Bangladesh Cooperatives Care for Communities Struggling During COVID-19 Lockdown

By Heifer International

August 10, 2020

In This Article

  • In Bangladesh, the COVID-19 pandemic and the country's subsequent lockdown have combined to create difficult economic realities for many people.
  • According to another recent survey from the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, about 13% of people are unemployed in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In this context, Heifer cooperatives are finding ways to support their members who are struggling.
  • The cooperatives provided 600 members with rice, lentils, cooking oil and soap.

As the global pandemic continues across the world, the outbreak is negatively impacting economies globally. In Bangladesh, the government declared country-wide general holiday and lockdown from March 26 through May 30. Then, the government issued an order of conditional overall activities and movement restrictions until August 3. As of July 26, there are 223,453 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 2,928 dead in Bangladesh. 

The sudden lockdown and conditional activities have negatively impacted the livelihoods of many people in Bangladesh. The prices of agricultural products have fallen, especially milk and dairy products; crops remain unharvested, unsold and unpreserved. Small businesses and retail and service sectors are also badly affected as they are unable to run their businesses smoothly due to the lockdown. This has disrupted the supply of seeds, pesticides, agricultural tools, etc.

Cooperatives in Bangladesh are supporting their members in the difficult times of COVID-19. Photo provided by Heifer Bangladesh.

Additionally, the mass migration of people from urban to rural areas because of sudden unemployment created negative impacts. According to the Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies, 3 million domestic workers across the country have either completely lost their jobs or have suffered cuts in income. According to another recent survey from the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, about 13% of people are unemployed in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey also revealed that Bangladesh will have 16.4 million people newly living in poverty in 2020, as the incomes of the working class in urban and rural areas have fallen sharply due to the lockdown to stop the spread of the virus.

The Vhangabari Union community in the Sirajganj District became overwhelmed with the lockdown. The main sources of income for this community are agriculture (crops, livestock and aquaculture) and working in the loom and cotton industry, but the sudden lockdown slowed or stopped those activities. About 90% of the community is struggling with drastically reduced in income and lack of employment opportunities. Heifer Bangladesh started working in this community in 2014 with local partner Bangladesh Association for Social Advancement, forming two cooperatives in 2015: Agradut and Shafollo Mohila Shomobai Shomity Ltd. The cooperatives have 1,900 women members.

In this pandemic situation, Agradut and Shafollo Mohila Shomobai Shomity Ltd. expressed care and solidarity of their members. The cooperatives organized a special meeting on April 27 and decided to support its 600 most-affected members from the co-ops' funds. The cooperatives spent BDT 142,000 (about $1,672) for 600 members by providing rice, lentils, cooking oil and soap to each member during the week of May 2. In addition to food aid support, the cooperatives created awareness on personal hygiene and social distancing in the community, which are keys to protecting against COVID-19. The cooperatives also engaged the local government and administration with their activities. Among others Gazi Fazlul Haque Vhasani, Chairman of Vhangabari Union and Sirajul Islam, Cooperative Officer of Belkuchi Upazila attended during food aid disbursements.

“I am so happy to have the support from our cooperatives. I will always remember this support as they provided during this crisis period,” Halima Begum said.

Afroza Begum, the president of Agradut Cooperative, said that “Heifer's 12 Cornerstones taught us to care for other people in need. We feel proud to provide support to our members.”

By Subrata Chowdhury, senior training manager
Contributions by
Nazmul Sarker, senior program manager, marketsSystems and enterprise development