Poor Bangladeshi Women Learn To Start Food Businesses

Marginalised women in Bangladesh are receiving food and a sense of empowerment thanks to a programme run by WFP and the government of Bangladesh. Alongside monthly wheat flour rations, it offers business training and teaches participants about their rights.

GAIBANDAH – Smiles don’t come much wider than Anjuar’s. 

“I am very happy,” she says, proudly showing off her two recently acquired goats as her three sons jump around excitedly.

Malika is also beaming with satisfaction. “I feel empowered by WFP’s help – and I have big dreams for the future,” she says, caressing the silky mane of her prized cow -- the first of many she plans to buy.

What do these two women have in common besides winning smiles? 

They are both recent graduates of the Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) programme – a joint initiative between WFP and the Bangladeshi government providing monthly wheat flour rations and entrepreneurship training to the poorest, most marginalised women in Bangladesh. Roughly 10 million women and their families have benefitted from the programme since it was launched three decades ago.

a training session for VGD Bangladesh beneficiariesLegal rights and business skills

As part of the two-year programme, VGD beneficiaries attend regular training sessions where they discuss social issues and learn about their legal rights – for example, in marriage and divorce proceedings. Women like Anjuar and Malika also participate in a mandatory savings plan and are encouraged to start their own businesses, mainly in vegetable production or in animal-rearing.

A disabled husband has made Anjuar the family’s bread winner. WFP’s fortified wheat flour, she says, helped sustain her through difficult times – when scarce food forced the family to skip meals.

These women are ambitious, glowing with confidence and displaying immeasurable hope for what the future may bring – an encouraging sign in Bangladesh’s northwestern Gaibandah region where food insecurity is widespread and severe malnutrition is alarming.

Dreams to fulfil

Bangladesh is also no stranger to natural disasters. Known as the ‘Land of Rivers,’ it has several major waterways pulsing through the country.  While floods on a manageable scale are a welcome part of the agricultural cycle, severe flooding every four or five years kills people and destroys infrastructure, housing and livelihoods.

This region also experiences its fair share of river erosion, tropical cyclones, storm surges and recurrent drought.

While the smiles of Anjuar and Malika bring us hope and remind us of the positive difference WFP brings to those with the fewest opportunities, much more work is needed to help the 65 million Bangladeshis struggling to meet their basic food needs. 

They, too, have dreams to fulfil.