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Bangladesh: improving nutrition and incomes through farming innovation

World Vision
14 October 2016 by Brian Hilton
Bangladesh: improving nutrition and incomes through farming innovation

Photo by World Vision

Bangladesh is the world’s most densely populated country. 156 million people are jammed into an area 30 percent smaller than the state of Victoria.

Three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 a day and almost half depend on farming for their livelihoods. Seventy percent of Bangladesh’s total land area is used for agriculture. Farms are tiny, with most small-scale farmers trying to feed their families and earn a living off less than an acre of land.

How can a farmer provide for his entire family from such a small area?

World Vision is working with rural communities across Bangladesh to help them answer this question. This involves enabling farmers to produce higher yielding crops throughout the year and also to produce crops that fetch a high price in the marketplace.

Biofortified rice and improved spice production are just two approaches helping Bangladeshi farmers get more out of their land and grow their way out of poverty.

Biofortified rice – nutritious and early maturing

Biofortified rice

Biofortified rice high in zinc and lightly polished. Photo by World Vision.

Under the support of our partner HarvestPlus , an organisation dedicated to developing and promoting more nutritious varieties of staple crops, three biofortified rice varieties have been released in Bangladesh.

These rice varieties mature earlier and produce much higher yields than local rice varieties. One of the new varieties matures within 95 days, so farmers can plant four crops per year when they used to plant three. This allows them to follow their rice crop quickly with a potato crop and obtain as much as double the price for having the first potatoes of the season in market. The other big asset these new rice varieties have is that they are 40 percent higher in zinc, which is essential for human growth and development.

It’s estimated that over 40 percent of children in Bangladesh aged below five are deficient in zinc and at increased risk of stunted growth, diarrhoeal disease and respiratory infections. The introduction of these rice varieties into children’s diets can help to play an important role in improving their nutrition and overall wellbeing.

To help ensure that families gain the most nutrition they can from the rice they eat, World Vision is also testing a new method of reduced rice polishing with local millers. Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because most of the nutrition is located in the bran on the outside of the grain, which is discarded in the milling process. But Bangladeshis prefer white rice to brown as it’s harder to cook and chewier. This new milling method leaves a thin layer of bran on the rice so that it retains essential nutrients but cooks and tastes almost the same as white rice.

Advancing spice production

Advancing spice production

Spices such as ginger fetch a high price in the marketplace. Photo by World Vision

Bangladeshi food is full of pungent spices, and spices like ginger and turmeric fetch a high price in the local marketplace. Because ginger is prone to root rot, it is hard to grow and therefore demands a high price. World Vision is supporting farmers to advance their spice production by providing technical advice and helping them obtain the latest disease-resistant spice varieties.

In countries like Bangladesh, ensuring families have more nutritious food to eat is best done by helping farmers increase their incomes so they can buy it.

Brian Hilton Brian Hilton

Brian is a Food Security Advisor for World Vision Australia

 

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