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New livelihood opportunities for host communities in Bangladesh mean improved nutrition for Rohingya refugees

New livelihood opportunities for host communities in Bangladesh mean improved nutrition for Rohingya refugees


More than 500 host community farming families in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, will soon be able to grow new varieties of crops to eat and sell thanks to agricultural machinery and seeds distributed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The distributions, conducted on 25 and 27 February, included 72 power tillers, 72 high-efficiency water pumps, 72 sprayers and 240 kg of high-nutrient vegetable seeds to enable farmers in Ukhiya and Teknaf sub-districts to prepare and cultivate land near their homes. The food produced will provide income for their families and nutritious food for refugees.

The machinery and seeds are part of a project funded by the International Organization for Migration, which also includes training for host community farmers’ associations established in partnership with the Department of Agricultural Extension in growing high-value crops, as well as providing safe food storage drums for refugees and host communities to keep food dry and free from pests and mould.

Cox’s Bazar is now home to more than 884 000 Rohingya refugees escaping violence in Myanmar, some 671 000 of whom arrived since 25 August 2017. Three quarters are women and children, many of whom are suffering from high rates of malnutrition.

The speed and scale of the influx has placed intense pressure on host communities, stretching public services and increasing food and cooking fuel prices. The increased competition on the local labour market results in lower daily wage rates. Firewood collection for cooking has resulted in a dwindling supply of cooking fuel and has severely depleted surrounding forests. Tensions between host communities and refugees are on the rise.

“Linking local production to expanding refugee food markets aims to sustainably improve food security and nutrition for host communities and refugees,” said David Doolan, acting FAO Representative in Bangladesh. “Critically, this work also seeks to lower tensions between the communities through contributing to social cohesion, with the aim of maintaining harmony.”

Recipients of the machinery and seeds included particularly vulnerable families, including those headed by women and families caring for people with a disability or elderly relatives.

“I’ve been caring for my family since my husband died 11 years ago,” said local Bangladeshi farmer Ayesha Begum, 35, a mother of six. She grows crops including rice and vegetables on a small area of land in Teknaf sub-district. “It has been a struggle to earn an income through farming working alone, but being part of the association makes everything easier. Having access to the machinery will be very helpful for my work in the fields.”

With 1.2 million people in the Cox’s Bazar area alone expected to require humanitarian assistance in 2018, food security remains one of the most important aspects of the response. FAO is working with the Government and partners in the Food Security Sector to provide timely life-saving and life-sustaining assistance for Rohingya refugees and host communities, and promote, enhance and strengthen livelihoods and self-reliance opportunities. FAO is seeking urgent funding of USD 9.8 million to strengthen its emergency response, including addressing environmental impacts and reducing disaster risk, supporting livelihoods and markets, and strengthening food security coordination.