Bangladesh was long associated with hunger and malnutrition, but that image no longer applies. The country has been transformed from one of chronic food shortages and poverty to an international food basket. Food production in Bangladesh has quadrupled in the past 40 years. It might be surprising to learn that Bangladesh now exports food to other nations. In an era when the lack of food security can lead to political upheaval and population displacement, Bangladesh has pioneered methods that can and should be duplicated in other developing nations. Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 freed the nation from economic strangulation and consequent high levels of poverty and extreme hunger. Regular devastating floods also swallowed up the otherwise fertile farmland and left its toll on the hapless people. The world still remembers the ravages of the natural disasters and food shortages, hunger, starvation and death. The new nation lacked resources and received inadequate aid needed for food production. Today, Bangladesh is a model for hunger reduction. It has made remarkable strides in reducing malnutrition. A recent United Nations report on global hunger highlights Bangladesh as one of the bright spots in the global effort to end hunger by 2030. The report says that Bangladesh has cut chronic hunger by more than half since 2000. Between 1990 and 2011, it proudly reduced the number of underweight children by 25 percent and infant mortality by 50 percent, achievements matched by only five other countries. Bangladesh began its transition from being a hungry nation to a country that exports rice by promoting both economic and food security. In the late 1990s, a revolution of rice production -- fueled by improved varieties of rice -- helped make Bangladesh a self-sufficient country. In addition, Bangladesh became a hot spot for aquaculture, turning 150,000 shallow ponds into sustainable fish farms. The growing levels of food production not only decreased hunger and bolstered nutrition, they also improved economic security for the nation’s poor by providing them with more income each year. Among the most notable ways that Bangladesh has decreased hunger is through improved health services for children and increased employment for women. Government programs encouraged the participation of women in the garment and aquaculture industries. Today, more than 60 percent of the nation’s fish farmers are women. Their involvement has helped expand these industries and has provided a second source of income for many previously impoverished families. USAID has been an active partner of Bangladesh in this effort. The American agency has trained some 67,000 women in aquaculture techniques. One of these women is Parveen Begum, wife of a poor farmer and a mother of three. With her husband she invested about $15 worth of carp in a small pond that her family owned. By the end of the year she had earned a substantial sum of $156 by selling fish at the market. So impressive was her return that Parveen’s neighbors sought her advice on improving their yields. In addition, the government worked with the World Food Program to provide hot meals to schoolchildren. The food was purchased from local female farmers, reducing child hunger while providing local jobs. Social safety-net programs also proliferated. These included the “Food for Education “program developed in the late 1990s with funds from the U.S. State Department. It provided cash for food vouchers for impoverished families that pledged to send their children to school. It fed hungry families while at the same time helping to educate the next generation. This initiative has spread around the world and was touted in the United Nations’ hunger report as a key to reducing global malnutrition. Microfinance programs have also been contributing to combat hunger. Bangladesh is where the global microfinance movement was founded to help the poor, especially women. The small loans loaned in such programs have enabled small businesses to start and flourish, producing income that has bolstered the prospects for countless families all over the country. Bangladesh’s efforts to end hunger within its borders have succeeded in meeting one of the eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals for developing nations. The U.N. aims to achieve these goals by the end of this year. All of them will not be achieved globally, but Bangladesh has eradicated extreme under well ahead of the target. Bangladesh’s example provides hope that hunger can someday be eradicated everywhere. Its success demonstrates that countries that take advantage of scientific advances in agriculture and aquaculture and can empower families with the chance to create ongoing businesses. This protects the most vulnerable members of the societies. Experts believe that the next phase in reducing world hunger will focus on establishing ways to protect people from short-term food insecurity that results from natural disasters. Bangladesh again is a role model because of its regular encounters with floods, especially in its widespread lowlands. When the world looks for ways to move from hunger to plenty while fighting against the odds, it should first look to Bangladesh. About the author: Mohammad Ziauddin is Bangladesh’s ambassador to the U.S. Photo caption: Farming for Development. Golden dust rises from a field as a farmer tills it with his plough animals. Dacca, Bangladesh. UN photo by John Isaac.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.