Rohingya Crisis: Enhancing Food Security, Self-Reliance and Livelihoods (EFSL)

In Cox's Bazar District, Helvetas supports Rohingya and Host Communities increasing their resilience by enhancing food securities, self-reliance and livelihoods.

Rohingya Crisis: Enhancing Food Security, Self-Reliance and Livelihoods (EFSL)

In Cox's Bazar District, Helvetas supports Rohingya and Host Communities increasing their resilience by enhancing food securities, self-reliance and livelihoods.
Women farmer selling vegetable at collection center -Helvetas-Jahangir Kabir

Farmer selling vegetables in front of women-led collection center in Jaliaplong Union

The project in brief

Implemented by

Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation - Bangladesh

Funded by

Swiss Solidarity and Canton Geneva




The project began in May 2019. It is ongoing and will end in March 2022. Helvetas will capitalize the experience gathered during the implementation of EFSL to launch a new project aimed at Supporting Harmony, Improving Nutrition and the Environment for the Rohingya and Host Community (SHINE). SHINE will be launched in April 2022 and will have a duration of 3 years.


The EFSL project aims at increasing the resilience by enhancing food security and self-reliance of the Rohingya refugees, while strengthening the livelihood bases of impoverished host families that bear a heavy burden from the massive refugee influx. The project works on the nexus of humanitarian response and development practices. It has supported 22.000 households on the topic of vegetable production. Among these households 7.000 households are in host community and 15.000 in Rohingya community.

Project aims

The EFSL project focuses both on host community and Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. - The project aims that vulnerable Rohingya refugees are able to improve their food security, achieve broader dietary diversity and strengthen their self-reliance. - Simultaneously, the project aims that host community farming households strengthen their livelihood bases and improve their food security, household incomes and resilience.

Elements useful to facilitation

Bangladesh’s regulatory framework for disaster management provides the legislative, policy conditions for the implementation of the project:

  • Disaster Management Act 2012
  • National Disaster Management Policy 2015
  • Disaster Management Plan 2016-2020
  • Standing Orders on Disaster

EFSL is implemented in compliance with the above regulatory framework and according to the provisions of Government of Bangladesh for foreign funding.

Impact of Vegetable Gardening Support of Helvetas in the Camps / Interview with Md. Mahfuzar Rahman, Deputy Secretary & Camp in Charge, Ministry of Public Administration

Main activities of the project

Helvetas identified in 2018 that the challenges of the Rohingya refugee crisis could no longer be thought of, or responded to, as a short-term humanitarian emergency. While short-term life-saving assistance for refugees was – and still is – crucial, it was the time to address and mitigate medium and long term challenges to both Rohingya refugees and affected host communities.

Therefore, with the life-saving interventions, there is an urgent need to support resilience building activities for the Rohingya refugees in the camps, to minimize negative and irreversible coping mechanisms, enhance food security and nutrition awareness and promote life skills to restore hope, dignity and self-sufficiency. Simultaneously, support livelihoods of host communities related to new/emerging market opportunities and seek to benefit from the existing large potential, through productivity gains.

Helvetas response seeks to address the above listed priority needs through four inter-linked project components:

  • Component A – boost capacity to produce own vegetables inside the camps
  • Component B – provide additional temporary income opportunities that allow to buy essential items without having to resort to corrosive and potentially damaging coping strategies
  • Component C – allow refugees with specific vulnerabilities to improve their dietary diversification thanks to fresh food vouchers
  • Component D – create lasting benefits and sustainably improve the income of farming households through productivity gains, production increases, asset improvements and market system development.

Project Components A, B and C focus on Rohingya refugees in the camps, while project Component D is put in place to sustainably improve agriculture-based livelihoods and nutrition of host communities.

Interview with Md. Abul Kasem, Deputy Director, Department of Agricultural Extension 


HELVETAS implements the project together with Shushilan, a competent and experienced Bangladeshi national NGO that has already been a HELVETAS partner for previous projects and activities. Since its establishment in 1991, Shushilan worked in 37 districts across Bangladesh, implementing projects in multiple thematic areas including agricultural development and disaster risk reduction. In Cox’s Bazar district, Shushilan has been implementing food security, livelihoods, skills development and psychosocial support projects for Rohingya refugees as well as particularly vulnerable host families. Among other activities, Shushilan presently (co-) implements the Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition (EFSN) programme, a WFP mandate covering 9,000 host community families in Teknaf Upazila. This project provides support to host communities through monthly grants for household subsistence, the building of social networks, the capacity strengthening for entrepreneurship, cash grants for income generating activities, and the facilitation of market linkages. The “Enhancing Food Security, Self-Reliance and Livelihoods” project builds on that know-how (incl. synergies with WFP), supporting Shushilan in building its capacity for local service provision and local market development, and expanding this experience into the Ukhiya Upazila. The project supported the local partner in its capacity building.

Challenges encountered in delivering the project

  1. In the camps there is a dire need for supplementary food to that provided by WFP. The quantity provided through the vertical gardens, is still insufficient. Host communities’ production to supply the camps is also needed, vertical gardens in the camps alone is not enough.
  2. In the beginning it was a challenge to gain acceptance for the host community Local Service Providers (LSPs) due to the existing social and cultural barriers between host and camp community. LSPs are local Bangladeshi persons, who support local small-scale farmers. Many are themselves farmers, who have much knowledge on local agriculture and access to seeds. LSPs have experiences and training in various farming techniques, and often good relationships to buyers and sellers. For their services LSPs, generally, receive from producers groups a small compensation. Therefore, the system of LSPs in improving farming techniques and production as well as in connecting small scale famers to the markets, has proven to be sustainable all over Bangladesh. See example of LSP’s model: Disability-Inclusive Graduation out of Poverty | Bangladesh | Helvetas.
  3. Gender-related religious and cultural believes and inequalities that keep women from leaving the house and participating in economic activities.
  4. COVID 19 movement restrictions in the camp and host community.
  5. Limited space for gardening available in the camps.
Technical Training for Vegetable Production by Woman LSP for host community members at Ratnapalong Union; Credit: Helvetas/Sharmin Akter
Technical Training for Vegetable Production by Woman LSP for host community members at Ratnapalong Union; © Helvetas/Sharmin Akter

How were the challenges overcome?

  1. The established Collection and Sales Centers and Farmer Group Markets in the Host Community are now able to sell part of their produce to WFP vendors. This way, the Rohingya refugees get access to more fresh vegetables in the camps. In addition, in close coordination with the Food Security Sector, WFP, FAO and different agencies, community and homestead vegetable gardens were established in the camps. Helvetas’ role was to support the capacity building of Rohingya refugees in the establishment, development and maintenance of home gardens in the available spaces, link the gardens to expert technical support provided by the LSPs and sensitize Rohingya refugees for the importance of access and consumptions of nutritious fresh food, such as local grown vegetables. By producing more vegetables themselves through this Good Practice, the quantity and quality of vegetables available to the camp community significantly increased.
  2. Collaboration with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) the Camp-in-Charge played vital role to facilitate mutual understanding between the host and the refugee community and increase the acceptance of the LSPs as last mile service deliverers. A certain quality control of the training provided to LSPs was ensured by involving the local government extension services. Engagement of LSPs in camps created an opportunity for exchange between the Rohingya community and LSPs from the host community to share their ideas and perceptions about vegetable production. As it is a technical topic, it was not deemed sensitive, and a common purpose was easily found. This also became apparent at collection centers, where the interaction allowed buyers to get to know the Rohingya community demand.
  3. Vegetable growing can be done near their home and is clearly an accepted occupation for women in this rather conservative area. As also the advice and mentoring by the LSPs was given by door-to-door visits, the access to the technical support for women could be facilitated. By focusing specifically on participation of women farmers and ensuring their inclusion in the groups, they were able to produce and sell their vegetables in the group market at local community level, thus contributing for their family financial stability. Thanks to the short distance to the collection and sales centers and the prioritization of women farmers, the cultural barrier to get market access was low. The economic development increases their acceptance within their family and inter-community level.
  4. During the Covid-19 movement restrictions, it proved to be very valuable to maintain a strong relationship and mobile communication with the existing LSPs and the camp leaders (Majis). This way, the LSPs and Majis could provide ongoing technical mentoring when the project staff could not reach the beneficiaries directly.
  5. Innovative cost-effective solutions using the local resources were developed by the project team that facilitate making the most of the limited space available in the camps. This includes vertical gardening and sack gardening. Moreover, close coordination with relevant stakeholders (CiC and UN environmental committee of camp and other (I)NGOs and agencies) were key to identify spaces suitable for community gardens in the camps. 

Visual Training Video, Art of branch cutting (3G-4G) to increase production: Applying 3G-4G Technique: See the Difference at Every Stage of Agriculture Production

Results of the project

  • 22.000 households (7.000 host community & 15.000 in Rohingya refugees) increased vegetable production and consumption;
  • The host community has new and improved skills, practices and technologies which contributed to enhance their vegetable production and productivity and to create additional employment and increase their income;
  • Social Cohesion between the refugees and the host community is strengthened
  • Refugees and host community have ongoing easy access to information and technical support through the LSPs and the established Service Provider Association (SPA)
  • LSPs supported poor producers to establish linkages with market actors
  • Women have been empowered and their role in decision-making has been strengthened


After receiving technical training and mentoring through the EFSL project, my income is three times higher than before. Now I can provide vegetables to my family, make more profit and expand the production. I am happy to be self-employed.

Mostak Ahamed, from the host community in Ratnapalong Union of Ukhiya Upazila under Cox's Bazar District

How the project meets the GCR Objectives

Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries

The Good Practice contributes to ease the pressure on host countries through (A) the creation of sustainable income source for the host community in Cox’s Bazar district. Through the LSP, farmers have direct access to markets on which agricultural products are bought for the consumption by the people living in the camps. The demand for vegetables has significantly increased and thus small-scale host community farmers, living near the camps do directly economically profit form the refugee situation. (B) In addition, the Good Practice has contributed to improve the nutrition of the host community by providing technical knowledge and ongoing mentoring support through LSPs on vegetable and focusing on the inclusion of women. (C) Moreover, the pressure on host countries is eased by an improved social cohesion created between the host community and the Rohingya refugees through the project set-up which brings both communities together.

Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance

The refugees involved in the EFSL project were involved in each stage of the decision-making process, monitoring, and lessons learned and thus developed a sense of ownership which contributes to self-reliance in the community. Through this Good Practice, the targeted Rohingya refugees developed the skills to produce for their own personal use or consumption. By introducing homestead and community gardening paired with the LSP model, this Good Practice reduces the dependence of the Rohingya refugees on external actors to provide services and makes a sustained and positive difference in the lives of refugees.

Homestead Vertical Garden and Organic Pest Control in Rohingya Camp; Credit: Helvetas/Jahangir Kabir
Homestead Vertical Garden and Organic Pest Control in Rohingya Camp ©Helvetas/Jahangir Kabir

Next steps

Helvetas aims to scale up the initiatives of EFSL and focus on sustainably increasing the resilience of host communities and refugees, through its recently announced SHINE project. SHINE aims at increasing resilience by:

  1. increasing the adaptive capacity of host communities and refugees by supporting the adoption of climate resilient livelihood solutions and the by strengthening local market systems;
  2. enhancing the absorptive capacity of host communities and refuges by providing cash support and increasing awareness of the target groups and;
  3. fostering the transformative capacity of the target groups through community restoration and awareness raising activities.

Areas in need of support

Helvetas' approach relies on promoting ownership by local actors and durable impacts. To the extent possible the project aimed, from the start, to assume temporary and facilitative roles. Helvetas has extensive institutional experience in applying the market systems development approach in Bangladesh and in other regions. This approach highlights the importance of having a feasible and relevant vision for the sustainability of the initiatives and transmitting this vision to all relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders must develop a realistic picture of how a project will translate into the sustainable functioning of the local system in the future, once projects are over. In the case of Cox’s Bazar and the Rohingya refugee crisis it may not always be possible for the system to work sustainably, without external interventions. However, parts of the system may work sustainably, reducing vulnerabilities and promoting inclusive economic development.


Persons submitting the Good Practice:

Kamlesh Vyas, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator

Melanie Pietschmann, Junior Officer Business Development and Communications, Helvetas

Barbara Dietrich, Regional Coordinator

Paulo Rodrigues, Advisor Market Systems in fragile contexts

Régis Blanc, Migration Advisor, Helvetas

Email the project:

[email protected]

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