Food For Work

Food for Work (FFW) is a government programme launched in 1974 in a situation of acute food shortage in the country when the people, particularly in the greater rangpur area, were facing starvation due to the high price of foodgrain and rural unemployment. It was assigned to involve gradually into a development-oriented programme, under FFW programme, construction, reconstruction, renovation and other works area having done in rural areas. The immediate objective of the programme was to create job opportunities there and at the same time to ensure the supply and availability of sufficient foodgrains in the affected areas. The idea was to pay wages to the workers in kind (foodgrains) instead of cash. The programme started with grants from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States of America under PL - 480. The programme proved to be very useful and effective, and the other donor countries and agencies including Canada, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and EEC provided grants and assistance for its continuation. It has gradually turned into a large programme for the development of rural infrastructure, healthcare facilities and the environment in rural Bangladesh.

The FFW programme itself and some other multi-sectoral programmes including Food for money programme are being implemented to ensure food security for the poverty stricken, landless and unemployed people. In north-west Bangladesh, there in an annual period of food insecurity called Mongha occurs in the Bengal month of Kartik (mid September-mid October) due to lack of income before the harvesting of Aman rice. FFW and such programmes have contributed a lot in eradicating absolute poverty from Bangladesh. According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2010, the percentage of population living under poverty line came down to 31.5 from 40 in 2005 due to consistent economic and remittance growth.

FFW is in fact an updated version of the Village-Aid Programme (V-Aid), a donor supported initiative of the government of Pakistan undertaken in 1952. V-Aid formally aimed at increasing agricultural production through overall development of rural areas. The programme was supposed to provide assistance for the preparation and implementation of village-based development projects in different sectors. The government had appointed a field worker in each union council and assigned him the task of creating awareness among the rural people about the programme. local government bodies, however, were not properly involved in the V-Aid activities and as a result, the programme failed to yield the desired outcome. Cancelling the programme in 1962 the government initiated an alternative new venture called the Works Programme for the development of rural infrastructure through construction of roads, bridges, culverts and flood protection embankments and the excavation of canals for irrigation. The new programme was designed for implementation with the involvement of local government bodies, while the central government provided the technical manpower. Under the programme, the foodgrains, particularly wheat received mainly from the United States, were sold in the local market at a much lower price and the sales proceeds were used for payment of wages to the unskilled labour engaged in the work. Major projects implemented under the Works Programme included construction of new earthen roads and repair of existing ones, excavation of canals and construction of embankments.

The Works Programme continued after the liberation of Bangladesh until the launching of the FFW in 1974 on an emergency basis to save people from hunger by making food available in food shortage areas. The programme was effective in extending short-term assistance to the people and contributed significantly to building a rural food security system and developing the rural infrastructure. According to an estimate during 1978-79, FFW had created employment opportunities of 60 million workdays with 0.23 million ton of wheat. Employment opportunities created under the programme in 1982-83 were 98 million workdays.

The FFW may be termed as an extension of the V-Aid and Works Programme with some changes and modifications in approach and operational method. A major change has been in the mode of payment to the workers. In the initial stage, payment to the workers was made in cash from the sales proceeds of foodgrains received as grant and assistance. But later, the payment was made in kind (foodgrains) although cash payment was also made from the sales proceeds of wheat in limited and special cases. The FFW programme, by the end of the last century took the shape of an integrated rural development programme aiming at the development and maintenance of the rural infrastructure, preservation of the environment and social development. A combined fund for the programme was created by pooling together the grants and assistance from different countries, grants from WFP and allocations from the government. The allocations for the FFW program were made under the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief (presently the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management) and projects under the programme are implemented by various agencies and organisations under different ministries and also by some non-government organisations. The major agencies implemented the FFW projects were, the Department of LGED under the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, Department of Forest under the Ministry of Forest and Environment, and some organisations under the Ministry of Water Resources.

A part of the resources of the FFW programme was spent in the government's Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme, initiated in the 1980s, under which poor and distressed women in rural areas were given VGF cards. A holder of this card (a distressed or landless woman, or a widow having no or very little income, or an extremely poor lactating woman) could receive a grant of up to 31.25 kg of food grain per month from the government store managed by local government units. The VGD cards were issued for a period of two years and in order to avail herself of the programme benefit, a woman was required to undergo some livelihood training and make a compulsory savings deposit of Tk 25 per month in her own bank account so that she could start some income generating activity in 18 months. After 18 months a new group was selected under the project. A part of the allocations under the FFW programme was also utilised during natural calamities like floods, cyclone and tidal bore. The projects under the FFW programme were implemented mainly during the dry season, which was suitable for all types of earth works. But the programme also remains in operation under the name Test Relief (TR) during the rainy season. Main projects implemented under TR include planting of saplings, repair of school buildings, colleges, mosques and temples and making of bamboo bridges.

The flow of such annual allocations never stopped till now, although according to WFP, the percentage of extremely poor population reduced to 17.6. The rate of production, procurement impost and distribution of foodgrains was increased during the first decade of the present century with the rapid population growth and increasing demand for food. WFP says despite important economic progress Bangladesh remains highly food insecure. It is ranked 129th out of 169 countries in the Human Development Index 2010. Earlier in 2005, the Household Income and Expenditure Survey revealed a serious finding. About 60 million people of Bangladesh consume less than the minimum daily-recommended amount of food. It says, achieving gender equality remains a challenge as women and girls experience significant disparity for having food intake beside other fundamental opportunities relating to health and medicare, education and income.

After the world food summit of 1996, Bangladesh adopted the national food policy and formulated a comprehensive food security policy framework and a national plan of action to reduce the scarcity of foodgrain and poverty as a whole particularly in the rural areas. According to WFP, about 50% of household cannot afford adequate diet upto 2011. Opportunities are very limited for rural people as 50% of them are landless.

The Food Division, Ministry of Food and Disaster Management with the support of development partners particularly WFP and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is making all out effort to support the ultra-poor, poor and low-income group household. WFP has been working with ultra-poor in areas of food security, nutritional well-being and livelihood. It is also working with communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through both food and cash for works programmes. The ongoing cash for work programme has been proved effective for the enhancement of financial ability and nutritional status of both women and children in the char areas. Moreover, the volume of food aid and import of foodgrains mainly rice and wheat is increasing every year.

Table 1  Annual Import of Foodgrains  (in million tones).

Year Food Aid Total Import
2000-01 479 1542
2001-02 501 1790
2002-03 242 3208
2003-04 277 2786
2004-05 289 3372
2005-06 194 2562
2006-07 91 2421
2007-08 258 3467
2008-09 129 3013
2009-10 60 3449
2010-11 163 5313

Source  Food Division, Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, January 2012.

During the first half of current FY 2011-12, the government imported about 1579 thousand tones of foodgrains and distributed 824551 tons from 1 July 2011 to 12 January 2012 of which 1255 metric tons of foodgrains were distributed under the FFW. The Department of Food procures foodgrains to build up a reserve for open market sale and distribution during crisis.

The Bureau of Non-formal Education, Primary and Mass Education Ministry in cooperation with WFP and Unicif have launched a unique school-feeding programme for urban working children. The programme began from 18 January 2011 on the earn and learn approach to improve attendance and completion rate at learning centres numbering 3,333 in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet and Barisal. A total of 73,326 working children aged 10-14 are being fed there of whom 60% are girls.

The Department of Relief, Ministry of Food and Disaster Managment has allotted 290 million metric tons of foodgrain upto June 2010. Of which 337,25 metric tons and 389,813 metric tons were allocated only in the FY of 2009-10 for FFW and TR respectively. The department of relief constructed 465 bridges and culverts upto 12 meter long by June 2010 at a cost of Tk 900 million.

Although incidents of corruption are reported in the media quite often, FFW programme has been proved effective for its supportive role to ultra-poor and disaster affected people in Bangladesh. At present it is practiced for construction, reconstructions, maintenance and development of infrastructures, under which both foodgrains and cash money are allocated and given to the beneficiaries. As FFW programme proved its worth in Bangladesh and elsewhere, many developing countries of Asia and Africa have adopted this model as a method of rural infrastructure development and poverty reduction. [Syed Sadiqur Rahman and Mahbubul Alam]