A near-famine situation the northern districts - Story of Rafique and Others


Field after field run along
Green winds sway tender paddy shoots
That spreads like open hair
In it butterflies ornamented with wings…
Mother earth smiles at her fertile pride.
In this harvest Asmanis (landless people) have no claim.
As worn out ribs hold together their stomachs
They burn with hunger.
Forest after forest run along
This fairyland of flowers and fruits….
In this forest Asmanis (landless people) have no claim.
They are hungry.
(Source: Selected Poems of Jasim Uddin)

homeless people


demo against famineMonga, a near-famine situation which hits the northern districts every year, has forced poor people either to borrow money from usurers at an excessively high interest or to sell their labour in advance at an unusually low rate to keep their families from starvation. Many people have sold their meagre produce of aman crops well before harvesting to tide over the acute shortage of employment and food.

Poverty and hunger are inseparable Siamese twins. Hunger is manifested in a number of forms; foremost are the malnutrition, violence; however, joblessness and prolonged working hours are the reasons of hunger. Hunger is also intertwined with malnutrition. Against the backdrop of 854 million hungry people in the world, the number of hungry population in Bangladesh alone as 30 million. Twenty-four humans die every minute from hunger; and a staggering 16,000 children die every day.

Of the hungry people of the world 80 percent live in the rural areas, of them 70 percent are women. Surprisingly women produce 80 percent of the world's food but only 10 percent of them enjoy their right to own and control land. Statistics also says, the number of death related to malnourishment is far more than the combined number of deaths from AIDS, malaria and TB. Malnourishment as a symptom of hunger is most commonly observed in Asia, particularly in India and China where 363 million malnourished people struggle to survive.

It is a result of historical injustice and denial of rights resulted in the human degradation and barrier to access the fruits of justice. It considers the entire issue as a result of politics and power tilted against the poor. This anti poverty international organization has launched a 5-year global "Hungerfree" campaign in Geneva this July. It targets the respective governments and the rich of the world to remind of their promises for halving the number of the famished by 2015 as set forth in the Millennium Development Goal.

Hunger is a result of not having access to food though there is enough food to feed the entire 6.5 billion souls of the planet. But the fact is, people cannot access food just because they cannot buy food; and they cannot buy food because they do not have work to earn the money. So the real problem is rooted in the problem of distribution of world's wealth and subsequently, in the access to food. This global campaign is demanding actions from governments, intergovernmental organisations and corporations to end hunger-related deaths by providing appropriate and sustainable access to food. AAI will draw attention of the people on 'what is being done' and more importantly, 'what is not being done by political leaders worldwide' with the help of this campaign.

The Monga period spans from mid-August to late November (Bhadra to mid Agrahayan in the Bangla calendar) in parts of Nilphamari, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Rangpur, Panchagarh and Thakurgaon districts. International aid agency Oxfam-GB, in collaboration with the Disaster Research Training and Management Centre of Dhaka University, held a series of on-the-ground probes and surveys in the char areas of Gaibandha to find out the causes and solutions to the Monga. A crop calendar, prepared by the Oxfam-GB and the centre, shows that the demand for farm work starts going down from mid-July and dips to almost zero in mid November.

Farm workers in thousands make their way to the capital for jobs. Many of them opt for pulling rickshaws, the most easily available work in Dhaka's informal day-labour market. According to the researchers, rickshaw owners also typically cash in on the rising demand and double the charges for rickshaw rentals - from the usual rate of Tk 40 to 50 a day to Tk 80 to 90 per day.

When a baby sells for Tk 300 (5 US Dollars)

Crushed by poverty, a mother was compelled yesterday to sell her one-month-old daughter. The incident that occurred on the premises of Satkhira collectorate comes five days after her husband's death. Abdur Razzak, a day-labourer of Benla village under Assassuni upazila, died leaving his wife Salma Khatun with three daughters. Unable to arrange meals for her daughters, Salma decided to sell the youngest one, Parvin Akhtar.

Hearing the news, Abdul Mazed, son of Nasiruddin of Khanpur village under Shyamnagar upazila, came forward to buy the baby. Salma went to a notary public in Satkhira and made an affidavit yesterday on selling Parvin to Mazed for Tk 300.

Salma said she intends to use the money to buy clothes for her two other daughters. Mazed said he has bought the child as he has no-one of his own, adding he will pay Salma an additional Tk 2,000.

"I have borrowed Tk 800 from a well-off person in my village at an interest of Tk 1 against Tk 100 per day," said Rafiqul Islam of the village Dubachari in Lakshmichapa union of the Nilphamari Sadar upazila. Rafiq said he must see his five-member family through with the borrowed sum money till he expects work in next month's harvest of Aman crop. His younger brother, Rashid, has borrowed Tk 3,000 at the same interest rate. Many others in the village have also borrowed money from rich people to live through monga. Khetu Mia of Pagalpara Char on the bank of the Teesta River under Dimla upazila lost whatever belongings he had a week ago as he tried to sell in advance the aman paddy he had grown on six decimals of leased land..

He first sold the paddy to the landlord for Tk 600. And when he ran out of money, he tried double-dealing to make ends meet for his seven-member family. When the landlord came to know of his plans, he went to Khetu Mia's house and took away whatever he had found there.

"I had no other choice but selling the paddy twice as my family faced starvation," Khetu Mia told New Age on Sunday. Ijjat Ali of the village Dingdingpara in the Chaprasaramjani union of the Nilphamari Sadar upazila has borrowed Tk 80 on the condition that he would harvest paddy on the 30-decimal land the lender owns. Abu Jar Hossain of the same village borrowed Tk 240 on the same condition. He would neither get any share of the crops nor any wage during the harvesting.

In the village West Lakshmikanta of Kurigram, Abdur Rahman borrowed Tk 500 on the condition that he would pay back next month with one maund (37.32 kilograms) of paddy. "The harvest will not end my misery." Abdul Haq of the village Sardoor under Khalakhana union borrowed Tk 4,000 to maintain his family during monga. "I have to pay the money back with four maunds as interest once harvesting of aman starts next month."

The poor and the landless, who abound the northern districts of large land-holdings by jotedars, said that the wage of a day-labourer was Tk 50-60 daily during the season of harvesting or other agricultural activities. People in remote areas have also taken rice as loan against advance sale of labour. They alleged that a section of rich people had ganged up to exploit the value of their labour out of their misery. The monga-hit people in the north, who constitute a third of the country's population, are dependent on farm-work and have to leave their homes in search of work during monga.

As they become unemployed around this time every year, many sell their labour in advance and stay with their families. Some start begging and plying rickshaws while many leave for Bogra, Dhaka and other places for jobs. Passenger buses leaving the Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Gaibandha bus terminals are usually overloaded with poor people. The poor people swamp less expensive buses, hoping to get to places where they can earn some money ( AZAD, A. K,, Nilphamari, October 26, 2004).

According to Altaf, at present in Aditmari a day labourer usually earns Tk 40 daily but within about two weeks the jobs will dry up. If one lucky enough to get a job, one will earn between Tk 20 to Tk 25 for a whole day's labour, he said. He further said that in the capital, the daily income of a day labour 'is higher than in the rural areas but the risks involved are also higher.' He said last year he came to the capital with his cousin Abu Mia but had to return to his home village with his cousin's body after Abu Mia died from injuries resulting from a fall from a multi-storied building where he was a construction worker.

migrationWhile no statistics are available of how many people from the monga-prone areas migrate to the capital every year, transport workers like bus helpers, conductors and managers who work in Dhaka assessed the number to be over 1 lakh. They told New Age that during monga, they carry between 25 and 40 workers from the northern districts to the capital daily. They said that the workers generally pay very little or are incapable of paying the fares at all. They travel on the roof of the buses at the mercy of the bus operators.

Anzarul Islam, a conductor of Anita Paribahan told New Age that the workers usually pay Tk 40 to Tk 50 as bus fare. (New Age, September 7, 2004).

1. Mass migration to slums of Dhaka
2. Rich and local strongmen ruthlessly trying to elbow out thousands of landless families from the chars (islands)
3. Hundreds of trafficked children forced into slavery
4. Cold Wave Kills Poor and Children in Bangladesh

"The news of this global income disparities was first heard by this scribe in the land of plenty where the income level of most common ordinary people have risen very fast in the last ten years or so." "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
- Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

1. Some Sobering Statistics On World's Poor
2. Women and Child Trafficking in Bangladesh
3. I want to go home

Driven out of home by monga

Day labourers from Monga affected areas scramble on roofs of busesHundreds of poor day labourers are leaving homes in monga stricken Brahmaputra and Teesta basin areas in four upazilas of Gaibandha district for other areas in search of work. Every day they are seen crowding bus stands and railway stations to travel on roof tops at less fare. It is a common scene in Gaibandha district. The monga (pre-harvest lean period) situation will persist at least three weeks more in the area as Amon harvest will be delayed because of late sowing, farmers and agriculture officials said. This correspondent during a visit to Chicha Panchpir, a monga affected area in Sunderganj upazila, on Thursday saw at least 40 day labourers on roof of a bus, compelled to avail a risky journey.

"I borrowed Tk 500 from a money lender promising him to pay Tk 700 after two months", said Abdur Rashid of Ujan Bochagari village. "Keeping Tk 350 with my family, I am going to Jessore with Tk 150 in search of work", he said.

Jadu Mia said, in previous years, many land owners from other districts came (to their village) for labourers. None came this year and so we are leaving for work". The immediate past government earlier allocated 2,125 tonnes of food grains for 2,12,500 people under Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) programme in seven upazilas of Gaibandha district for three months--August, September and October. This has been exhausted, officials said.

The earlier government at the fag end of its tenure allocated a special quota of 1,100 tonnes of food grains in favour of five lawmakers in Gaibandha. Sufferings of poor farm labourers aggravated as the caretaker government suspended the special allocation on November 2, the officials said (The daily Star, November 19, 2006).

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2. Silent Killer

Monga returns again

With the Eid-ul-Fitr only days away, the monga-affected people of rural areas of the northwestern region are now crowding this city and other towns desperately looking for jobs just for their survival, not to speak of celebrating the greatest religious festival of the Muslims. Monga, a near-famine situation, hits this predominantly agricultural region in October and November each year when job opportunities for the farm workers and food stocks of peasants dry up with the main harvesting season still to begin--in December.

The government however is yet to take any special measures to create employment facilities for these sufferers by expanding its programmes like Food for Work. As a result, thousands of poor people in a vast region are exposed to serious unemployment problems at this time. The worst affected are those who have no farm land and are naturally not eligible for farm loans, and also not covered by the government's VGF (vulnerable group feeding) programme.

The situation this time is so bad that those who have moved to this city and other towns are now forced to sell labour for only Tk 25 to Tk 50 a day. The skyrocketing prices of essentials have added to their miseries. Many of them told this correspondent that they have come to the city about a month ago but managed to get work for only three to seven days. Their families are now selling off household goods for survival. Bachan Sheikh of Tentulia in Paba upazila of Rajshahi was seen waiting for work till noon yesterday at the city's Laxmipur crossing, just as many others. He was waiting this way for the last 19 days but in vain, he said in utter frustration.

"I start walking for the town (city) just after taking sehri at my house and reach here in two and a half hours every day, " he said narrating his plight. Tofazzal of the same village said, "Two people took me somewhere for some work three days ago but fled away taking my bicycle". Another sufferer, Rabeya, said she could not sell her labour even for Tk 25 (70 Tk=1 US Dollar) a day this season as against Tk 60 in other seasons. Samjan Ali said he sold his only cow at Tk 9,000 last month as he did not find work.

And there are hundreds of people like Abdur Razzak of Nandangachhi in Charghat, Hazrat Ali of Kakonhat, Samjan, Shariful and Altaf of Dangerhat, who are regularly seen waiting for jobs at different places in the city including Laxmipur, Gourhanga Rail Cossing, Talaimari and Kasiadanga Crossing. On Tuesday, while this correspondent was talking to such day labourers at Laxmipur, one Khorshed Alam went there to hire some 50 labourers for some work. More than 100 labourers gathered around him but Alam was seen selecting only the young ones for the job (A. Ali, Daily Star, October 20, 2006).

Malnutrition is a silent killer. The immune system of the malnourished persons does not develop fully or function efficiently, and they easily die of diseases like diarrhea, which is not generally viewed as a killer disease. According to the World Bank and other development partners of Bangladesh, nearly 700 Bangladeshis die of hunger-related causes every day. Based on the information of the World Food Programme, worldwide nearly 24,000 people die of such causes on a daily basis. The apparent causes of these deaths are various diseases, but the real reasons are chronic persistent hunger. Thus, although some of the recent deaths in monga-affected regions may be due to certain visible diseases, the actual causes may be the deprivation-related chronic malnutrition.

Diarrhoea which broke out in an epidemic form in sadar and Jaldhaka upazila one week ago, claimed three lives so far and over 500 were attacked with the disease. The acute scarcity of pure drinking water and taking of state food were main causes of outbreak of diarrhoea (The Independent, November 10, 2004).

The privileged class of Bangladesh has always benefited at the cost of the disadvantaged. In fact, our country is run in the interests of the powerful and the privileged. As a result, over the years the rich have become increasingly richer and the marginalised increasingly deprived. According to government statistics, the share of the national income of the richest 5 percent of the families of Bangladesh increased from 18.85 percent in 1991-92 to 23.62 percent in 1995-96 and then to 30.66 percent in 2000.

During the same time period, the share of the national income of the 5 percent of the poorest families declined from 1.03 percent to 0.88 percent and then to 0.67 percent. Such disparity continues unabated, representing a "gift" of democracy to the poor of this country! The parsimonious decisions of our policymakers during the recent floods represent yet another example of discrimination against the poorer segment of the society.

The discrimination against the less privileged has a price. Many of the deprived suffer from malnutrition. Nearly 50 percent of our children below the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition, which is among the highest in the world. Most, if not all, of these children are from poor families.

The discrimination against, and deprivation of, the poor not only represent a flagrant cruelty to them, but also a disgraceful robbing of their constitutionally mandated rights, enshrined in Articles 31 and 32.
Article 31 of the Bangladesh Constitution states: "[N]o action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law."
Article 32 states: "No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law."

It is clear that the government is in breach of its constitutional obligations to provide adequate support to the flood and monga affected people, as a result of which people are now suffering. We request the authorities to take immediate and urgent measures to remedy this situation. Fortunately, the government is reported to have decided to embark on a Tk. 75 programme for the five districts of greater Rangpur after Eid. While we welcome the decision, we also would like to emphasise the need for a permanent and lasting solution of the monga situation and also substantially increase the support to those flood affected people who are in dire needs in other regions of the country (B. A. Majumdar, November 7, 2004).


Mineral Deficiency

Surveys have repeatedly identified Bangladesh as an area with high levels of iodine deficiency specially in the North i.e., Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jamalpur and Mymensingh. The nation wide goitre prevalence of 18% identifies iodine deficiency as a public health problem in Bangladesh. Additionally, with 43% of the population having low urinary iodine levels this classifies the entire population at risk for mild deficiency. In the hilly and flood-prone zones the situation is more extreme. As such in Bangladesh:

  • 60 million people are iodine deficient
  • 20 million people have visible and palpable goitre
  • 400,000 people have neurological deficiency syndrome
  • 250,000 people are mentally impaired yearly
  • 33,000 infants die in the first month yearly
  • 41,000 still births occur yearly .

  • Due to the decreased work capacity of adults there is an annual loss of US $525 million per year in future productivity for Bangladesh. Even with the current iodization law, US$4.7 billion will be lost over the next 10 years due to irreversible damage (Dr. Z. Mahmud, The Independent, November 19, 2004).

    Low yield of Aman paddy

    The farmers of all the six upazilas of Nilphamari district are extremely frustrated due to low yield Aman paddy.

    The farmers, who have already harvested their Aman Paddy in different upazilas of the district said that the average production of Aman paddy is on four to five mounds in per bigha of land or 12 to 15 maunds on per acre of land. It is to be noted here that the production of Aman paddy is generally 10 to 12 mounds on per bigha or 30 to 35 mounds on per acre on an average in Nilphamari district.

    Sources said that there is no source of income for a vast number of people in the district. As a result, Monga has affected the people. The affected people are passing their days and nights in a miserable condition. People had thought that after the harvesting of Aman paddy the situation would improve, but the chance is slim. The conscious people of the district fear that another 'Monga' may hit the district after the harvesting of Aman paddy (The Independent, November 24, 2004).

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    3. Workers find wages dwindling

    looking for jobThe wages of day-labourers have slumped in the monga-hit northern districts forcing the destitute people to migrate to other places including the capital for better wages. In Bogra, where hundreds of people from Kurigram, Gaibandha and Nilphamari gathered to find a job, the employers pay a labourer hardly Tk 30 (30 US cent) for eight hours' service.

    Both the labourers and local land-owners said the wage rate in Bogra did not increase in the last five years and it comes down to a half during the monga season.
    "As poverty-striken people are streaming to the urban areas, the wage rate remains low. The supply of agricultural labourers is much higher than the demand," said Jamir Uddin, a well off farmer.
    The labourers who came to Bogra despite the low wage said the situation in Kurigram and Gaibandha districts is so bad that they have no option but to beg.

    "Many of us came to Sariakandi but only a few have got jobs. The others have become beggars," Kamal Hossain said. "This is the worst ever situation I have seen in last 20 years."
    Bhulu Mia, a farm labourer, said his daily wage of Tk 30 is inadequate to run his five-member family. "I have to work from 8:00am to 4:00pm for this scanty amount."
    Thousands of labourers like Bhulu Mia are struggling to survive the near-famine situation aggravated with the soaring prices of essentials.

    Poor people at the Nasri bazaar were seen buying 1 kg or half a kg rice, potato or arum to feed their families as they cannot buy fish or vegetables. Women labourers are more vulnerable than males to the extreme poverty as they do not find work in these hard days (Daily Star, November 9, 2004).

    Despite being a part of the rice and other crop-growing area of the country, Kurigram is the most vulnerable area in the country, and almost every year the period from October to December brings on the phenomenon of 'monga' or food shortage where the poorer people go hungry because of lack of employment opportunities, and no croplands of their own to harvest. Natural calamities like drought and famine, river erosion and flooding, extreme cold weather and extreme heat affect the people of Kurigram and nearby areas almost every year.

    Poor People's Rich Food:Arum Proyecto: "Kachu"


    According to reliable source, a large number of children belong­ing to the age group of 8 and 12 years are engaged in odd jobs for earning their livelihood instead of attending school, as their poverty-stricken parents are unable to support them. The poor farmers find little in­centive in educating their children and are engaging the latter in in­come generating work like cattle grazing, rickshaw pulling and in restaurants.

    The children sell their labour for poor wages and they are sub­jects to ill-treatment and harass­ment by their masters. They are to endure oppression for the sake of survival .The marginal and the landless farmers have four to six or seven children in average (The Independent, November 10, 2004).

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    4. NGOs realising loans ignoring monga

    Non-government organisations (NGOs) in monga-affected areas in the district are realising loan instalments from borrowers, ignoring their hardships. At places, borrowers, pressed by NGO employees, take loan from moneylenders at high interest rate and pay weekly installments.

    crying-women A poor woman, wife of a rickshawpuller in Colony area in Nilphamari town, had borrowed Tk 2000 from TMSS (Thengamura Mohila Samabaya Samity), a big local NGO. She has to pay Tk 125 as weekly installment. Last weak, she could manage only Tk 50 to pay the instalment. As the NGO man came to realise the instalment, she requested him to give her two more days' time. But the NGO man kept sitting in her yard till night, not to move without the instalment in full.

    Finding no way, she borrowed Tk 75 from a local moneylender at Tk 20 interest for a week and paid the NGO instalment. She and her poor husband declined to be named, saying they will be in trouble if their names are published.

    There are many instances that poor people who took loan from NGOs are borrowing from moneylenders at high interest rates to pay their weekly instalments.

    At Fakirpara village in the Sadar upazila, another woman had taken Tk 2000 loan from ASA. She has to pay Tk 55 as weekly installment. Seeking anonymity, she said her poor husband had to sell his labour in advance at cheaper rate to pay the instalment.

    The situation is worse in rural areas. Many loan recipients this correspondent talked to said they may starve or remain half-fed but have to pay NGO instalments in time. Finding no way, poor people are selling poultry birds, goats, cattle, trees and even household utensils to pay loan instalment, they said.

    They said they are passing hard days because of mongan (lack of work during pre-harvest period). The loan is now a heavy burden on them at a time when they are struggling to survive. They said the NGOs could suspend the loan realisation during the monga and realise arrears after the harvest. Grameen Bank, Asa, BRAC, Proshika, TMSS and some other NGO's are providing loan of different amounts to the poor people under their micro credit program to alleviate poverty.

    Visiting different villages, it was found that 70-80 per cent poor people have borrowed money from NGOs. They said they borrowed from NGOs because of crop loss and because they do not get loan from any commercial bank. Most of the NGOs start realisation of weekly loan without giving the borrowers enough time to begin any income generating activity, some of them said.

    Some observers said NGOs are getting loans from foreign donors for poverty alleviation but a few of them are doing the right job. Many NGOs have reduced their education, sanitation and other developing programmes and are now simply earning profit by giving loans to the poor at high interest rates, they said When contacted, officials of some NGOs admitted that they are have continued the loan realisation despite the monga for the good of borrowers (Daily Star, November 9, 2004).

    In many cases, farmers are compelled to sell their property due to the burden of standing agricultural loan. Consequently, some of these frustrated unemployed persons are committing crimes in different areas (The Independent, November 11, 2004).

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    5. Monga 2004, inactive role of NGOs

    Despite much of the above political rhetoric, the "Monga" situation this year, by all accounts available from the media, is of greater severity than what it was in 2003. The unending streams of newspaper reports and those in the electronic media bear eloquent testimony to this scenario. Much of the severity of "Monga" this year is attributable to the floods in at least two successions and the rising price of daily necessities. The many views articulated by the media, opinions of the dissenting political parties notwithstanding, failed to act as a wakening call for the government until October 27, 2004.

    A Bengali daily (Prothom Alo, October 26, 2004) commented extensively in an editorial calling for durable solution to the "Monga" situation in the northwest. It had also decried that inactive role of the NGOs, in particular big NGOs. It referred to the general perception that NGOs should be in places where government cannot reach. Despite this, there were no action by the NGOs, the editorial regretted. What the editorial had left unsaid is that there is also a general belief that NGOs serve only accessible areas and shy away from remote and inaccessible areas. At the end, the editorial explained the hope that the government attach appropriate priority to provide relief to the "Monga"-hit people in the northern districts.

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    6. Durable solution of "Monga" problem

    Currently a debate is going on the need to achieve durable solution to "Monga" problem. Such debate was also there last year. "Monga" situation is essentially the outcome of joblessness during the months of September and October. While this is the general perception, the adverse effect of "Monga" on the rural poor in the Northern districts this year has rolled on to November as newspaper reports indicate. Durable solution must centre on a package of state-backed interventions to create more jobs in the rural areas, in particular during the aforesaid months.

    There is no evidence that such a package has been identified yet. The reported views, however, indicate (a) food for work (FFW), (b) increased level of vulnerable group feeding (VGF) programme, and (c) promoting short-duration varieties of HYV Aman. Simply stated, many knowledgeable people think that the interventionist measures should be a combination of expanding farm and non-farm income opportunities in the rural areas. There is need to draw up a plan of action in this regard (Editorial, The Independent, November 10, 2004).

    They said the government must create alternative agricultural activities during monga, alongside initiatives to build an industrial base in the backward region for creating employment for lakhs of people who go unemployed this time around every year. Economist Abul Barkat blamed the country’s economic and political violence for the persistence of monga. “You can’t solve the problem without elimination of the economic and political violence.”

    Anisul Haque, deputy editor of Prothom Alo said, “Monga became a permanent phenomenon, which would not be solved only through the distribution of VGF cards. Establishment of industries, extension of agricultural for creation of alternative employment is a must for a permanent solution to the crisis.”

    Micro-finance alone cannot eliminate monga

    Eminent economist Muhammad Yunus on Saturday said micro-finance could do little in eliminating 'monga' (periodic under-nutrition caused by unemployment) from the northern part of the country. 'Micro-credit alone cannot eliminate monga - we need investment from small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs to create employment opportunities for the hard-core poor,' he said. The economist, known as the pioneer of micro-finance, also stressed the need for cooperation between the government and non-government organisations to uproot monga forever. 'Let us work together and make this year the last year of monga in north Bengal.' Yunus was speaking at a national seminar on 'Micro-finance for hardcore poor: opportunities and challenges', organised by the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, at the IDB Bhaban in Dhaka.

    He said establishment of small, medium and social business enterprises and distribution of company shares among the monga-affected people could be one of the long-lasting solutions. In this connection, he urged the government to resort to tax holiday, waiver of VAT and tax incentives to encourage investment in the monga-prone areas. Chief guest of the programme, principal secretary to the prime minister, Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, also agreed with Yunus on government-NGO cooperation for preventing monga. 'Government, local government and NGOs can jointly take up different timely programmes in the monga-prone areas before the seasonal scourge appears,' he said (New Age, August 14, 2005).

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    6.1 Lac farming becoming a means to fight monga

    Lac is the scarlet resinous secretion of the insect Kerria lacca. This important animal is also known by some junior synonyms such as Laccifer lacca, Carteria lacca and Tachardia lacca. However, the oldest name Kerria lacca is back in current use. Kerria lacca belongs to the lac insect family Kerriidae, one of some 28 families of scale insects and mealy bugs belonging to the superfamily Coccoidea, a large group of about 8000 described species of plant sucking insects. Thousands of these tiny insects colonize branches of suitable host trees and secrete the resinous pigment. The coated branches of the host trees are cut and harvested as sticklac.

    The harvested sticklac is crushed and sieved to remove impurities. The sieved material is then repeatedly washed to remove insect parts and other soluble material. The resulting product is known as seedlac. The prefix seed refers to its pellet shape. It is used in violin and other varnish and is soluble in alcohol. This type of lac was used in the finishing of 18th century fowling guns in the US. Seedlac which still contains 3-5% impurities is processed into shellac by heat treatment or solvent extraction. Lac production is found in Assam and other parts of China.

    In ancient China, the wax and shellac secretions of lac insects were used as medications, dyes, rouges and cosmetics. Nowaday this substance is extensively used in national defense and civil industries; for finishing woods and metals; as paints, varnishes, sealing wax, and binder or lubricants; as an ingredient of lithographic ink and insulating materal in electrical work; and in making phonograph records, airplanes, linoleum, buttons, pottery, toys, and imitation fruits and flowers, etc.

    Thousands of tiny insects lie cocooned on the branches of trees, waiting to be released into the forested mountains near the border with Laos. These cocoons may hold the key to the economic prosperity of the ethnic minority people of the region.

    Pre-emergent Lacca keria, scaled plant-sucking insects, secrete a red substance that can be processed to make lac, a product used in a growing list of items, including shoe polish, ink, insulators, hair dye and stiffener for fabrics. A recent upswing in the international demand for lac has turned its cultivation into a potentially profitable industry for rural residents of Viet Nam’ northwestern provinces. An environmentally sound, sustainable source of income could be monumental for the region, where poverty and hunger are rampant.

    Lac dye has been used since ancient times to dye anything from wool and silk to wooden furniture. The colour of the dye can be modified by altering the mordant from violet to red, scarlet or brown.

    one of the most popular annual bushes used as a lac host, is doubly useful because it also produces beans, a staple food crop.

    12Cultivators bring Lacca keria insects to particular perennial trees and bushes in the forest, allow the insects to swarm and then return to harvest them. Harvesting involves cutting down branches bearing the lac-producing insects and tying brood Lacca keria to new host trees. The harvested host trees are left alone for one to two years to allow new branches to grow.

    A red substance present in the pre-emergent insects develops into a resinous cocoon, known as sticklac, which is harvested on the twigs of host trees. The dye is obtained by crushing, sieving and repeatedly washing sticklac to remove impurities like insect remains, and the residue is further processed to produce seedlac and the fully refined shellac, which can be used in various products.

    Lac is a resinous protective secretion of the lac insect. In Vietnam it occurs naturally in the north-western part of the country, in Lao cad, Yen bad, Lai chau, Son la, Thanh hoe, Hoa binh, Nghe an, and Ha tinh provinces.

    Traditional lac cultivation by ethnic minorities is very simple. Two types of lac hosts are used, namely perennial trees and annual bushes. The natural preminal host trees which grow scattered in the forests are "inoculated" with lac insects. In Vietnam, there are about 40 species of lac hosts. The farmers inoculate the tree, leave it for swarming and come back to harvest it after five to six - months. Harvesting involves cutting down branches bearing lac and tying broodlac to new hosts. The harvested host trees are left alone for one to two years so that new branches can come out.

    Cajanus cajan is the only annual host species. It is sown mixed with food crops like highland rice, soybean, maize and cassava in April. In September, the food crop is harvested and in October Cajanus cajan is inoculated if the plants are big enough. In this case, the lac crop is harvested in April or May of the following year. If the plants are small, they are left to be inoculated in May and harvested in October. Cajanus cajan not only produces lac but also improves soil productivity. This type of mixed crop is suitable for the shifting cultivation tribal people have used for centuries.

    Lac cultivation is a traditional occupation of certain families in each village or commune of the lac producing areas. Expertise in lac growing is transferred from father to son. The women are not involved and they have no right to sell the products. Usually each family has only a few big host trees growing scattered in the natural forests or in the garden. Cultivation is casual. The farmers take a few days to tie broodlac onto the hosts and after 4-6 months come back to harvest it. Each lac crop only costs the farmers about one week of work. The yield of lac depends on the weather. If the weather is bad there may not even be enough broodlac to inoculate the next crop.

    Highland rice, maize and cassava are the major crops of the subsistence farmers in the lac producing regions. The production of rice and maize is not always sufficient for family consumption, with the worst shortages likely to occur in July-August. Livestock and forest products, such as wood and lac, are the main ways to cover such shortages and other family expenditures. The government ban on wood exploitation makes these highland farmers more dependent on non-wood products and livestock. Thus, lac is often harvested unmatured in July or August and sold at very low prices.

    Advantages of lac cultivation Lac cultivation has a number of advantages, including the following:

  • low labour costs;
  • small investment (broodlac is the main cost, but sticklac is obtained from empty broodlac one month after inoculation and can cover two-thirds of the cost);
  • quick and regular income;
  • easy transportation, which is particularly important for the remote areas where the roads are bad; and
  • sustainability, because perennial host trees can be used for many years.

  • Lac insect germplasm, including collections from different parts of the country and other experimental lines (> 30) is maintained on potted lac host plants.
  • A unique system of gene expression and inheritance, based on a "lecanoid" system has been found in lac insects.
  • Yellow, white and cream variants of lac insects differing for resin and body colour are due to recessive genes and white and cream have been found to be non-allelicto yellow locus.
  • There is considerable hybrid vigour in lac insects resulting in 40 to 100 per cent increase in lac productivity.
  • Genetic variation was demonstrated in some interdependent productivity-linked traits of female lac insect. The kusmi strain of Kerria lacca was found to be most productive followed by Kerria chinensis, K. sharda and rangeeni strain of K. lacca. The importance of productivity linked characteristic was found to vary from species to species of lac insect and host plants.

    Lac cultivation has gained popularity among marginal farmers and poverty-stricken people here as a means to combat monga (near famine situation) as it greatly helps them earn their bread. Lac is a natural resin produced by an insect, Laccifer Lacca, a parasite of certain host trees. Poor people have undertaken lac cultivation at the initiative of a research organisation, Research Initiatives Bangladesh. Lac is usually harvested during monga when poor people have no job for survival.

    Nearly 500 destitute people at Sadar and Jaldhaka upazilas survived by cultivating and selling lac during the previous lean season. Matiur Rahman, a researcher at the Research Initiatives Bangladesh said lac resin is widely used in industries like food processing, leather, textile, pharmaceutical, perfumary, adhesive, food and beverage and other industries. It is also used for shining shoes, house floors and cars. Rahman said poor people are cultivating lac in several host trees like Boroi (plum), Akashmoni, Paikor, Dumur and some other fruits. It does not require any land and the investment is very little. For this reason, poor people have been showing keen interest in lac cultivation more and more, he said.

    Jannatun Nessa, a widow at Hobutari village in Sadar upazil said during monga it was her regular practice to borrow money at higher interest rate for survival of her six-member family. But her earnings rose upto over Tk 2,500 by cultivating lac during lean period. The scourge of monga no longer haunts her family now, she said. Like Jannatun, many lack growers earn between Tk 2,000 to 2,500 during monga by investing only between Tk 200 to 250. Even, many lac growers have become rich by doing its business. They buy raw lac from local farmers and sell it to major parties in Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj. Lac farmers shared their experiences and narrated their success stories at a mass gathering at a fair held at Shishatali bazaar in Sadar upazila recently

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    Why landlessness is on the increase

    RECENT media reports reveal that the number of landless people in the country has tripled in the last five decades. Since land is the most important resource in the primarily rural and agricultural Bangladesh, and landlessness and poverty go together, the increasing landlessness is a cause for serious concern for all of us.

    Why increasing landlessness? ?

    It is said that there is a close correlation between landlessness and poverty. Poverty is generally defined as "an economic condition of lacking both money and basic necessities needed to successfully live such as food, water, education, and shelter."

    Poverty has also got classifications. The World Bank defines "extreme poverty as living on less than $1 per day, and moderate poverty as less than $2 a day."

    Available data show that about half of the total population in Bangladesh live in extreme poverty as their per capita income is less than $1 a day. A key factor behind the high rate of poverty in Bangladesh is the increasingly insecure relationship between people and the land. In a country where agriculture continues to be the biggest sector in the economy and, in one form or the other, it affects the livelihood of the preponderant number of the people who are mainly rural inhabitants, land is the most important resource for the rural people. Without owning or having access to land, it is difficult for the rural people to sustain themselves

    The ratio of land ownership is uneven in the country. Available data show that more than half of the families in the country own only 4.2 percent of the country's total land area while only 6.2 percent of the families own 40 percent of the land. <

    li> Wealthy and influential people have been the beneficiaries of the distributed khas land. The 12 lakh acres of cultivable khas land distributed between 1980 and 1996 constitute 44 percent of the total khas land, and 88 percent of the distributed khas land went to wealthy and influential people while only 12 percent went to landless people.
  • Successive governments have not been serious about recovering khas land from illegal grabbers who are elite politicians and influential people. In its editorial on June 18, The Daily Star wrote: "The political leadership has failed to tackle the problem of land grabbing, rather the grabbers are exerting political influence to throw their weight around and bend government policies. It is an example of the government failing to protect the interests of the poor and check the process of pauperization."
  • Available information suggests that in the last 10 years the government allocated almost no khas land. Distribution of khas land among the landless people during this period could have saved thousands of landless families from extreme poverty.
  • The core problem facing Bangladesh is the scarcity of land. With a high and increasing rural population, farm sizes are declining rapidly and landlessness is rising. According to inheritance laws, land is divided among siblings and such fragmentation of landholdings gradually leads to landlessness as categorised above. Further, unplanned housing pattern in the rural areas leads to huge loss of valuable agricultural land and ultimately contributes to landlessness.
  • The major rivers of Bangladesh -- the Jamuna, the Padma and the Meghna -- annually consume several thousands hectares of floodplain land through river erosion. According to one study, about 5 percent of the total floodplain of Bangladesh is directly affected by erosion. Another study shows that about one million people are directly affected each year by bank erosion in the country. The total monetary loss is estimated to be approximately $500 million a year. An estimated 300,000 displaced persons usually take shelter on roads, embankments and government-requisitioned lands.

  • Bangladesh is not one of the poorest countries in the world

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    7. Articles

    1. SLAVE ISLANDS: Hundreds of trafficked children forced into slavery
    3. Water of poison creeps in as silent killer as the poor can not pay
    4.Industrial Pollution: The Poor Suffers
    5. Ship Wrecking in Bangladesh: Poor Workers Die
    6.Some 45,000 poor workers of the ship-breaking industry in Chittagong risking life
    7. Rich and local strongmen ruthlessly trying to elbow out thousands of landless families from the chars (islands)
    8. Will someone listen to the poor farmers’ tearful appeal?
    9. Malnutrition
    11. Women suffer more than men during flood
    12. "Water for the Poorest" World Water Week 2004
    13. BANNING RICKSHAW:Rich Blaming Rickshaws for Traffic Congestion
    14. Poor farmers losing lands to shrimp farm owners

    Last Modified: July 14, 2007

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