A Snapshot of the Chars Livelihoods Programme: What Is It and What Does It Do? Blog Written By: Matthew Pritchard, Team Leader, CLP

Posted on: 3 June, 2015 Posted in: Snapshot of CLP
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As I looked through my LinkedIn updates recently, I realised that I’ve published a few posts on various aspects of the Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP) without actually explaining what it is in any detail.  This post is designed to remedy that and answer the question, “What is the CLP?”

Simply put, it’s a livelihoods programme that aims to help households living in the chars of north-west Bangladesh out of extreme poverty.

But even in that one sentence, there are a lot of terms to clarify!

The Chars – What Are They?

Bangladesh is a country of rivers, with the mighty Brahmaputra / Jamuna being one of the top five rivers in the world by volume.  With these rivers come the “chars” in the north-west (and south) of Bangladesh: islands and other areas that arise in and around the rivers from silt deposited during the yearly monsoons.

In the last sixty years or so, the chars have gone from being areas of seasonal cattle migration – taking advantage of the lush pasture on older chars – to areas where people live permanently, usually engaging in livestock rearing and agriculture.  This change was driven by  pressure on land, a fast population growth rate and limited options for a sustainable livelihood on the mainland.

A typical view of a char from the river. Chars are very vulnerable to erosion during the yearly floods.

A typical view of a char from the river. Chars are very vulnerable to erosion during the yearly floods.

Life on the chars can be vulnerable.  Riverine islands are deposited by the rivers, but erosion can easily and quickly sweep away entire islands.  Chars people often say that they have moved ten or even twenty times in their life.

Distance from markets and service providers, such as governmental and non-governmental organisations, also increases the vulnerability of the chars-dwelling population.  Health and education services are rare in some areas, particularly those that are remote from the mainland.    In some areas, livelihoods options are constrained by sandy and unproductive soils, ‘elites’ capturing all the best land, and lack of capital to invest in agricultural production or other income-generating activities.

Chars-dwellers are also vulnerable to increasing climatic variations as a result of climate change: more and heavier rain; less rain and greater periods of drought; rains at a different time of year; longer periods of cold; more storms – all these and more are being noticed already.

All these factors mean that a large percentage of the chars-dwelling population exists at or below the poverty line, and around a third are officially classified by the Government of Bangladesh as ‘extreme poor’.

What Does Being “Extreme Poor” Mean?

CLP’s definition of ‘extreme poverty’ is used to identify participants that can take part in the programme.  Potential participants must:

  • not own or have access to land (not even the land their homestead is built on);
  • not have a regular income or a family member with a regular salary / job earning Taka 5,000 a month or more (about £41);
  • not have assets worth more than Tk 5,000; and not have more than a shared cow, or a certain limit of other assets such as sheep, goats or poultry;
  • not have any outstanding loans from micro-credit institutions;
  • have lived on the char for at least six months prior to the start of the CLP cohort
  • be willing to attend weekly meetings and engage in other programme activities.

Men in a chars village processing jute in the river.  Jute processing is just one of the agricultural jobs seasonally available on the chars.

Men in a chars village processing jute in the river. Jute processing is just one of the agricultural jobs seasonally available on the chars.

To illustrate the general circumstances of CLP’s participant, when our most recent cohort joined, their average household (HH) monthly earnings were Tk 2,081 (around £18).  This was usually earned by the male HH member, with the most common occupation being casual day-labourer in agriculture.  Households had assets worth, on average, Tk. 1,687 (around £14).

A Cohort: What’s That?

CLP was initially tasked with directly assisting 67,000 households – although this later increased to 78,000.  CLP had extra money due to efficiency and cost-savings – good work!

Because it’s not possible to work with all 67,000 HHs at once, CLP’s assistance is delivered to ‘cohorts’ of around 13,000 participant households per cohort.

Each cohort receives around 20 months of technical assistance, with the first cohort (2.1) beginning in May 2010 and completing in December 2011; and the final cohort (2.6) beginning in Sep 2014 and completing end-Feb 2016.

Each cohort receives the ‘core package’ of assistance.

The CLP Core Package

CLP-2’s ‘core package’ is delivered in eight Districts in north-west Bangladesh: Nilphamari, Lalmonhirat, Jamalpur, Rangpur, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Pabna, and Tangail; while its Markets component is delivered in a further two Districts: Bogra and Sirajganj.

CLP’s assistance is designed to provide an integrated series of assistance that, collectively, help extreme poor families become less vulnerable and develop a sustainable way of making a living – a livelihood.

CLP consists of 18 different technical sub-projects, organised into three main areas: infrastructure; markets & livelihoods; and human development.  Below are some of the main ones.

A plinth. In the foreground you can see the area from which soil was taken to make it.

A plinth. In the foreground you can see the area from which soil was taken to make it.

Constructing plinths to raise the household at least 60cm (two feet) above the highest-known flood level in the area.  Plinths are mounds of earth, engineered with sloping sides and planted with various grasses, fodder species and trees to both help resist erosion and provide food for participants and fodder for animals.  Plinths are also raised under the Infrastructure Employment Project (IEP), which employs local labourers during the ‘monga’ season from October to January.

  • Providing improved water supplies and sanitary latrines.  Each core participant household (CPHH) receives a subsidised improved water supply such as a tubewell.  The whole char community benefits from the sanitary latrines that are installed, under CLP’s community-wide “zero open-defecation programme.”
  • A CLP core participant, who are always female, buys cattle from a trader.

    A CLP core participant, who are always female, buys cattle from a trader.

    The Asset Transfer Project (ATP), which is the heart of the CLP’s livelihoods activities.  Each CPHH can choose to invest in an income-generating asset (IGA) worth Tk 17,500 (just under UK£150; around US$225).  Over 98% of HHs choose cattle, although some choose to invest in land titles, sewing machines, rickshaws or other IGAs.  Each HH also receives a stipend for the duration of CLP’s assistance, starting at Tk750 (UK£6.40; US$9.65) per month for the first six months to prevent distress sales of their asset, then falling to Tk 350 per month (UK£3.00; US$4.50) until CLP’s assistance ends – usually another 12 months or so.

  • Various other food security and livelihoods activities are also implemented, particularly homestead gardens, promotion of pit crops, and promotion of poultry keeping.  For both homestead gardening and pit crops, CLP encourages participants to diversify their food intake, as well as sell left-over produce to neighbours or at local markets.  Model poultry rearers are subsidised to produce an improved poultry house. Further income-generating opportunities exist for participants that become poultry vaccinators.
  • Under the Human Development Unit, participants receive a wide variety of training and social development capacity-building in the Social Development GroupsVillage Development Committees (VDCs) are also organised to both promote CLP messages and activities, as well as act as a sustainable local development body once CLP finishes.
  • The Direct Nutrition Intervention Project (DNIP) targets mothers and children from infancy to adolescence, providing iron and folic acid tablets; multi-nutrient powders; and information & advice on nutrition and healthy living.  CPKs – char nutrition workers that live on the chars – visit families regularly to promote these messages.
  • A CPK - village nutrition worker - visits a family and provides advice on healthy eating as well as medicines such as iron & folic acid and multi-nutrient powders.

    A CPK – village nutrition worker – visits a family and provides advice on healthy eating as well as medicines such as iron & folic acid and multi-nutrient powders.

    CLP also implements the Hygiene Behaviour Change Initiative, as well as organising a health satellite clinic every 15 days for each village.  CSKs – char health workers that also live on the chars – also visit each HH on a regular basis.

Does it Work?

The simple answer is ‘yes.’  CLP uses a concept called ‘graduation’ to get a snapshot of how effective it is at moving its participants out of extreme poverty.

Using a basket of 10 important indicators, such as incomes, access to improved water, reduced vulnerability to floods and asset values (among others), CLP calculates whether a participant has ‘graduated’ or not.  This means that they must meet any six of these 10 criteria.

Graduated households typically diversify their livelihood, for example selling milk or getting involved in other agricultural production or processing, such as growing and selling jute.

Graduated households typically diversify their livelihood, for example selling milk or getting involved in other agricultural production or processing, such as growing and selling jute.

Recent data shows that 85% of households do indeed graduate.  (See more details here:  http://bit.ly/GradBrief14.)  We’ve also looked into whether this graduation is sustained or not, and for over two-thirds of people, it looks like it is.  See more here: http://bit.ly/2015GradSustain

You can also have a look at a whole range of outcomes from CLP here: http://bit.ly/outcomes15

Our website is crammed with information about CLP.  Check it out here: www.clp-bangladesh.org

And if you have any specific questions, you can email us on info@clp-bangladesh.org. You can also get us on Twitter (@CLPBangladesh), LinkedIn and Facebook – just search for us!

Technical Details

It is funded by UKaid and Australian Aid; implemented by Maxwell Stamp PLC; sponsored by the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD & C); and executed by the Rural Development and Cooperative Division of the LGRD&C.

The programme’s budget is £81.7m (around $120m).  Activities on the ground are implemented through 17 implementing organisations (IMOs; usually local non-government organisations) and two Special Service Providers.

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