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Rice scheme reaches those most in need

Subsidy extension means three meals a day for rural poor

Bangladeshi poor people line up to buy government-subsidized low-price rice Bangladeshi poor people line up to buy government-subsidized low-price rice
  • Uttom Stephan Rozario, Rajshahi
  • Bangladesh
  • February 18, 2011
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Tribal Catholics in Bangladesh’s northwest now regularly enjoy three square meals a day thanks to a government food subsidy program that has been extended into poor rural villages.

The Open Market Sale (OMS), a subsidized rice scheme, was first established in April 2008 when the cost of food in Bangladesh began to rise sharply as a result of global price hikes.

The price of rice, the staple food for Bangladeshis was particularly affected.

Originally, the scheme allowed people to buy rice at 24 taka (USD 0.34) instead of 40 taka in 2,500 centers in district towns across the country.

However, the scheme only benefitted those with easy access to the towns and meant villagers in more remote areas were left struggling to feed their families.

Many could only afford to eat one or two meals a day.

But with prices rising to what a recent World Bank report called “dangerous levels,” the government has extended the program so that it is more easily accessible for villagers in sub-districts.

It’s made a big difference for as many as 4.5 million poor people.

“We used to have three meals a day, but soaring prices saw my family starving,” said Tapan Hembrom, 56, a tribal Santal Catholic from northwestern Chapai Nawabgonj district, in Rajshahi diocese.

He can now have breakfast again before going off to work each day, he said.

Caritas Rajshahi agricultural officer Jillur Rahman lauded the scheme extension.

“This is appreciated because it enables poor people to eat properly. Food price rises hit the rural poor hard and if they spiral out of control we’ll face an ominous future,” he said.

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