About the Author: Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.
After an incredible boat ride across the Bay of Bengal, where fishermen in their long crescent-shaped wooden boats with oversized oars were attempting their catches for the day, we arrived at the USAID Integrated Protected Area Co-Management program (IPAC) site -- in the Sundarbans -- on September 29. The Sundarbans is the largest remaining mangrove in the world, and its natural resources have generated livelihood support and met the food security needs of the local residents for generations. The USAID program is introducing a co-management approach to conservation by local communities and Bangladesh Forest Department officials. This program recognizes the importance of saving the forest as well also ensuring that the affected area families have the ability to feed their children.
During our visit, a local community group performed an interpretive song and dance. The performance demonstrated how the IPAC program teaches Sundarbans dwellers -- most of whom are unable to read or write -- viable alternatives to the income generating activities they historically practiced. These practices included net-fishing and timber-cutting, actions that damage the mangrove. As a result of this type of training, the locals are beginning to better understand that protecting the mangrove also acts as a defense against natural disasters, such as cyclones and flooding -- frequent occurrences in Bangladesh.
Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh in late 2007, but farmers -- both men and women, many landless before Sidr -- continue to feel the effects. With their assets destroyed by floodwaters, many still benefit from the FAO Emergency 2007 Cyclone Recovery and Restoration Project, which provides farming inputs, including tillers, feed and livestock. I had an opportunity to see first-hand how the beneficiaries of this program are rebuilding their livelihoods one sheep at a time.
In Bagerhat, men and women held their registration cards as they lined up in neat and orderly rows behind signs that read: "POWER TILLER BENEFICIARY,""SHEEP BENEFICIARY,""SEED AND FERTILIZER BENEFICIARY." Everyone waited patiently to receive his or her allotment. There were only women in the sheep line, because women normally stay at home and thus are the livestock caretakers. One unmarried woman we spoke to has turned her two-goat allocation from the program into a profitable business selling products door-to-door. This very entrepreneurial widow sold one goat then used the proceeds to procure small household items, which she now sells to her neighbors. Through artificial insemination, her second goat is now expecting a kid -- more opportunities for profits and sales.
On our way back to Khulna, we visited the USAID Post Cyclone Sidr Livelihoods Reconstruction Program (PCSLRP), which is implemented by USAID partner World Vision. This market program represents the true spirit of our "Feed the Future" initiative. The goal is not just increasing livelihoods, but also ensuring that farmers have access to markets and consumers maintain access to quality affordable food. This program supports construction of new marketplace facilities. These facilities protect the vendors as well as their produce, fish and customers from the blistering heat, floods and monsoonal rains while providing a higher level of sanitation. The market we toured appeared clean and organized. In fact, the fresh vegetables and fish tempted our buying impulses.
We also learned that the facility generates good economic results, because this new market consolidation -- in one central location as opposed to along the road-side -- allows the growers and fishermen to obtain better prices. When we spoke to these sellers, their enthusiasm regarding this incremental increase in prices was clearly evident. The market facility is coordinated and overseen by a community market management committee, allowing buyers and sellers better access to market information. As an aside, we also learned that PCSLRP also trains and supports women's employment in livestock care and breeding. This project allows women to earn additional income from their home, because most married women here remain at home and raise the children.
Throughout the day, I saw how the work of FAO, USAID and their NGO partners is beginning to generate results, from the fields to the marketplace. The programs we visited were not just designed to create sustainable market-driven results, but they also respond to the cultural and community needs of the populations they serve. Sustainably reducing hunger and poverty begins with vulnerable countries, which should decide on their own needs, priorities and strategies. Country ownership provides the most effective means to coordinate development efforts and achieve sustainability. When we use the words "country-driven," we are definitely on the right track in Bangladesh to "walking the talk."Read Ambassador Cousin's previous entry from Bangladesh or more about global hunger and food security.