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Cablegate: Bangladesh Mission Food Security Diplomacy and Development

DE RUEHKA #0026/01 0100914
O 100914Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 124059


1. (SBU) Bangladesh and the U.S. diplomatic-development team at
Embassy Dhaka (Mission Dhaka) are well-positioned to maximize the
opportunities presented by the USG's Global Hunger and Food Security
Initiative. Mission Dhaka will capitalize on the political will of
Bangladesh's leaders and our whole-of-government operating platform
to address the underlying causes of hunger, poverty and food
insecurity in Bangladesh. Almost nowhere else on the planet is food
security more urgently needed. Bangladesh's population is half the
size of the United States, yet squeezed into a landmass the size of
Iowa, and faces natural and man-made threats, from rising sea levels
and melting glaciers upstream to violent extremism. Tackling food
security in Bangladesh will not only contribute to economic growth,
but can help the nation adapt to climate change and maintain its
tradition of moderate, tolerant Islam. Mission Dhaka's diplomacy
and development strategy is keyed to the five principles of the food
security initiative. (reftel)

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I. Comprehensive Approach

2. (SBU) A comprehensive approach to food security advances
agriculture-led growth, reduces under-nutrition, and increases the
impact of humanitarian food assistance. The Government of
Bangladesh's (GOB's) National Food Policy Plan of Action has three
thematic areas: food availability, economic access to food, and
nutrition/utilization of food. Guided by both the GOB's plans and
the USG's food security principles, U.S. Mission Dhaka's food
security task force has identified four broad areas for potential
USG action:

--Family planning and maternal and infant nutrition;
--Sustainable agriculture (includes climate change and adaptation)
and agriculture-based economic growth;
--Safety net programs and non-emergency food aid programming; and,
--Governance and capacity building as a cross-cutting issue to
support i) GOB policy formation at the national level and ii) policy
implementation and management/delivery of services in food security
related sectors at the local level.

3. (SBU) Each of these four areas will require efforts involving
diplomacy, development and policy reform. Mission Dhaka enjoys
unparalleled access to key decision-makers in Bangladesh, and we
already are engaging on food security at all levels, from the Prime
Minister on down. As we engage with the GOB, donors and other
partners, we also will implement a public outreach strategy to
ensure public support and highlight U.S. assistance to Bangladesh.

4. (U) An upcoming target of opportunity to engage with the GOB,
civil society, and donors on food security will be the Bangladesh
Development Forum scheduled for the end of February. This will be
the largest gathering of Bangladesh development actors in several
years. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will chair the Forum, and food
security will be one of the top items on the agenda.

Family Planning and Nutrition

5. (SBU) In the area of family planning and nutrition,
unsustainable population growth threatens to overtake growth in food
production. Severe under-nutrition fosters a recurring cycle of
poverty. While Bangladesh has significantly reduced its population
growth rate, population growth continues to threaten development
progress. Bangladesh needs to revitalize its family planning
program and better integrate it into development programs more
broadly. Child nutrition and maternal health practices are
especially weak in Bangladesh, in part because of cultural beliefs
that harm, rather than help, women and children. Changing these
beliefs and behaviors will require active engagement at a variety of
levels, through development programs, outreach to government and
community leaders, and public diplomacy.

Sustainable Agriculture and Economic Growth

6. (SBU) In the area of sustainable agriculture and
agriculture-based economic growth, the challenges we will address

DHAKA 00000026 002 OF 005

--low agricultural productivity;
--underdeveloped internal markets for agricultural products;
--a constrained business environment that hinders private sector
--environmental degradation and climate change that puts additional
pressure on agricultural productivity and land; and,
--a failure by successive governments to mobilize and target
agricultural resources to achieve broad-based economic growth.

The GOB's current focus on agricultural productivity centers on rice
production and managing disasters. The USG will work with the GOB
to broaden this emphasis and expand the environment for diversified
agricultural production and integration into regional markets.

7. (SBU) In addition to development programs, diplomatic and policy
efforts in this area will focus on improving Bangladesh's business
and investment climate; identifying policies and mechanisms to
ensure better inclusion of women and the ultra-poor in agriculture
and economic growth activities; promoting technologies, including
biotechnology, that support agriculture productivity and
sustainability; and supporting efforts to connect agriculture and
food security with conservation and climate change adaptation and

8. (SBU) Mission Dhaka will also continue its efforts to encourage
market-based solutions. Many in Bangladesh, including some of its
top leaders, identify philosophically with public sector solutions
despite widespread evidence that the private sector is the best
driver for growth. Similarly, Mission Dhaka will continue to
promote expansion and diversification in a range of areas, from
agricultural production to trade to financing mechanisms.

Safety net programs and non-emergency food aid

9. (SBU) In the area of safety net programs and non-emergency food
aid programming, Mission Dhaka will seek to support efforts to make
social safety net programs more efficient, better targeted and
transparent. Bangladesh's leaders use social safety net programs as
a political as well as an economic and social tool. It will require
efforts at all levels of the USG to ensure the GOB focuses on
economic and social, rather than political, outcomes of social
safety net programs.

Governance and capacity building

10. (SBU) The politicization of issues of national interest,
over-centralization of government, and weak capacity and
polarization within the bureaucracy are major challenges to the
success of the food security initiative. Mission Dhaka will work at
all levels, including through public outreach, to ensure these
challenges do not become barriers to success. Mission Dhaka will
also need to serve as an "institutional memory" on food security for
succeeding governments and will need to ensure that successive GOB
leaders do not throw the baby out with the bath water in their
efforts to distinguish themselves from their predecessors.

II. Country-led Plan

11. (SBU) Bangladesh's Awami League government has proclaimed food
security its top priority. "Controlling food prices" was the Awami
League's main slogan during the December 2008 campaign that led to
the party's landslide victory in national elections. When the GOB
says it wants to "control food prices," it means it wants to ensure
food security.

12. (SBU) A number of national plans already exist that focus on
food security in Bangladesh. They include:

--the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II;
--the National Food Policy Plan of Action;
--the National Plan of Action for Nutrition; and,
--the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.

While these plans are comprehensive inventories of problems and
potential solutions, they fail to target resources, specify
achievable priorities, identify resources or spell out
implementation mechanisms. Mission Dhaka, especially USAID, has
already worked with the GOB to develop these plans, in particular
the National Food Policy Plan of Action, and has begun the process

DHAKA 00000026 003 OF 005

of helping the GOB to refine priorities and link priority actions to
the national budget. Mission Dhaka's diplomacy and development
strategy has identified aspects of these plans the USG is best-
positioned to support. At the same time we will encourage the GOB
and other partners to fill gaps and pursue a comprehensive approach
to poverty and food insecurity.

13. (SBU) One of the many challenges to tackling food security in
Bangladesh is the plethora of GOB agencies involved in various
aspects of food security. Some ten ministries, including Finance,
Agriculture, Food and Disaster Management, Health and Family
Welfare, Women and Children Affairs, Fisheries and Livestock, and
Environment and Forest, plus the Parliament, play a role in food
security. GOB agencies operate like stove pipes and do not
adequately communicate with each other, except at the level of
Minister. In addition, there are differing views on food security
among the ministries and officials, delineation of responsibility is
often vague or overlapping, and in some cases there is little or no
accountability for results.

14. (SBU) Mission Dhaka, which actively engages with most of
Bangladesh's 30-plus ministries, already works to promote
inter-ministerial communication. As the food security initiative
moves forward, Mission Dhaka will pay special attention to involving
all appropriate ministries at various levels. Through diplomacy,
development and public outreach, Mission Dhaka will encourage
consensus within government and among other partners on Bangladesh's
food security activities. Given the challenges inherent in
developing a consensus among many actors, the timeline for achieving
consensus will evolve as USG interventions take place. At a
minimum, we will implement identified priorities as we work toward

15. (SBU) Since August 2009, Mission Dhaka has engaged at all
levels with government, civil society and the private sector to
highlight President Obama's commitment to global food security. We
ensured that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina represented Bangladesh at
the roundtable on food security hosted in September by the Secretary
and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the margins of the UN
General Assembly. As the USG's plans on food security became more
focused, in October and November the Ambassador and others engaged
in discussions with a range of Ministers and other high-level
officials regarding Bangladesh's designation as a food security
focus country. We leveraged VIP visits such as that of
Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer to
highlight USG food security priorities. Mission Dhaka will continue
to seek such opportunities to shape Bangladesh food security policy,
in addition to regular engagement. Potential occasions for
significant dialogue with the GOB in the near term include the
Bangladesh Development Forum in late February 2010, the annual U.S.
trade show sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce Bangladesh
and upcoming high-level visits by Washington officials.

III. Global, Regional, Local Coordination

16. (SBU) Mission Dhaka's integrated working environment makes it
ideally suited to the food security initiative's whole-of-government
approach. Our food security task force includes representatives
from USAID, State and USDA, and coordinates with the Mission's
Economic Working Group, which also includes representatives from
Public Affairs, DOJ and DOD. Food security and broad-based economic
growth are core objectives of Mission Dhaka's strategic plan, which
the Mission reviews on a quarterly basis, usually in conjunction
with the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and
Stabilization. This in turn feeds into the annual Mission Strategic
Plan (MSP) process and will inform our contributions to the
Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Mission
Dhaka's MSP was named best MSP of the year in 2009.

17. (SBU) Mission Dhaka's working group mechanism ensures a high
degree of coordination and minimizes gaps. Our working groups,
including the food security task force, regularly meet with
counterparts outside the USG. For example, as we prepared our
Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative (GHFSI) implementation
plan, we enlisted officials from the Food and Agricultural
Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) to brief us on
Bangladesh's food, particularly rice, situation. Mission Dhaka also
incorporates public diplomacy into all objectives and will seek
opportunities to showcase the food security initiative for the
Bangladesh public.

18. (SBU) As part of our GHFSI implementation plan, USAID

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Bangladesh intends to create a new, full-time position to serve as
country coordinator for all GHFSI activities. Guided by the
inter-agency food security task force, the country coordinator will
serve as the focal point for food security activities, from programs
to policy guidance to public outreach.

IV. Leveraging Multilateral Institutions

19. (SBU) Bangladesh has a large and active donor community of
which Mission Dhaka is a leading member. Donors, including the main
multilateral institutions, interact regularly with the GOB and each
other through a Local Consultative Group (LCG) structure that
includes topic-focused sub-groups. The LCG sub-group most relevant
to the GHFS Initiative is the Agriculture and Food Security
sub-group. USAID has already presented the broad outlines of the
GHFS Initiative objectives and will continue to use this sub-group
as a platform for communication with the donor partners. Key
members of the sub-group include the U.K. Department for
International Development (DfID), the European Union, Denmark, the
Netherlands, FAO, the World Food Program (WFP), World Bank, and the
Asian Development Bank (ADB).

20. (SBU) Mission Dhaka's food security task force also has
identified a number of bilateral and multi-lateral institutions that
will be key partners in the four priority areas identified for USG
investment: family planning and nutrition, sustainable agriculture,
safety net and non-emergency food aid programs, and governance and
capacity-building. Existing and planned programs by donors and
institutions like WFP, the World Bank, FAO, the UN Development
Program (UNDP), DfID, the European Union, UNICEF, Germany's
Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), the Embassy of
Denmark, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
and the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research,
Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) in particular will complement USG efforts on
food security.

21. (SBU) In addition to working through the LCG structure, Mission
Dhaka will continue to interact with bilateral and multilateral
counterparts both at the working level and at the level of
Ambassador, USAID Mission Director and Agricultural Attache. The
food security task force solicited input from donors for our
implementation plan. The food security initiative is now a regular
component of our discussions with donors and other partners.

V. Sustained and Accountable Commitment

22. (SBU) U.S. support for Bangladesh and its development,
including food security, dates to Bangladesh's independence. Since
1971, the United States has provided Bangladesh with more than $5
billion in assistance, more than half of that food aid. GOB leaders
and Bangladeshis more broadly recognize the vital role we have
played in its development, and they welcome further engagement,
particularly on food security. The Global Hunger and Food Security
Initiative, then, represents a continuation and expansion of an
already-close partnership. Though Bangladesh's food security
situation remains dire, it has improved greatly in the nation's
37-year history, in part due to U.S. support.

23. (SBU) The strong U.S.-Bangladesh relationship will aid efforts
to encourage and shape Bangladesh's response to food insecurity.
Raising incomes, increasing agricultural productivity, mitigating
the effects of climate change on agricultural productivity,
diversifying the food basket, establishing market-based systems,
changing infant and young child feeding practices, and more
transparent and reliable safety net programs are all elements of a
successful, long-term food security program. This will require
sustained political will, both in Bangladesh and in donor countries,
to keep hunger and poverty at the top of the world development
agenda. The additional resources committed under the GHFS
Initiative will, for the first time in over a decade, allow the USG
to make a credible, long-term commitment to addressing poverty and
food security through broad-based economic growth driven by
increased agricultural productivity and diversification.

24. (SBU) Building Bangladesh's internal capacity to meet these
goals and be accountable for results will also require substantial
reform and intelligent allocation of public resources. Lasting
change can only come if there is strong political will and long term
commitment to focus public resources more efficiently and
effectively on reform and capacity improvement.

DHAKA 00000026 005 OF 005

25. (SBU) The magnitude of the potential funding for Bangladesh on
food security and other development initiatives will allow the USG
to play an even stronger leadership role in engaging other donors
and the GOB to shape national policies that can significantly impact
the long term food security situation in Bangladesh. Mission Dhaka
will leverage the strong U.S.-Bangladesh relationship to maintain
momentum on food security. The convergence of U.S. commitment, the
will of Bangladesh's top leaders and the public recognition of the
extent of food insecurity here should help propel Bangladesh to new
levels of development and break its cycle of hunger and poverty.


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