IFAD helps shape Bangladesh’s response to the coronavirus crisis in rural areas

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IFAD helps shape Bangladesh’s response to the coronavirus crisis in rural areas

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Bangladesh has made great strides in reducing poverty over the last two decades. Poverty was halved from 52 per cent to 26.4 per cent in rural areas, although it still remains higher than urban poverty (18.9 per cent) and a total of 41 million people in Bangladesh still live below the poverty line.

The work that IFAD has carried out over the last 40 years, in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh, has focused on supporting rural communities, especially small-scale producers, in their efforts to improve agricultural production and access markets. As more people move from rural areas to urban ones, profitable food production needs to be accompanied by reliable transportation, food processing and packaging services, and accessible markets.

IFAD’s partners in Bangladesh are continuing value-chain interventions amid the coronavirus outbreak. Through continuing the day-to-day interventions in agricultural subsectors, microentrepreneurs are helping dairy farmers survive and also ensuring dairy product supply chains remain intact.

In late March 2020, my team observed a breakdown in national food production and distribution. This was due to disruptions in both input supply and output marketing. As is true in many countries, the country is currently in lockdown – and this has prevented agricultural producers and microenterprises from accessing markets to purchase inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, fingerlings and livestock feed, as well as to sell crops, livestock and aquaculture products. Overall, the mounting concern that any human contact and exchange would spread the coronavirus has disrupted the supply chain.

Bangladesh has made steady progress in reducing poverty and improving the lives of its citizens. Unfortunately, if unaddressed, the disrupted agricultural supply chain could lead to a reduction in some of these hard-earned gains, including: farmers and rural microenterprise owners suffering reduced incomes; rural labourers losing their jobs; reduced food availability in rural and urban markets; food and nutrition insecurity for poor people; and, ultimately, a nationwide food price crisis and the potential for large-scale social unrest.

In response, the IFAD team in Bangladesh has provided a proposal to the Government to set up a certified transport and logistics system for the movement of inputs and produce in rural areas, operating according to the COVID-19 safety protocols issued by WHO and national health authorities. This system would be applied for both the safe harvest and distribution of standing crops (temperate vegetables and paddy) to markets, and the application of safety protocols for distributing inputs and equipment for the upcoming cropping season of tropical vegetables, paddy and maize. It will also facilitate the secure production and market distribution of livestock and aquaculture products.

We are happy to report that key elements of our proposal are being incorporated into the Government’s national response plan for the continuation of essential services during the crisis and lockdown. Our team is now working with national partners to see whether the safe transport and logistics system for the agriculture sector will be financed and implemented directly by the government, or cost-shared by IFAD through repurposing some funds from ongoing projects implemented by one of our long-standing development partners on the ground.