

ACDI/VOCA’s programs: PROSHAR – Providing resources to the underprivileged

With its launch in May 2010, this 5 year program has 3 main objectives for improving food security and poverty mitigation:-

1) Augment growth in the living standards through an increase in income: ACDI/VOCA plans to home in on the poor and ultra poor households in this program. The farmers of these households will be given access to greater inputs, lowering costs of services, and help in processing, marketing and bargaining of goods, thereby achieving economies of scale along with higher learning. ACDI/VOCA intends to develop a sustainable model through the involvement of stakeholders and linking the farmers to national and international markets. ACDI/VOCA also plans to enhance agriculture, livestock and aquaculture through building 829 producer groups in these areas thereby boosting yields and a gaining a better relationship with the private sector for supplying seeds and livestock.

2) Health and nutrition improvements in women and children: An increase in clinics and health services, and Preventing Malnutrition in Children under 2 years of Age Approach (PM2A) will be directed towards improving health and nutrition. ACDI/VOCA plans to provide rations to 27,351 households, and promote better practices to new born babies and their mothers by enhancing the skills of Family Welfare Assistants (FWA) and Community Skilled Birth Attendants (CSBA) thereby reducing malnutrition.

3) Amplify resistance to shocks and their effects: Risk management approaches such as responding to emergencies and disaster management will be dealt by ACDI/VOCA in conjunction with communities, public, and private organizations. Training will be imparted in areas such as conducting community risk assessments, developing disaster reductions and tsunami response plans, utilizing early warning systems and activating emergency responses.

For making all these a sustainable model, ACDI/VOCA plans to provide grants and technical know-how to communities, stakeholders and local NGOs for enhancing organizational and technological capabilities.

Farmer-to-Farmer PROSHAR:

This one year program has recently started in February 2011. It intends to increase the competence of local communes to grow, sell, store and purchase food for a speedy and sustained growth in the agricultural sector of Bangladesh. In association with Winrock International, ACDI/VOCA plans to increase the efficiency, productivity and profitability of the agricultural sector, establish time-saving technologies to diminish losses, increase information for greater inputs, strengthen the agricultural institutions and promote the outreach of this sector via media, thereby supporting USAID’s aim of Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative priorities to optimize and increase agricultural market’s growth, reduce malnutrition and enhance the productivity of women farmers. WInrock and ACDI/VOCA together will also aid in the enhancement of access to food and nutrition so that women and children can get a more balanced, diversified and a protein rich diet. The agricultural incomes will help women in gaining a high purchasing power for buying the nutritious and micronutrient rich foods. Short term agricultural productivity training will be imparted to 1440 agriculturists, private and public organization’s service delivery will be improved and provided to 15000 women and other susceptible groups, 11,000 households will have a higher food security through training (trainers), and lastly all these programs will help in an increase in the net income of $1.7 million. In all, the FtF program will better the life of at least 50% of female recipients thereby transforming the lives of the deprived. 

Read an interview of Mr. Zachary Arney, Project Coordinator, Food Security, ACDI/VOCA who provided YL with the significant details of PROSHAR:

YL: What were the first tasks/challenges/difficulties in setting up the infrastructure and material for all the PROSHAR programs and how were they prevailed over?

Mr. Arney: PROSHAR includes activities in 3 sectors: livelihoods/agriculture, health and nutrition, and disaster risk reduction. There are a lot of moving pieces when starting up such a program, including recruiting staff, leasing offices and warehouses, and identifying beneficiaries. We have been able to meet these challenges thanks to our outstanding local staff members, who bring much excitement, motivation and skill to this program.

YL: As all the programs have recently begun, what have been the accomplishments so far?

Mr. Arney: While still starting-up, we are currently focusing on mobilizing community members and identifying beneficiaries. PROSHAR will assist people by providing training, improved opportunities, improved nutrition and access to healthcare, and greater awareness of potential disasters and strategies on how to mitigate them. None of this would be possible without the support of the communities in which we work, so we are spending a lot of time meeting with community members and various leaders to provide information on what we hope to accomplish – and answer their questions.

YL: What are ways to monitor these accomplishments?

Mr. Arney: We have a highly skilled team of monitoring and evaluation specialists working for the program. We have conducted a large baseline survey to determine the current situation and needs among our targeted beneficiaries. Once we begin some of our other program activities, including distributing rations to young children and their mothers, these specialists will continue to monitor certain indicators like caloric intake, which will provide us with information on how well the program is working and what can be done to help participants even more.

YL: How are the changes implemented sustained in the society? And how will the changes be sustained after the 1 year and 5 year programs end?

Mr. Arney: To have a sustainable impact, we are emphasizing the development of specific skills and knowledge among PROSHAR beneficiaries. Once the program has ended, thousands of individuals and households will continue to benefit from their improved knowledge in agricultural production, infant nutrition and disaster preparedness, to name a few.

YL: Which are the assisting NGOs and service communities? How will they be a part of sustaining the changes after the programs end?

Mr. Arney: PROSHAR works in the Batiaghata, Lohagara and SarankholaUpazilas of the Khulna Division. We will be implementing many of our activities through three organizations with significant experience in these upazilas. To benefit the greatest number of people, especially once PROSHAR has ended, we will also be working closely with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as well as the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management.

YL: For the farmer-to-farmer PROSHAR program, how will ACDI/VOCA coordinate working and implementing changes in the agricultural sector of the entire country of Bangladesh?

Mr. Arney: ACDI/VOCA has a long history of working with agricultural producer groups to improve farmers’ knowledge of the most current and reliable agricultural practices. The Farmer-to-Farmer program is unique in that it allows us to bring highly experienced agricultural practitioners from other countries to volunteer in Bangladesh. The volunteers meet with local farmers, input suppliers, organizations and other business to share their knowledge in a specific agricultural sector like aquaculture. One of the most important factors in improving agricultural production is the knowledge of current best practices. This is what the Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers seek to provide.

YL: What is the role of Winrock International in the farmer-to-farmer program?

Mr. Arney:Winrock International is the lead organization in the Farmer-to-Farmer program in Bangladesh. In an effort to benefit as many people as possible, they have partnered with ACDI/VOCA to provide additional expertise in the upazilas in which we work.

YL: What are your views on the future of Bangladesh through these programs?

Mr. Arney: While there are certainly challenges, the enthusiasm and motivation we have seen among local communities, businesses, nonprofits and government ministries in Bangladesh is very encouraging. There is a passion to learn and innovate, both of which are important in economic and physical development.

YL: If the youth wish to serve their country, how can they be a part of this program?

Mr. Arney: Youth are future leaders and natural change makers. They should take every opportunity they have to learn more about what interests them, and to think critically about how things can be improved in Bangladesh. Innovation is really the key here. PROSHAR will be training farmers’ groups, mothers, school children and many others in some of the most effective and innovative practices in agriculture, health and nutrition and disaster preparedness. Youth should keep an eye out for opportunities to take part in these trainings at school and in their communities, so they can apply these innovative practices – and help develop new ones – to shape their futures and that of their country.

YL: Anything else you would like to share with us regarding ACDI/VOCA?

Mr. Arney: ACDI/VOCA is a global leader in agricultural development, dedicated to poverty alleviation and broad-based economic growth. With more than 45 years of experience, we currently work in more than 40 countries to improve agricultural productivity and build developing economies..

So are you inspired after reading the interview and would like to be a part in the change for the better? If yes, go ahead and connect with ACDI/VOCA in Bangladesh:

https://www.acdivoca.org/2015/08/bangladesh-proshar/

www.acdivoca.org

Big thanks to Mr. Zachary Arney for the interview and for providing the exclusive photographs for the YL magazine.