Bangladesh is improving food security one small project at a time

  • 40 million Bangladeshis – 27% of the population – are undernourished.
  • Children are most affected by the effects of hunger and malnutrition.
  • Projects including urban gardening and fairer markets are improving resilience.
  • The Global Hunger Index says Bangladesh is making progress in tackling hunger.

More than 40 million Bangladeshis are undernourished, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). That means “not having access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious food to sustain a healthy and productive life.”

Bangladesh has come a long way since independence in 1971, when it was one of the world’s poorest countries, but it still faces significant challenges in feeding its 165 million people.

Detailed country research by The Global Hunger Index (2018) classifies food security concerns in Bangladesh as ‘serious’. As the chart below shows, a lack of nutritional food causes stunting in 36.1% of the child population and wasting in 14.3% of children. Child mortality as a result of malnutrition stood at 3.4% in 2018.

this chart shows how malnutrition is falling in Bangladesh, but it still has serious consequences

Malnutrition is falling in Bangladesh but it still has serious consequences.

Image: Global Hunger Index

The pandemic added considerable pressure on food production – from supplies to markets – but innovations supported by UN agencies (including FAO and the World Food Programme) and international donors have helped address some of those challenges.

Here are three projects helping Bangladeshis put food on the table.

Urban gardening

The FAO is exploring urban farming and rooftop vegetable gardens as one solution to food insecurity in Bangladesh. The organization has trialled the potential for rooftop gardening in Bangladesh with positive results.

The Dhaka Food System project (DFS) – funded by the Netherlands – has been supporting urban gardeners across the capital city.

A pilot project supported 400 women from poor communities with training, vegetable seeds, fruit saplings, fertiliser and tools. The project was successful, according to the FAO, increasing nutritional intake and even generating an income for some participants.

In addition, the DFS project has been providing COVID-19 safety training to vendors and other workers in the city’s markets. It has also established farmers’ markets so producers can sell directly to consumers. The project has helped to modernise food production facilities including slaughterhouses and public markets.

Fairer trade

In Cox’s Bazar, a Bangladeshi district, which is home to the world’s largest refugee camp housing 700,000 Rohingya refugees, the FAO has established a network of trading centres.

They work to give smallholder farmers, particularly women, the ability to sell produce at fair market prices. A farmer is co-opted to educate traders about prices and products in demand, organise transport and facilitate bulk sales.

The centres also provide seeds, training, financing and other support, and are helping both host and refugee communities.

Fishing for sustainability

Also in Cox’s Bazaar, the FAO has supported an initiative to support people working in the fishing industry.

The emphasis is on improving safety and sustainability – so the project has distributed 500 live jackets, and 700 fish farmers have received feed and fishing equipment.

It also aims to train local officials on improving aquaculture and processing.

Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.

Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.

With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.

Learn more about Innovation with a Purpose’s impact and contact us to see how you can get involved.

Global challenge

The global context is that food insecurity has been rising since 2015 when the UN included ensuring access to food and eradicating malnutrition in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But the COVID-19 pandemic has set back the fight against hunger with the FAO predicting 30 million more people may face hunger by 2030 as a result of the pandemic.

The FAO, in its annual State of Food Security and Nutrition report, says that the key is for policymakers to build resilience into food systems, particularly in the face of climate change, and to improve affordability.