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New approaches in Bangladesh

An estimated 40,000 beggars take to the streets of Dhaka each day and the authorities in Bangladesh have decided to conduct a survey of them.

Though begging is banned, the practice remains widespread in both the capital and other towns and cities of Bangladesh. The government has now hired 10 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to survey the capital’s beggars in order to assess the root cause of why they end up on the streets. Each will be categorised according to their gender, age and physical status - beggars include women, children and the disabled – and also according to whether they beg year-round or irregularly, such as at times of seasonal shortages.

The survey has attracted some criticism from those worried the beggars will not wish to provide any information knowing they are acting illegally. But the Bangladeshi Social Welfare Minister has said the aim of the survey is not to drive the beggars away, but to see how they can be helped. Speaking about the new approach, according to the BBC, the Minister promised the government would provide “vocational training” or “pensions” where appropriate, or “help those who want to go back to their villages to restart their lives.” In order to provide the right kind of help, he said the government needed to have “precise information”.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh is playing host to another experiment which will hopefully improve the lives of the poor. One of the country’s scientists is testing a new variety of rice which has a long life-cycle. Rice plants normally yield just one harvest, but the new variety can be cropped up to three times. The scientist, Abed Chaudhury, working with the Australian National Rice Research Institute, says his aim is to “transform the annual plant into a perennial plant”. Not only will this save costs for farmers, the yields are also likely to much higher. Early tests in Bangladesh suggest harvests could be quadrupled; a traditional paddy field provides around 3 tonnes of rice per hectare, but the new plants are giving more than 12 tonnes in the same area of land. Some fertiliser is needed, but costs are comparatively low compared to the need of having to replant fields.

Managers of the project, where other ‘extended life’ rice varieties are also being tested, say the new plants are neither hybrid or genetically modified. Instead, they are similar to traditional varieties already under trial by the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute. The news agency Alertnet reported considerable excitement among those involved. The head of the project said “many people from different parts of the country have already contacted us”. As well as increasing yields, the new variety also has environmental benefits. Due to its semi-aquatic nature, rice produces methane, which is released when tilling the land. With the new variety, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced because there is less need to plough. The new rice variety is also more resilient to flooding. And in Bangladesh, that could prove a highly significant factor for increasing harvests.

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