Accelerating infrastructural development, ensuring utility services and upgrading education and medical services in rural areas may help engage the large number of people returning to their villages losing the sources of their income in the wake of COVID-19 fallout.
"You’ll have to ensure better communication system; gas and electricity supply, and education and medical facilities in rural areas to attract the private sector. The returnees from urban areas will also feel encouraged to involve in the rural economy if that happen," former caretaker government finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam told UNB.
He said there is no sign in sight yet that the economy ‘will reach its peak’ in near future. “So, he suggested creating more jobs in rural areas to absorb the extra pressure mounted by the returnees from urban areas. The government should focus on that."
Mirza Aziz mentioned that the rural economy is already overburdened with surplus workers and the new ones will only worsen the situation. "Now creating jobs for them is not an easy task."
Dr Aziz, who was also the chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), said the government should go for such activities which will be considered as productive. "Rural road renovation, repairing, maintenance and infrastructural development might absorb some workers," he said.
Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said there will be some jobs in rural areas if the agricultural stimulus package can be utilised properly.
Renovation, development and maintenance of rural infrastructures can be useful, he said adding, "We could utilise a good number of those who returned to their villages during this pandemic."
Prof Mustafiz said if the government-sponsored credit programmes can be implemented quickly those will help create jobs.
He put emphasis on providing financial assistance to non-government organisations which are contributing to various pockets of the rural economy. "If they get government help then they could absorb a good number of returnees."
Prof Mustafiz mentioned that the government so far did not pay attention to this sector. It will supplement government's effort to implement the SDG's 'leave no one behind' goal if it can do that.
Talking about the role of private sector in generating jobs in rural areas, he said if loans are provided properly for poultry, fisheries and livestock then there will be no job cut in this sector as it would create more employment opportunities instead. "The government has to play the role of felicitator in this connection."
Chairperson of Unnayan Onneshan Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, also a Dhaka University professor, also stressed the need for job retention and job creation through giving fiscal facilities.
"There should be mission-oriented rural rejuvenation scheme targeting the youth. There’ll be retraining and re-skilling programmes while introducing them with the banks who want to be self-employed. That means a comprehensive rural rejuvenation scheme should be taken," he said.
He also said those who cannot afford to engage in any work due to their age should be brought under universal social protection.
In its recent survey, Brac said the lockdown and social-distancing measures announced to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced 95 percent people across the country to suffer a loss in their income.
A total of 2,317 respondents -- 68 percent from rural areas and 32 percent from urban ones -- from different socio-economic backgrounds in 64 districts joined the survey conducted from 9 to 13 May, 2020.
The farmers of Sharankhola upazila of Bagerhat district have become frustrated with the increased salinity affecting their crop lands since Cyclone Amphan ripped through the country on May 20, leaving a vast tract of land unfit for cultivation.
The rise in sea levels associated with climate change meant creeping salinity over time was already known to be a long-term problem for farming croplands in the coastal districts. Extreme events such as cyclones that may not cause many human casualties can still leave behind lasting damage as they cause tidal surges in those areas, acting to cause spikes in salinity.
The saline water from the Bay has entered into the crop lands and fields of the upazila due to the collapse of the ring embankment along Baleshwar River during the cyclonic storm Amphan, creating waterlogged situations in many areas. Though the local administration has taken initiative to pump out the saline water, a lot of the salinity is embedded in the soil, leading to a long-term damage and decrease of soil quality.
According to the sources of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), if the salinity stays for a long period of time inside the ground, the nature of biodiversity and crops might be damaged and there will be a risk of damage of soil.
According to the DAE, Aman paddy and rabi-crops can tolerate salinity up to 6-7 Electrical conductivity (EC) decicimen/m but the authorities concerned have found 35-36 decicimen/m on the lands of the upazila due to the amphan. The salinity can be reduced through the rain water, they said.
Talking to local farmers, they said most of the lands in the upazila have been brought under Aman paddy and Rabi-crops cultivation in a year due to absence of fresh water and now farmers are busy with aman seedbeds.
Farmers fear that due to excess salinity, the production of crops including aman paddy, rabi-crops and vegetables will be affected. They also demanded cooperation of the government so that they can recoup their losses, caused by the amphan.
Harun Hawladar, a farmer of Bogi village in the upazila said “One acre land of mine has been submerged due to the collapse of the embankment on the night of Cyclone Amphan and saline has developed on my land gradually. I used to cultivate paddy in that land which is now turned into saline land. Now I’m worried about how many years I will be able to produce crops on the land.”
Anwar Hossain, another farmer of Chaltebunia village, said “I have four bighas of land and it is the source of the livelihood of my six-member family. As saline water entered into my land during cyclone Amphan it turned into saline land.”
He also feared that it is not possible to grow any crop on the land.
Nazrul Islam, a village doctor said most of the people of the upazila are depend on cultivation and the soil of many lands have lose its fertility due to saline water.
Mohammad Mamunur Rashid, deputy commissioner of Bagerhat District, said “There is a possibility of facing some problems due to the salt water that got stuck on the croplands. The local administration is trying to remove salinity from soil.”
In order to compensate for the loss, discussions have been held with the Department of Agriculture Extension for the cultivation of salt tolerant crops on the lands, he said.
Raghunath Kor, deputy director of Bagerhat DAE, said “Saline water has entered into the crops lands in Sharankhola, Morelganj and Mongla upazilas of the district. The production of crops may be hampered due to excessive salinity in the lands. It is a long-term damage. Strategies have been taken to recoup losses by cultivating salt tolerant crops.”
He also asked farmers to cultivate the salt-tolerant ‘73’ variety paddy on their lands.
According to the DAE, there are 1,39,958 hectares of cultivated land and salt water has entered on 500 hectares of land in Sharankhola, Mongla, Morelganj and Sadar upazilas of Bagerhat, damaging 1,510 hectares of Aush paddy, banana, betel leaf and vegetables during the cyclonic storm Amphan, which made a landfall in the coastal districts of the country on May 20.
Some 67,431 farmers involved with cultivation have been affected by the cyclonic storm.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected people adversely of all ages and professions globally in various ways and threatened the livelihood of millions.
A survey report during the ongoing pandemic, conducted by a non-government organisation, Action for Social Development (ASD), revealed that 86.6 percent child labourers in the capital of Bangladesh are financially affected.
The survey reached 240 children involved in different professions in the megacity and found that one-fourth of them have already lost their jobs.
Among those, 36.6 percent of children told that they were forced to be out of their work.
Some of the children who appeared in the survey said their parents have also lost jobs and already went home.
The survey, conducted in the first week of July, revealed that among 240 children, 46 have gone home to their village after losing their jobs.
The rest 194 children stayed in Dhaka and among them 49.5 percent children have changed their professions and many of them got involved in begging in Dhaka which is already visible on roads in the city, the survey said.
Besides changes in job conditions, children’s income has also been reduced during the pandemic.
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Among the children who participated in the survey, 57.2 percent said their income of Tk 1000 to Tk 3,000 monthly, has reduced by 47.7 percent for coronavirus.
A total of 21.6 percent children, who earned Tk 3,000 to Tk 4,000 last month, are making 9.8 percent less than that.
However, 30.9 percent child labourers said their families depend on their income and now all of these populations have been affected.
All of the children participated in the survey by ASD, informed that they heard about the coronavirus pandemic but 22.8 percent said they do not use face masks.
Meanwhile, 78.9 percent of working children said they wash their hands when they return home from work and 20 percent said they take shower.
Speaking about any aid government or private organisations, 32 percent children said they got no assistance during this pandemic.
However, the positive news of the survey is that no family members of the children got infected with coronavirus.
Jamil H Chowdhury, executive director, ASD, said Covid-19 pandemic has left the children in various crises.
He said that children of low-income families may drop out from schools, and many of them will get involved in labour markets to afford the needs of their families, he said, adding that some of them will directly go into begging.
According to International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF, Covid-19 crisis may push millions more children into child labour putting their lives at risk which could lead to the first rise in child labour after 20 years of progress.
A joint publication by these two bodies, titled “COVID-19 and child labour: A time of crisis, a time to act,” revealed that child labour decreased by 94 million since 2000, but that gain is now at risk due to the pandemic.
Talking about girls specifically, Chowdhury said they will married off in their early ages and many children will face torture at home.
ASD Executive Director went on saying that many private schools have been shut for ever, and children of low-income families will enter the labour market for this ongoing pandemic.
He also feared that the country may go backwards in the education sector as many children will drop out from schools for their families’ financial crises and it may be an obstacle in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh said the COVID-19 pandemic has a particularly negative impact on the lives, hopes and future of the most vulnerable children.
"Closure of schools and reduction of family income expose many children to the risk of child labour and commercial sexual exploitation. Studies have shown that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. We need to prioritize education and the protection of children now and throughout the duration of the pandemic,” said Tomoo Hozumi.
The country is likely to witness a fall in rawhide collection this year amid the apprehension of relatively lower participation of people in animal sacrifice during the Eid-ul-Azha due to COVID-19 pandemic casting a broader impact on the leather industry, said an industry leader.
"There’re reasons to see a decline," Chairman of Bangladesh Tanners Association (BTA) Md Shameem Ahamed told UNB sharing three major reasons behind the possible fall.
He said maintaining health guidelines is one of the reasons apart from zoning systems to be put in place with some restrictions.
Secondly, the BTA Chairman said, lower- and middle-income groups are in financial crisis as they have lost their incomes which may force them to take ‘a decision’.
Shaheen said floods in some parts of the country put people into great miseries resulting in possible low participation of people in animal sacrifice this year.
According to State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Enamur Rahman, the raging floods have already affected nearly 2.25 million people of 487,376 families in 18 districts.
The BTA Chairman said the overall export -- leather and leather goods -- will fall due to low collection of rawhide.
Shaheen said the market of leather, rawhide and sacrificial animals was of about Tk 40,000 crore last year. But this year, he said, the market transaction volume will come down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commerce Ministry in consultation with the industry leaders will fix rawhide price soon. "We’ll give some recommendations. We hope the rawhide price will be fixed on July 26," Shaheen Ahmed said.
Commerce Minister Tipu Minshi said the government will do whatever necessary to ensure fair price for rawhide. "Steps have been taken giving much importance to the issue and taking past experiences into consideration."
The Commerce Minister said the government has kept the option of rawhide export in mind to avert any situation like that of previous year.
Last year, the price of per square feet of salted cowhide and buffalo rawhide was fixed at Tk 45-50 in Dhaka and at Tk 35-40 for outside the capital.
The price of salted hide of castrated goats across the country had been fixed at Tk 18-20 per square feet while that of salted skin uncastrated goat at Tk 13-15.
The BTA Chairman said the price may be fixed at a lower level this year.
The Commerce Minister said there will be no financial crisis for collecting rawhide.
Senior Vice Chairman of BTA Eliasur Rahman (Babul), however, said they are still worried about having adequate bank loan and cash to purchase rawhide.
He said the issues need to be addressed assessing the situation on the ground.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh earned $1.01 billion by exporting leather, leather goods and leather footwear in the 2018-19 fiscal year (FY). The export earnings from the leather sector were $1.08 billion in the FY2017-18.
The export of various leather products fetched about $998 million in the 2019-20 FY, says EPB.
According to the Department of Livestock Services, there is a stock of 1.18 crore sacrificial animals in the country this year.
Cattle markets in Kurigram border area are seeing increased trade of illegally imported cows and buffaloes from India. These cattle are being smuggled in via the transboundary rivers shared by the two nations taking advantage of floods.
Although the authorities have warned the upazila administrations to prevent cattle smuggling, local dairy and livestock farmers are worried that they might not get a fair price in a distorted market due to cattle smuggling.
Indian cows and buffaloes are being smuggled inside the country by floating them through Daikhawa, Saheberalga, Narayanpur, Ralakata, Kachakata and several other points of the Brahmaputra and Dudhkumar transboundary rivers in Kurigram every day. Cattle smuggling has increased exponentially in the wake of the floods and Eid-ul-Azha.
At Jatrapur local market, 50 to 60 ad hoc local representatives of the Indian sellers are active in trading cattle and they put up 400-500 Indian calves alongside 200-300 cows and buffaloes every day the market opens.
Smuggled Indian cattle are marked with the initials of the owner before they are floated down the river across the border.
Abdul Quader, a cattle trader of Char Kali said while Indian traders float cows, staff to intercept the cows wait in rafts. “They grab the cows and handover to us.”
“We sell the cattle and send the money back keeping an amount as commission,” he said.
Hafizur Rahman, a cattle trader from Jatrapur, said many cows fail to make it due to the onrush of flood waters.
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Vutru Mia, a cattle trader from Chapainawabganj, said the price of Indian cattle is much lower than last year. “The cow that cost Tk 1 lakh last year, is available for Tk 70-80 thousand now.”
That may bring down the price of the local cows as well, below a fair level.
However a representative of the Jatrapur haat lessee claimed that the smuggling has rather decreased, due to tighter security in the border. “The Indian cattle that are being sold were brought from India long ago...local farmers raised and are selling them in the market,” he said, identifying himself as Johnny Sheikh.
BGB forces seized 168 illegally imported cows from Kurigram border areas in June.
BGB 22 Battalion Director Lt. Colonel Md Jamal Hossain said the traffickers had become active because of floods prior to Eid-ul-Azha.
“Due to the floods, it is not possible for the BSF and BGB to stay in posts all the time...however, the BGB has taken a strict stand against cattle smuggling. Patrols along the river have been intensified and cows are being detained on a regular basis,” he said.