Nov 30, 2009

Chittagong Hills Tract: Indigenous Practice Fights Food Crisis in CHT

Active ImageA traditional indigenous practice is being taken up by different communities to fight a food crisis in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. Bengalis and other ethnic groups have adopted the practice of the Mro tribe, of creating a Rice Bank, in their own communities.



Below is an article published by bdnews24:


They say the Rice Bank can give them the chance to prepare as rodents threaten another spell of destruction of crops including paddy in the coming season.

The vast bamboo growing areas—spreading over parts of India, Bangladesh (taking in the hill tracts) and Myanmar—have been facing acute food shortages since 2007 due to a rat plague, which occurs on regular basis every 47 to 50 years.

According to government, around 1.1 million people live in the hill districts of Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban, with an area of over 13,000 square kilometres. Half belong to different indigenous groups and half are Bengalis who settled in the 1970s and 80s.

Chakma, Bengali, Marma, Mro, Tenchunga, Pankho are the major communities.

Mro farmers have traditionally deposited rice in a 'bank' during the harvest period. Community members can take grain from it when necessary. Non-farmers can also take food from the bank so the whole community overcomes hunger together.

UNDP, with financial grants from the European Commission, has been promoting the Rice Bank model among different communities to face poverty in clusters of villages dotted in the hill tracts.

"We have already started our own Rice Bank," Chandra Bahu Chakma, a leader of the Sagupara village in Rangamati Sadar, told a visiting European Commission delegation on Nov 26.

A total of 24 families live in the island village on Kaptai lake in Rangamati district.

Marma leader Aung Sang Jai Karbari, of Karbaripara in Jibtoli union, told "It is a very effective way of facing food shortages in our communities."

Mohammad Shah Alam of Killamura-Bangalipara village in Balu Khali said his village was also creating a Rice Bank village from next year.

He clarified that all villagers, irrespective of their livelihoods, would get rice from the buffer stock during crisis periods.

Rangamati inhabitants can cultivate rice during periods when the lake waters recede from December to April. Their land goes under water during the rainy season starting in May every year.

They also depend on fishing, but for only eight to nine months a year as the government bans fishing in Kaptai lake during the rainy season.

"Fishermen will be able to take rice from the bank provided that they give more to the community stock when they earn more," Md Hossain, another Bengali community leader in Killamura-Bangalipara, told

Biplob Chakma, a cluster leader of the Community Empowerment Project of the UNDP, told that about 300 villages throughout the hill tracts had accepted the Rice Bank concept.

"The idea is one of the ways of sharing poverty in the villages," Patrick Sweeting, director of the CHT Development Facility (CHTDF) that is promoting the idea, told

"Their spirit is: they will eat together and starve together," said Sweeting.

Rob Stoelman, chief implementing officer of the CHTDF, told that a cyclical plague of rats was likely to continue destroying crops in the region in the coming season.

The hill tracts are experiencing a severe infestation of rats, which occurs every 50 years or so, as bamboo flowers produce seeds high in protein, and rats breed four times faster than normal during this time.

"The rats destroy the paddy and vegetable fields resulting in severe food crisis among the communities," said Sweeting.

Stoelman said the rat infestation grew over the last two years and may continue for another two to three years.

According to a UNDP survey, the rodent plague is also affecting at least 25,000 people in six villages along the Indian state of Mizoram.

Stoelman said the UNDP in 2003-04 carried out a study to find the best practices in the hill tracts for overcoming food crises.

"The Rice Bank concept was found to be one of the best at facing hunger among the communities in the region," he said.