By vicsolbert | July 21, 2014 | 0 Comment
The final region of field operations we visited was Cox’s Bazaar, a beautiful coastal destination in the far Southeast. Cox’s Bazaar is the number one destination for tourists in Bangladesh, 99% of which are Bangladeshi, as it is home to the longest (natural) beach in the world. It boasts 125 km of uninterrupted beach, though most people here seemed unaware that Brazil actually has a much longer beach, measuring 250 km, but they cheated and built beaches to connect the whole stretch. Despite having 125 km to work with, a majority of the resulting tourism development is all centered in the city of Cox’s Bazaar whose downtown is now wall to wall high rise hotels. High season is the winter, and everyone says it turns into an absolute zoo and wall to wall tourists. Just a few kilometers outside the city though and it’s still easy to get a stretch of beach to yourself. There are only a few beachside bungalow style resorts (one of which we were extremely lucky to stay at as they had a half price Ramadan special) which we think of as more typical for beach destinations. Transportation is very limiting for most people so they stay downtown.
The CREL project is promoting a few unique value chains here among beneficiaries. The huge number of hotels makes for a unique opportunity to create direct farmer to table supply chains of high quality fruits and vegetables for the hotels. A completely new crop CREL has introduced is strawberries. Three demonstration plots had a very successful first season. Production was not yet high enough to supply the hotels, but a majority of the valuable little fruits were sold to tourists in special packaging, almost like novelty items, for $3 a bag – about that same as in San Francisco. Another unique item being produced are hand crocheted or embroidered prayer caps. Many women are already engaged in producing these beautiful caps, but they actually have a very limited local demand despite the large Muslim population because they are so expensive. CREL is working to make connections to international markets in wealthier Muslim countries who are willing to pay for these beautiful high value products.
In addition to the field work, I got in some bonus fun taking advantage of our beautiful holiday location. My colleague Sobuj invited his wife Bably down and she brought an extra sari and some fun accessories and we did some photo shoots on the beach. It was really fun to get to wear a sari, since I never made it to a wedding here. I learned that I cannot do serious face photography though – I’m trying so hard not to laugh I end up tensing every muscle around my mouth which I think is the opposite of the point of not smiling in pictures. Oh well, good thing I told our wedding photographer I prefer candid shots.