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Sylhet’s Resilient Market Ecosystem

Bangladeshi Region Characterized by Sufi Shrines and a Changing Climate

The Sylhet Division – an area the size of Rhode Island in north-east Bangladesh – is characterized by lush, highland terrain. The regional capital, also called Sylhet, on the banks of the Surma River, is known for its Sufi shrines and bustling streets. The hinterland is a center for oil and gas exploration, as well as being Bangladesh’s largest tea distribution hub. Despite its commercial success, the area is underserved with 16.2 percent of people living in poverty, according to a 2016 report by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

21X9 Sylhet Ecosystem Hero Web

Three Overlapping Programs in Sylhet Involve iDE’s Market-Based Approach

iDE has been working in Sylhet since 1985 when we first started our “rower pump” initiative to improve access to surface water irrigation for rural households. Today, we are involved in three separate programs in Sylhet that focus on improving nutritional status, promoting environmentally-sound agriculture practices and increasing access to quality sanitation products. Specifically, the Suchana program is committed to reducing chronic undernutrition leading to stunting – low height for age – primarily through powering people to boost their incomes. Another program, Uddokta, seeks to improve the income, livelihoods, and environment of rural communities through enterprise development, green growth, and strengthening market systems. The third program, SanMarkS, is devoted to sanitation marketing, focusing on strengthening supply chains, improving consumer demand and strengthening local government, to increase uptake and utilization of sanitation products. While COVID-19 and the recent flooding have pushed people deeper into poverty and put limits on our fieldwork, these programs have endured and together form a network of market relationships where iDE’s actors and know-how are made available to thousands of people living in the region.

iDE has not examined the interplay of the overlapping Sylhet programs directly yet, but academic studies suggest development gains can be realized when interventions intersect. 

iDE’s Work Includes More Than 2,000 Touch Points Across Sylhet

This resilient market ecosystem is a community, a value chain, and a collection of individuals and businesses working together to buy and sell products and services that people need. The map above shows the location of more than 2,360 iDE-powered touchpoints – local business advisors, livestock service providers, agricultural collection points, sales agents, entrepreneurs and latrine producers – all engaging with market actors, communities, and individuals – spread across Sylhet. This concentration of programming activities – together with interventions being implemented by the government, other nonprofits, and UN agencies operating in the region – provides widespread access to a range of goods, services and knowledge for households and small scale business owners who might otherwise be isolated from income-generating opportunities they require to boost their livelihoods and lift themselves out of poverty.

Recovering From Flood

The monsoon season in Sylhet runs from April to October, with heavy thunderstorms occurring almost every day. In 2022, severe flooding destroyed livelihoods across the region, leaving at least 41 people dead and four million stranded. According to a new study, highlighted by the New York Times, in South Asia, climate change has contributed to an increased amount of rain falling in the region.

3 2 Sylhet Flood Map Web

Below is a list of Sylhet data points measuring human development in the region, which show progress in a number of areas. 

It is important to note that these data points were collected before both the pandemic and recent flooding occurred.

Improving Nutritional Status For Young Children

  • In 2020, 73 percent of survey respondents were classified as “food secure” compared to the 2019 baseline of 46 percent. In addition, the percentage of respondents who fell into the “severely food insecure” category dropped from 13 percent to 2 percent.

  • Part of a package of iDE’s programs that increase annual household incomes on average by $246 and generate $28 for households for every $1 spent by iDE. (Social Return on Investment is 28:1)

Promoted Green Agricultural Entrepreneurship

  • 800 micro, small and medium enterprises are receiving support in the areas of agriculture, livestock, aquaculture, poultry, and agricultural mechanization.

  • Part of a package of iDE’s programs that increase annual household incomes on average by $299 and generate $33 for households for every $1 spent by iDE.

  • Among program entrepreneurs, incomes increased by 30 percent in 2021.

Increased Access to Sanitation Products

  • Some 8,893 toilets have been sold to households across Sylhet.

  • Part of a package of iDE’s programs that increase annual household incomes on average by $208 and generate $28 for households for every $1 spent by iDE.

  • 2018 Lancet study in Bangladesh found incidence of diarrhea and stunting was lower in young children who accessed improved sanitation, combined with nutrition interventions, compared to a control group.

This work has been made possible by the generous support of the Government of Bangladesh, Chevron, the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, the European Union, UKAID, UNICEF, and other private corporations and individuals.

Measuring the Resilience of Sylhet’s Market System

Businesses that improve nutritional outcomes in Sylhet became more resilient to shocks and stressors, such as COVID-19 and flooding, over the last 18 months, according to iDE’s Market Systems Resilience Index (MSRI). MSRI also found there were more back up businesses in place, in case any closed, and businesses were more actively communicating with one another and their customers to better provide goods and services during the pandemic. The landmark index, launched by iDE in 2020, enables us to measure the strength of relationships among participants within a market system, helping us adapt our approach and direct our efforts to building relationships where necessary. A market’s resilience is measured by examining 11 equally weighted determinants derived from academic literature. iDE numerators conduct a survey of households and relevant market actors, asking about 100 questions, which probe the strength of the determinants within a geographically defined market. Answers are scored on a one through five rubric, depending on a determinant’s detected strength, with five being the highest. 

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