Seasonal Hunger and Public Policies: Evidence from Northwest Bangladesh

Seasonal hunger arising from agricultural seasonality persists as a distinctive feature of rural livelihood across many regions scattered throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and tropical Asia. Yet the subject has not received enough attention in contemporary poverty discourses or in global efforts to combat food insecurity. This lack of attention is partly because of the deficiency of official annualized poverty estimates in capturing seasonality, but partly also because of inadequate understanding of the complex issues surrounding poverty-seasonality links. This book represents a modest effort to remedy this situation by drawing on the case study of Bangladesh.

More than 70 percent of Bangladesh’s nearly 150 million people live in the rural areas of Bangladesh, where life revolves around what is called a rice economy. Although the rural economy has become increasingly diversified with the growth of nonfarm activities, nearly 60 percent of the rural workers (and about half of the country’s entire workforce) are still employed in the agriculture sector. The country is also prone to floods and other natural disasters. In such a setting, one would expect regular occurrences of seasonal stress, which is only made worse by the natural calamities.

This book provides an exhaustive analysis of seasonal hunger in Bangladesh, with a special focus on the country’s northwest region of greater Rangpur. Well known in the famine literature, Rangpur was a mong the worst-hit regions during the Great Bengal Famine of 1942–44 and was at the epicenter of Bangladesh’s 1974 famine. The region not only has lagged the rest of the country in poverty reduction, but also has remained particularly vulnerable to seasonal hunger, locally known as monga. Studying the phenomenon of monga in Rangpur can thus provide insights into how the interlocking of seasonality and endemic poverty can intensify the severity of seasonal hunger. Moreover, the recently launched policy interventions in the region provide a test case of what works and what does not in combating seasonal hunger. The quasi-experimental designs of some of these interventions are particularly suitable for assessing their effects. 

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