What was once Bangladesh’s only wild game reserve forest is now home to the largest refugee camp in the world. The Rohingya people fled senseless violence and pillaging of their villages in
Myanmar and made their homes in this forested area in Bangladesh. In less than a year, the refugee settlement grew to over a million inhabitants.
This once beautiful tropical forest was quickly transformed into a barren landscape. Trees are cut down for shelters. Brush and shrubs are being used as firewood for cooking. Even tree roots are dug up and dried for firewood. With few plants to hold the soil in place, the annual monsoon rains bring mudslides and erosion that add to the trials and despair of the refugees. Life in this setting feels hopeless.
Agri-Plus program launches in Bangladesh
To help Rohingya refugees find ways to provide food for themselves, we recently launched the SALT Agri-Plus program in Bangladesh. Officials in the refugee camp gave SALT Agri-Plus facilitators permission to help refugees begin the monumental work of transforming barren camp neighborhoods into green garden spaces.
SALT’s goal is to help each participating family develop their own garden and fruit orchard. The Bangladeshi government and other relief organizations provide basic food items like rice and cooking oil for the refugees. But this diet is largely deficient in nutritional foods like fruits, vegetables, and greens.
Agri-Plus staff organize refugee families into work groups. The groups work together to prepare and plant the land allotted to them by camp officials. Each group meets monthly to receive teaching on the best practices of planting hillside gardens. They learn about erosion control, natural pest management, and seed saving and storage.
At their first meeting, we provided them with a one-time gift of seeds, tree seedlings, and cow manure to get the project started. In two years, each family should have a completely sustainable garden that needs no outside input.
Along with the practical agricultural teaching at the meetings, Agri-Plus facilitators teach Biblical concepts such as creation care, stewardship, and loving and caring for each other. Most importantly, they teach about the true Giver and Sustainer of all life. This type of teaching is the core vision of the Agri-Plus program.
Having faced huge challenges and dismal surroundings, the refugee families are thankful for the opportunity to start their own gardens. We pray that Agri-Plus will offer one of many steps to bring long-term recovery to these suffering people.