Victoria Solbert

international sustainable development professional

Final Thoughts from Bangladesh

By vicsolbert | August 27, 2014 | 0 Comment

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I am settling back into life in the states now, and gearing up for my final year of graduate school to start. I realized that I have never given a proper description of the project I was working on Bangladesh. So here is some background information on what CREL is and what I was doing for them to wrap up my summer exploits.

CREL, or Climate-Resilient Ecosystems and Livelihoods (CREL), is a USAID project being implemented by Winrock International. The goal of the project is to “adapt successful co-management models to conserve ecosystems and protected areas, improve governance of natural resources and biodiversity, and increase resilience to climate change through improved planning and livelihoods diversification.”  This basically means they want to protect important ecosystems by improving the management of national parks and other protected areas. To achieve this goal it is also important to support the surrounding communities, helping those who are typically resource extractors (logging, fishing, etc.) to create opportunities to support themselves without damaging these systems. This component of the project is referred to as the “livelihoods” component.

Activities under the livelihoods component of CREL primarily target small farming communities living in and around protected areas, providing education on improved farming practices and building market linkages to help them increase their income. In addition to agriculture, CREL also conducted trainings on aquaculture, reading, writing, business skills, and some handicrafts. The types of trainings conducted in any given community were selected based off a value chain analysis, which analyzed market potential, existing skills and resources, and the local environment to pick appropriate products and practices.

I came to Bangladesh to assist with the evaluation of these livelihood activities. In order to evaluate how effective initial project interventions have been I conducted a beneficiary assessment. This used qualitative interviews with project beneficiaries to gain an understanding of how the CREL project and livelihood activities are viewed by the people they are intended to benefit. I also compared these results to the planned initial outcomes necessary to achieve the projects long-term goals. This meant I got to travel to villages in project sites around the country in order to speak with members of these remote communities.

I my conversations I was constantly amazed at how engaged and motivated project participants were. CREL is the fourth in a series of similar projects focused on improving management of protected areas and preserving Bangladesh’s unique ecosystems.  These previous projects laid extensive groundwork, raising awareness among local communities around the importance of protecting these ecosystems and effectively managing resources. This base created a desire among project participants to find ways to adopt alternative livelihoods that would allow them to support themselves without relying on extraction of natural resources. The CREL project, through technical trainings, demonstration plots, and relationship building, is giving them the skills and capacity necessary to shift away from natural resource dependency, and many have already begun adopting new practices.

Overall I was very impressed that the CREL project was successfully building off these past projects and already had such good relationships with the communities despite CREL only being a little over 1.5 years old itself. I was also amazed at how effectively the project was managing a huge diversity of activities. All of the staff was excellent, and special thanks to Sobuj, Pasha, and Mahmud for working with me on this project.

Thanks also to Winrock International, USAID, and the Farmer-to-Farmer program for funding my work in Bangladesh. I hope I can work with them all again soon!

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