DHAKA: When Doli Barman founded the first food bank in Kawapara village in northern Bangladesh two years ago, she wanted to make sure her community would be safe from hunger in times of crisis.
The impoverished region in Niamotpur, Naogaon district, an area inhabited by some 6,000 members of landless Indigenous groups, has often suffered food emergencies.
The simple food bank idea, called Musti Chal (“a fistful of rice”), has already helped it stay afloat during one of the biggest crises in recent years — the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — and is now allowing local women to make small investments and become self-sufficient.
“One of the main objectives of this food bank was to extend support to group members during periods of crisis,” Barman told Arab News.
Musti Chal was established just months before Bangladesh went into its first COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020. In communities like Barman’s, which are dependent on daily wage labor, pandemic-imposed closures deprived many of their livelihoods, increasing the country’s poverty rate to over 40 percent from 20 percent before the outbreak.
“Our people were saved from starvation,” Barman said. “From the food bank, we lent rice to community members, which they repaid later.”
In her village, the food bank is now run by 30 women. They set aside a fistful of rice from their cooking every day. After a week, they collect all the spare rice and sell some of it. They save the money they have earned and after some time invest it together into small projects like fish farming and domestic animals, which generate further income.
They also lend money to community members with little or no interest, preventing them from falling into debt by borrowing from loan sharks.
“This is how the food bank is serving the community. We want to grow together,” Barman said. “Now that I have the food bank, I am much more confident than before. I used to feel quite helpless whenever I fell into any crisis.”
With other members of Musti Chal, she has now managed to save around $250, which the women want to allocate for investment. This week, she said, they are going to buy livestock to rear.
In managing the food bank, Barman’s group received training from the Borendro Development Organization, a local nongovernmental organization funded by the Manusher Jonno Foundation, which helps uplift Indigenous communities in the region and has helped with the establishment of similar food banks in other villages.
“Initially, we provided some training and logistics to participants for the management of the food bank,” project coordinator Mohammed Anwar Hossain told Arab News. “Each group meets once a week to review their achievements and discuss future plans. We have a plan to extend further assistance to groups to increase the fund, which will help Indigenous people achieve financial independence.”
In Chargasa Vutkuri, a village next to Barman’s, women are already planning expansion.
“Now we are planning to take a pond on lease for fish farming in the locality. There is also a plan to buy cattle,” she said. “All our 25 members are now growing together as a big family. We understand that the strength of togetherness will offer us a huge potential to grow.”