Great Development Programmes that show us the way out of the economic meltdown . The Comilla Programme of Rural Development
Posted on November 9th, 2022

by Garvin Karunaratne

Sri Lanka being a Third World country will find the attempt of Michigan State University to find the best and quickest method of bringing about economic development in Bangladesh, very helpful. That was the The Comilla Programme of Rural Development which stands out as an instance of how an educational institute could bring about development. Here the ‘university’ was called an Academy. The Government of Pakistan requested help from the USA. The United States assigned that task to Michigan State University, the institution that had successfully brought about economic development in the State of Michigan. The aim was to find out what can be done to bring about the soundest and quickest economic and social development all over East Pakistan.”(Khan:1963:12)

What is very special of this Programme is that education- non formal education concepts were used to enable the people to participate in development tasks, building up their capacities and abilities in the process.

The educational strategy of Non Formal Education, used to enable the people to advance themselves in the Comilla Progr mme is best expressed in the words of Richard O. Niehoff one of the leading professors of Michigan State University:

Non Formal Education is defined for our purposes as the method of assessing the needs and interests of adults and out of school youth in developing countries, communicating with them, motivating them to participate, helping them to acquire necessary skills to adopt behavioural patterns and related activities which will increase their productivity and improve their living standards”(Niehoff:Non Formal Edu:1976)

It was decided to implement the rural development programme in the Kotwali Thana of the Comilla District on a pilot project basis. . The Kotwali Thana was 107 sq miles in size and involved 150,000 people. The Programme involved developing a number of models for rural development, aimed at ‘decentralized and coordinated rural administration, strengthening of local government and its coordination and synthesis with the civil administration… the building of the infrastructure of roads, drainage and irrigation, establishing a new concept of agricultural extension, collective and individual effort to bring about development, the establishment of a two tier cooperative system, including agricultural cooperatives and non agricultural cooperatives ’(Khan,1979,1-14)

An Academy, a land grant university type of organizaion, was established comprising specialists in agriculture, livestock and industry and the professors from Michigan State University were attached to this Academy. Cooperatives were to be used as the participatory institution to enable the people to function together. In the words of legendary Akhter Hameed Khan, the Director of the Academy, The Academy is expected to be a living centre of village development, where knowledge is not only collected and disseminated, but some fresh and critical thinking is done and and ideas and schemes are analysed and tested as in a laboratory….. The Action Research of the Academy or its pilot projects have become its distinctive feature. The purpose of the pilot projects is to study in depth and as a continuous project some aspect of rural development in order to discover effective methods, institutions and models. (The Works of Akhter Hameed Khan, Vol.!)

The individual village level cooperatives were united at the divisional level. Each cooperative selected a model farmer who was trained at the divisional level cooperative. All specialist officers in agriculture, industry, livestock at the divisional (Thana) level were attached to the Thana cooperative and the model farmers from every individual cooperative were trained one day every week at the Thana cooperative, where plans were discussed and developed further. The model farmers in turn had to work with the individual farmers and all farmers, members of the cooperative met once a week at the local cooperatives where specialists from the Academy including professors from Michigan State University would assess problems and contribute in drafting plans to be followed and also detail what had to be done in the future. The cooperative was built up with funds from the people.

On this Programme, in less than a decade- 1962 to 1969, 80% of land was brought under new hybrid seeds, with new techniques of cultivation being introduced, irrigation water was made available via tube wells and the yield increased from under 20 maunds to 46.5 maunds per acre, an increase of over a hundred percent. A situation of full employment was achieved with people being advised to become employed, with the help of cooperative loans. Agriculture and livestock development was the key and the Creamery making butter and cheese exists even today. In addition, a development model based on people organized in cooperatives, where the cooperatives were united at the Thana level to discuss development and implement development programmes was drawn up under the eye of the specialists at the Academy. This rural development model has been established in other areas of Bangladesh.

In the words of Hasnath Abdul Hye, the Director of the Comilla Programme:

Of all the Non Formal Education models the one experimented at Comilla has attracted wide attention for simplicity of approach and cost effectiveness. Its emphasis on involving the rural population as not

only the object but subject as well, in educational programs has been considered as the crucial element in the strategy… It is because of this significance that the Comilla Model of non formal education as evolved in the Sixties has lessons for today within and beyond Bangladesh”(Hye:Introduction to Non Formal Education..:1984)

Muhammed Asafuddowlah, once Director of the Comilla Programme states:

The Comilla Approach showed results yet unmatched in terms of application of non formal techniques in imparting lessons of management, discipline and increased income. The pristine quality of this system is its comprehensiveness and is its conceptual integration….. The greatest testimony of the viability of its viability of a concept is its result. In that analysis, the Comilla Approach has no peer.”(Introduction to The Works of Akhter Hammed Khan)

The pristine success achieved by the Comilla Programme in terms of increased production- over a hundred percent and full employment, even spilling over to border areas, militates the necessity for development specialists to assess what can be learned to enable success in economic development. The Comilla Model of Rural Development has been replicated in other areas of Bangladesh.

The Comilla Programme is ideal for immediate implementation if we are to find a way out of our economic meltdown of today. 


The Works of Akjhter Hameed Khan,  The Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development, 

Non Formal Education Theory and Practice at Comilla,  by Garvin Karunaratne,  The Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development, 1984

Richard O. Niehoff & Kenneth L. Neff,

Non Formal Education and the Rural Poor, Report of Conference & Workshop,

College of Education, Michigan State University, 1977

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