Seasonal poverty and migration
Mar 30, 2022 10:04:19 p.m.
Behind the rural exodus hides what are known in economic jargon as the “push” and “pull” factors. The same factors are also at work in case of internal migration from one rural area to another depending on the demand or lack of demand for labour. However, seasonal poverty quite naturally leads to seasonal migration. It is well known, but what is less known is how seasonal poverty in various pockets of this country affects the lives of the poor, the marginalized in particular and its overall impact on the rural economy. Dr. Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, Professor of Economics at Yale University in the United States of America, addressed this issue in a public lecture at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, in Dhaka. He expressed concern over the cumulative negative impact of seasonal poverty on the livelihoods and living conditions of marginalized people in society.
It is true that monga — an annual situation of seasonal famine in Kurigram in the north of the country — has become a thing of the past. But that does not mean that everywhere in the villages of Bangladesh people have secured their livelihoods all year round. There are pockets where the problem is endemic. Natural calamities such as droughts, floods, cyclones, storms, untimely heavy rains and river erosion cause crop losses and upset the way of life of farmers as well as marginal farm workers. In addition to agricultural workers, there are people in other occupations, such as fishermen, whose livelihoods are increasingly at risk due to the drying up or shrinking depth of water bodies. Additionally, the banning of fishing in the interest of facilitating egg laying during the Hilsa’s breeding season puts large numbers of fishermen out of work for considerably long periods of time. Similarly, fishermen who work as wage laborers on trawlers engaged in fishing in the Bay of Bengal are only seasonal workers.
Where and when things went particularly wrong for these seasonally unemployed workers is easy to identify. During the period of unemployment—in the case of agricultural workers, it is the pre-harvest season—these people have to borrow money from moneylenders at abnormally high interest rates to meet the needs of their families and also to the expenses of their migration. Most of their income during seasonal migration is then needed to pay the loans taken out. This is a vicious circle still prevalent in rural Bangladesh. Even the interest on loans from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is very high and there is the obligation to pay weekly installments.
The Yale professor, quite logically, suggests that financial supports for these marginalized people during the critical period can be of immense help. He cites the example of Nepal where this has been proven beyond doubt. Naturally, the issue of collateral stands in the way of loan coverage for marginalized people. But for generations lenders have cheated them and there are no reports that the poor and marginalized, with rare exceptions, have become loan defaulters. Now that the country is on the path to digitalization, a comprehensive national database needs to be prepared. With the help of appropriately developed applications, they can be placed under a formal financial credit scheme and saved from loan sharks.