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How Rural Development Policies Contribute To The National Economy In Bangladesh

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By Prof Utpal K De and Dr Simi Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

COVID-19 pandemic has struck a huge blow to the economic growth and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of almost every country in the world. However, we see some resilience in the performance of the Bangladeshi economy. As per the recent report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Bangladesh’s per capita GDP would marginally overtake that of India in 2020-21 financial year.

The resilience of the Bangladeshi economy has been attained with a significant contribution through rural development. The pertinence of rural development in the country in pre-and post-independence period was highlighted by Professor Elias Hossain of Rajshahi University, Bangladesh at the #EconDevDiscussion series being conducted by the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi. Speaking on the topic Government Policy and Rural Development in Bangladesh, he explicated the nation’s commitment to holistic rural development, as well as the National Rural Development Policy 2001.

He shed light on the significance of NGOs contribution in the rural development, mapped the success story, and the resilience of rural development and concluded with insights on the implications of the current pandemic situation on rural development.

Prevalence of rampant hunger, starvation and diseases, had compelled then US National Security Advisor to comment on Bangladesh as a bottomless basket in 1974. However, since then, the country has drawn the attention of the world by making steady development and achieving the status of a lower-middle-income country in 2015. Its vibrant economic growth made it the seventh fastest-growing economy in the first quarter of 2019. In the “Vision document 2021”, the government outlined its targets of becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2031.

Bangladesh has made impressive strides in terms of healthcare measures and some human development indicators, with its success story attributable in large parts to it being an experimental field for national and international NGOs and other development agencies. The rural economy is the lifeline of the people and the government alike and is given enormous attention. In fact, this is primarily because agriculture and allied activities in rural areas act as a shock absorber during the time of any economic crisis.

Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world. With 65% of the population living in rural areas, it is, therefore, in the best interests of the country to ensure the development of the rural and agrarian economy. The rural farm and non-farm sector together contribute around 30% to GDP and provides employment to 42% of the labour force. The country is also constitutionally obliged to rural development and follows a ‘development from the below’ approach with self-governed-self-reliant s development objective.

The key elements of rural development in Bangladesh include poverty alleviation, equitable distribution of wealth and income, creation of employment opportunities, the participation of local people in planning and decision-making processes and empowerment through more economic and political participation to rural masses. The effective measures on the part of the government to bring about a radical transformation in the rural areas include the promotion of agriculture, infrastructure for the provision of rural electrification, development of cottage and other industries, improvement of education, communications and public health. These efforts have been instrumental in improving the standards of living of the masses.

In the absence of an institutional approach, the post-independent Pakistan period developments were based on some philanthropic attempts to the rural development. The Village Agricultural and Industrial Development (V-AID) was launched in 1953 with US assistance for uplifting and developing the rural community continuous and energetic support and active participation of the public. However, failing to achieve the expected results, it was withdrawn in 1961.

In response to the weaknesses of V-AID, the Comilla model- a rural development program was launched in 1959. It primarily focused on: involving both public and private sectors in the process of rural development; development of leadership in every village, including managers, model farmers, women organisers, youth leaders, and village accountants, to manage and sustain the development efforts; ensuring priority for decentralised and coordinated rural administration in coordination with officials of various government departments and the representatives of public organisations; development of stable and progressive agriculture to improve the conditions of the farmers, and provide employment to the rural labour force.

These efforts yielded to partial success through people’s participation in building communications, drainage networks and it helped increasing production for the training in technology received by the people, thana-level irrigation development with community management of pumps, tube-wells, cooperatives. It, however, suffered from the limitations of the inegalitarian structure of ownership technology and the high yielding varieties of seeds were not affordable to everyone.

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Comilla model was extended to the entire nation which was earlier confined only to the district of Comilla. Also, its activity sphere was been widened. In 1976, the Swanirvar (self-reliant) model shifted the focus of rural development from thana to village level. There was a shift from a sector-specific approach to a holistic approach where the Gram Sabha took lead in various participatory programmes in village-level development. The target was on farmers, landless labourers, vulnerable group development, and community development, self-reliance for women, and technology for rural employment.

Bangladesh Rural Development Board undertook various rural poverty alleviation and production-oriented schemes, expansion of the two-tier cooperatives, and target group-oriented projects such as the rural women project, rural poor project, and agricultural development project. Provisions were made for the subsidized inputs to farmers’ cooperatives, and various extension services on irrigation, agricultural implements, promotion of new seeds etc. Since then, Bangladesh Academy of Rural Development (BARD) undertook several Comprehensive Village Development Programme to improve the socio-economic status of all groups of people in villages through a common institutional framework. It also began to sponsor another experimental programme, the Small Farmers Development Programme with the operational focus on small farmers in 1993.

The National Rural Development Policy 2001 was launched with an expanded scope of development. It ranged from poverty alleviation, improving the quality of life of women, expanded health, nutrition, and family planning, opportunities for self-reliance and development of handicapped, tribal groups, and ethnic minorities. The policy identified 39 areas and the ministries relevant to it take up projects each year and work towards its development. Besides this special rural development program like Ashrayan, safety net, the stipend for education, etc. receives significant budgetary allocation.

Besides these, non-government factors include around 5000 NGOs working in remote areas towards poverty alleviation, health, sanitation, etc. NGOs receive funds from the international level and also from the government. Apart from taking development initiatives they also provide credit to rural people. In this respect, the contribution of microfinance initiative of the Gramin Bank is enormous. Bangladesh’s ‘development paradox’ shows impressive achievement in various indicators of rural development initiatives at a low level of national income. Also, the holistic approach involving good coordination of various ministries led to the expected outcomes.

Representational image.

The shift of rural development over time towards a holistic, multidimensional and multisectoral approach along with a shift from peasants to poverty reduction, from cooperatives to informal groups, the Government-NGO collaboration, the prioritization of non-farm economy makes rural development in Bangladesh a success story. Non-farm income has overtaken farm income and rural poverty has been reduced. Increased standard of living, improved healthcare and sanitation conditions, increased enrollment, reducing gender disparity in various fields and better infrastructure are the examples. Above all, Bangladesh is now surpassing other neighbouring countries in several social development indicators.

However, there are several other hurdles, the country has to overcome. Infrastructure like railway, integration through land connectivity with east Asian neighbours, diversifying towards export-oriented production activities would help in take-off towards attaining the upper-middle-income countries.

The rural economy of Bangladesh absorbs all kinds of shocks due to its ability to adapt to changes in the economy and the skill of rural people in making informed decisions during changed situations. Though the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the growth momentum for a limited period, the smart lockdowns, incentives and support packages totalling 1,05,000 crore taka and its significant allocation to the rural sector have helped to handle the situation better.

After the holy month of Ramzan, industrial sectors especially the garment sector were opened to maintain the employment though there was an element of risk of a surge in the pandemic. But the balanced approach of farming, agro-based industries and marketing kept the market linkages and economic lifeline open for the poor masses and did not bring their lives to a standstill.

In essence, rural development has provided a significant dividend to the national economy of Bangladesh. It acts as the last resort during uncertain times. Investment in the rural sector provides greater returns. Thus, attaining food and nutrition security and supply of raw materials to the related industries is related to the overall progress and transformation of the rural economy. Prof Elias Hossain urged the governments of the developing nations to escalate their concerted efforts for rural development for overall economic growth and development of their economies.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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