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Flooded bank in Bangladesh Two female community members farming

A million lives improved

Empowering women alongside men to improve flood defences and drainage, learn new farming techniques and haggle for fair prices at market is enabling 200,000 Bangladeshi households – approximately 1M people – to earn more and live better.

Government of Bangladesh and Government of the Netherlands
Program management, engineering, agricultural and environmental consultancy, stakeholder engagement, social inclusion
22 polders
Blue Gold has improved people’s security and prosperity across 22 polders, covering 119,000ha

In the delta region of Bangladesh, water is everything. At the heart of any long-term change, is water management. Improvements in agriculture, the reduction of poverty and the empowerment of women have all stemmed from engineering feats that have created and strengthened polders across the delta.

Farming here has become more predictable. It’s less vulnerable and stressful. All family members now work together in the fields. There are more books for the children and fuller plates on the table.

Anita Prashar

Programme Leader, National Highways


Low-lying, in the delta of three major rivers, and with more than two-thirds of its workforce engaged in agriculture, farmers and water engineers have enclosed parcels of land, known as ‘polders’. They are protected by earth embankments, with ditches, drains and sluice gates used to avoid waterlogging, and canals providing fresh water for irrigation. But Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Flooding, riverbank erosion and saltwater intrusion already make farmers’ lives hard, and heavier rains, fiercer storms and rising sea level are making them tougher still.

For most coastal farmers there are few if any alternative livelihoods. To improve their prospects, the governments of Bangladesh and the Netherlands jointly launched the Blue Gold program in 2013, focusing on polders in the south and south-western coastal areas of the country, where almost 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.

The program was geared to empowering local people to strengthen coastal and river defences protecting their farmland, and to diversify their farming practices. It also addressed scarcity of fresh water for drinking and crop irrigation. Euroconsult Mott MacDonald (part of Mott MacDonald Group) led a consortium of consultants throughout the program, from 2013 to 2021. We designed infrastructure improvements across 22 polders, and managed institutional strengthening, community engagement, training and funding, taking the programme from inception to sustainable operation.


One of the key objectives was to enable polder communities to manage water themselves – keeping flood waters out, draining excess groundwater and sharing fresh water for irrigation equitably. This has been delivered through water management groups (WMGs). The program also set out to improve gender equality and demonstrate that a more inclusive and equal society would deliver greater prosperity for all.


Blue Gold was multidisciplinary in its outlook and approach, bringing together agricultural, engineering and water practitioners to pursue a common goal.

Within each polder, WMGs were established for every village, with every household represented. This ensured that local knowledge was tapped, helping identify problems such as silt-laden canals, weak bunds and broken sluice gates, so ensuring money and time would be directed most effectively. It also cultivated engagement and a sense of ownership. WMGs are responsible for caring for the embankments and drainage infrastructure long term. They negotiate with local government to secure funding for repairs that cannot be managed with locally available labour and resources.

The program worked with long-established Farmer Field Schools to introduce new farming methods, encourage more diverse crop planting, and show farmers and householders additional ways of generating income – for example by raising chickens and making paper from water hyacinth, a plant that can choke ditches and canals. The Farmer Field Schools placed especial emphasis on educating women. This was supported by community engagement to promote women’s inclusion in farm work, infrastructure repairs and maintenance, running the WMGs and trading goods at market.

To overcome power imbalances between users of water infrastructure the Blue Gold program used ‘natok’, a popular form of interactive theatre that discusses social issues.


In the 22 polders covered by Blue Gold, women now have higher status and communities within Blue Gold have come to recognise the correlation between women’s inclusion and improvements in wellbeing. The program has improved incomes for nearly 200,000 households – 1M people.

The program’s final survey and report concluded it had successfully met its overall goal of improving food security and reducing poverty. Eight years-worth of investment had been paid back in higher productivity and GDP by program close. Improved crop and water management practices are giving higher cropping intensities and yields, while better constructed and maintained flood defences mean fewer crops and less land are lost to floods. In dry seasons fresh water is more equitably distributed.

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