Achieving food and nutrition security in remote areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts

FAO project builds resilience of two remote rural communities to address chronic under-nutrition.

Key facts

Rural men and women in remote areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are now more positive about their future and their ability to resist future shocks to their agriculture-based livelihoods. Running from February 2013 to June 2014, an FAO-implemented project  successfully promoted an integrated household farming approach, based on quality seed production, and improved upland farming practices, fruit and vegetable production, poultry keeping and nutritional awareness. With support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), FAO has worked with 6 200 men and women in the region to help reduce food insecurity, restore their livelihoods and strengthen their resilience to future shocks and stresses.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is a geographically and socio-culturally distinct region located in southeastern Bangladesh. Still scarred from more than two decades of political turmoil and civil unrest up to the signing of a Peace Accord in 1997, this area is home to a large number of small ethnic communities which have their own distinct traditions, languages and lifestyles. Large parts of the region are covered by rugged hills, which have made it unique in Bangladesh in terms of agricultural practices and livelihood patterns.

The majority of the people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, with many engaged in subsistence farming, including a traditional technique of shifting cultivation called jum.

Farmers have limited capacity to resist chronic and seasonal shocks and stresses.  They are particularly vulnerable to events such as pest or disease attacks, natural disasters or localized flare ups of conflict. In remote areas of CHT, food insecurity is chronic and a widespread phenomenon, particularly during the months between June and August. During this time - overlapping with the monsoon season and the pre-harvest season of the jum rice - families run out of stocks and have limited opportunities to earn money outside the homestead.

In the winter months drought is also a regular problem.  Food insecurity is prevalent, and nutritional status is poorer than the rest of Bangladesh.  From 2010 onwards, a series of natural shocks (pest infestations, flash flood, landslides, etc) has worsened the situation, affecting the most vulnerable, especially women who generally suffer most by eating less compared to other members of the household.

From relief to development: working with rural men and women to restore their agricultural livelihoods
The FAO intervention in the area built on an emergency initiative carried out by WFP in 2012.  A limited cash for work programme in two remote locations led to requests for technical assistance to rehabilitate the local production system from local farmers and the district authorities.  FAO partnered with ECHO and the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MoCHTA) to implement sustainable agricultural practices in the interest of better food and nutrition security.

The project provided critical agricultural inputs (crops, horticulture, poultry); but the inputs were also an opportunity for an extensive capacity development to enhance agricultural production, diversification and sustainability – as well as nutritional awareness - to rural men and women. Women were the main target of horticulture and poultry interventions, considering the existing gender dynamics, and the different roles and responsibilities of men and women in the households of the CHT area.

The combined efforts of distributions and training increased income and resilience in the communities, as well as provided nutritional benefits through the increased availability and consumption of a wider range of nutrient-rich foods, all the while promoting resource conservation at locations which suffer from natural resource degradation. In addition, the project worked with 200 lead farmers to become community seed providers, in an effort to resolve, in part, the severe lack of quality seed in the region. 

The project results have been significant. Men and women beneficiaries were able to increase their rice stock (on average the duration of food stock duration per households went from 4-5 months to 7-8 months) and started to grow vegetables and fruits in the homestead area, resulting in more varied diets rich in vitamins and other nutrients. 

Engaging community labour for long-term resilience
For the first time for FAO in Bangladesh, the project implemented a Cash for Work scheme (CFW) for the construction of two small-scale dams. Built by the communities under supervision of an FAO engineer, these dams will improve the possibility of year-round access to water in a region that suffers from extreme water scarcity during the dry winter months. In addition to building community ownership and accountability through direct participation in the construction process, improved access to water by harvesting of monsoon rain is an effective local level solution to increasing the resilience of surrounding communities.

This was FAO’s first field project in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a difficult region where needs are extensive but development efforts have been limited due to the challenging conditions of the area. Despite the difficulties, the results of the project have been significant and ECHO is committing additional resources to continue and expand the scope of activities. With this and other projects in this post conflict region, FAO has demonstrated, practically, its commitment to improving resilience of vulnerable communities.

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