A man travels down one of 8 newly constructed roads in Jessore, Bangladesh, that resulted from the collaboration between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska District, USAID, and the LGED, Bangladesh. Photo: Courtesy
The country’s biggest flower market in Jhikargacha, Jessore, is witnessing significant changes that will see it gain a modern market infrastructure with help from the US Army. That’s right – the US army, but just to ease that incongruous image of soldiers milling about in gardens, obviously it will not involve combatants, but rather the world-renowned US Army Engineering Corps.
For the growers who have turned a stretch of land off the Jessore-Benapole highway into “a piece of Holland in Bangladesh”, the initiative led by the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) couldn’t come soon enough. The growth of the industry they built from scratch has recently outpaced the rest of the economy, and looks set to continue.
It was here in the villages of Godkhali union that commercial floriculture is said to have taken roots in Bangladesh, on a 30-decimal plot back in 1983. While Godkhali remains the biggest, and is set to usher in the first modern markets of their kind in the country, Jessore today is just one of 22 districts – out of 64 – where flowers are grown for commercial purposes, on nearly 1,000 acres of land.
Over a five-year period from 2010 to 2015, the industry’s revenues more than trebled from $31 million to a cool $100 million, according to the Bangladesh Flower Society. After Godkhali gets its first modern market, complete with cold storage and 12 collection centres serving 12 villages in the union with modern markets, the industry’s growth momentum can be expected to receive another fillip.
Starting from the pioneers who laid the seeds for an industry providing livelihoods today for 150,000 people to the female farmers who form its core, in the wholesome nature of their produce, and the relentless quest for growth, Godkhali represents a triumph of enterprise. So it was just a matter of time really, before they caught the eye of USAID, whose ideal projects involve fostering entrepreneurship within host populations.
Godkhali’s flower market was thus quickly included in USAID’s Bangladesh Agriculture Infrastructure Development Program (BAIDP), for which the LGED is the executing agency.
As part of the project, the LGED will also build some 100-kms of roads to ease the transport of flowers and vegetables – both highly perishable items – from the markets to the centre and back. During a recent workshop held at the LGED’s Jessore training centre, the USAID Project Manager Mitchell Nelson said the total cost of the infrastructure will be $50 million.
Jashim Uddin, the project director from LGED, said construction work started in 2015 and will end by 2019. The first components to be completed were 8 roads that the LGED built in Jessore with the help of the US Army Engineers Corps, a premier engineering agency that most recently came into the limelight for its position on the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline it is contracted to build. In Jessore, the new roads they helped build are much humbler in scale and ambition, But they have improved market access for rural farmers, helping to increase their incomes, according to Mitchell Nelson.
According to a filing on the Corps’ website, their role in the process is “to assist LGED – the executing agency – with developing, reviewing and accepting the design standards and cost estimates for the projects, as well as to oversee LGED’s quality assurance program, and inspect and accept the completed work.”
The same filing tells us Cheryl Peyton, an environmental engineer with the Corps, helped develop an environmental mitigation plan for the projects, which includes erosion control, waste management procedures, and potable water and sanitation standards.
The Corps’ tie-up with the LGED is the first time they have worked on a ‘government-to-government’ or G2G basis. Highly impressed with the results so far, regional project manager Rob Leach, who was also at the workshop, said he would like “to see the government-to-government concept expand in the future for the delivery of other forms of aid.”
It would seem the US Army Engineering Corps and our own LGED have enjoyed a very good working relationship. Once their work is fully complete, no prizes for guessing where the congratulatory bouquets will be coming from.
2nd Photo caption: A man travels down one of 8 newly constructed roads in Jessore, Bangladesh, that resulted from the collaboration between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska District, USAID, and the LGED, Bangladesh. Photo: Courtesy