Lowering Barriers in Bangladesh Leads to Speedier Program Launches

Monday, June 22, 2020
Farmers in Bangladesh use a rice combine harvester leased with support from USAID to speed the harvest of their crop.

Lowering Barriers in Bangladesh Leads to Speedier Program Launches

Anar Khalil, of USAID’s Bangladesh Mission, is convinced that the traditional method of project design limits innovation, creativity, and responsiveness because of cost and limited partner engagement. Moreover, at times there is a disconnect with the reality on the ground because of the time it can take to design and make an award. Anar is the Senior Agriculture Private Sector Advisor with the Feed the Future team. 

As the AOR (agreement officer’s representative) for the Rice and Diversified Crop Activity (RDC), he favors lowering barriers and shortening the procurement process to speed up project launches.  

“We looked at past programs and realized that the traditional design process—from the moment we put together a concept idea to procurement—takes 18 months to two years,” Anar said. “So by the time the project is awarded, these ideas are old.”

What his team didn’t want, he said, was for potential bidders to mirror the Agency’s program ideas and “tell us what we just told them. We wanted to put the development challenges to them and see if they could address them with creative solutions.”

By adopting such adaptive management, Anar and his colleagues were able to make decisions and adjustments in the RDC program and develop effective ways to address agricultural market constraints in Bangladesh. To date, they have brought together 37 companies into mutually beneficial partnerships with nearly $27 million in transactions. 

For example, with support from the RDC activity, Konika Seed Company, a major input supplier, adopted a new business model to better serve farmers. Among the new approaches, the purchase of two rice combine harvesters from machinery distributor Metal Limited. Now, farmers who buy seeds from Konika can also rent mechanized harvesters. As a result, they can harvest one acre of rice––cut, thresh, and bag––in about an hour. Previously, with only manual labor, the same work would take days. The cost savings? About 3000 Bangladeshi Taka per acre, or roughly half a month’s wage. And there’s an added benefit: with mechanized harvesting, farmers can get crops out of the field fast and avoid potential damage from flooding and cyclones, both common occurrences in Bangladesh.

In the case of Konika, 1,660 contract farmers received a 30 percent discount on agriculture inputs if they leased mechanized services from Konika, as well as an additional 10 percent discount if they sold 1,000 kilograms of harvested rice to Konika.

“In such cases, the Mission serves a pivotal role as a facilitator in bringing together private industry and the farming  community, and our activity takes on more of a consulting role,” Anar said. “Our goal is to create sustainable partnerships. It becomes a win-win situation for all the parties involved.” 

Anar is sold on the processes USAID has implemented in designing programs, such as short concept notes and the early involvement of potential partners.

In his view, given Bangladesh’s dynamic private sector, it is not difficult finding and energizing prospective partners to work on development goals.

“We’re lucky,” he said. “We have a private sector here that is very adaptable, flexible, and innovative. They are willing to work with us and test various business models, even if it doesn’t always result in successful implementation.

“We utilize a multiphase approach where we initially do field trials. If they are successful, then we scale them with selected partners.”

Anar noted that there is always a question of how the Agency aligns private-sector interests with development objectives.

“It’s a balance you attempt to find, but overall we haven’t had major challenges working with companies in Bangladesh,” he said, pointing to the large number of current partnerships.

Last updated: June 22, 2020

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