Bangladesh Food Supplies Improve

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People still go hungry in Bangladesh, but they're not starving anymore. And they want the world to know about their progress in rice farming.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Countries change, but the way the rest of world sees them may not. NPR's Jon Hamilton learned that in the rice fields of Bangladesh. Here's his reporter's notebook.

JON HAMILTON: In northern Bangladesh, hunger isn't just a word it's a season. There's winter, spring, summer and hunger or a manga(ph). It comes in the fall between rice harvests.

In the 1970s just as Bangladesh became a nation, the manga seasons turned deadly. There were droughts and floods, rice crops failed, probably a million people died. And the face of Bangladesh became that of a starving child on a UNICEF poster.

(Soundbite of splashing water)

HANSEN: Fast forward a few decades. I'm wading through a rice paddy with a producer, Jane Greenhalsh(ph).

Ms. JANE GREENHALSH (Producer): I guess I should take my shoes off. Oh well.

HAMILTON: We've come to the Rangpur district to do a story about a new type of rice that can survive even the worst monsoon flooding. Farmers stand knee-deep in emerald paddies. A river of children flows behind us - they're curious, not hungry.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

HAMILTON: We joined a dozen farmers in the shade to talk. It's a conversation a lot about how Bangladesh has changed. Rice cultivation has become a science and these farmers are at the cutting edge. They know rice varieties, rice genetics, rice history. I asked through an interpreter what they remember about a rice called IR8.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

HAMILTON: Of course they know it. IR8 was a super rice that came from the Philippines in the 70s after the killer mangas. IR8 helped start the green revolution that has been feeding Asia ever since. But that's old news. The farmers want to talk about better varieties developed right here in Bangladesh - BR11, for example, or BR29.

They brag about good these varieties taste or how well they grow. No wonder rice production here has tripled in the past 30 years.

It's a polite conversation until I ask an impolite question. What do they remember about people starving to death during manga?

Unidentified Man #3: (Foreign language spoken)

HAMILTON: That doesn't happen, they say. Not in Bangladesh, not anymore. Manga can still mean hunger but not starvation, and they want the world to know that. I get it. These people are proud of what they've done and they're tired of being just a face on a UNICEF poster.

SIMON: NPR's Jon Hamilton.

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