National Seminar on ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’ Dhaka

Development research Initiative (dRi) on 24th March, 2016 organized a national seminar on “Life in a Time of Price Volatility” at Proshika Bhaban. Through this seminar the outcomes of a three-year (2012-2014) project on Food Price Volatility jointly conducted by Development research Initiative (dRi) and International development Studies (IDS) were unveiled. The researcher of the study as well as representatives from studied area and officials from different NGOs, journalists attended the seminar. They exchanged their important views on the information and analysis was drawn from research and recent situation of food price fluctuation and market mechanism at the locality. Before starting the seminar, the Executive Director of dRi and the host and moderator of the seminar Mamun-Ur-Rashid delivered a welcome speech to the audience. In his welcome speech he highlighted the findings of the research on, ‘how the people living in the area studied live their lives under the situation of food price hike and fluctuation, the types of crises they face and the impact and adaptation of these crises in their lives’. He said, meeting with the target people, case studies and formal and non-formal interviews were conducted for the study. Along with this, a new research method namely ‘Listening Post Tool’ was also used for information collection which gave a new dimension to the study. Mr. Mamun opined that the new method was very effective to understand the ordeal and experiences as well as struggle and adaptation process of the studied people. The selected research areas were Uttar Jahanpur union of Dhamur Hat upazila of Kurigarm, Koira upazila of Khulna and Kallanpur slum of Dhaka. ‘After conducting the study, the outcomes were shared and exchanged with local people of respective area, journalists, and with the people from different stages of locality’ he said.  And through this the outcomes of the study were evaluated from local level’.

 

After the inaugural speech by Mr. Mamun-Ur-Rashid, the Co-coordinator of the program at field level Mr. Shameem Reza Khan shared his experience with the audience and said the income opportunities of the people from Uttar Jahanpur union of Naogaon is very limited. Most of the agricultural land of the area is owned by about 30-40 percent of local people and rest of the people do not have land of their own who sublease others’ land for agriculture. Many from this area migrate to Gazipur, Narayanganj, Sylhet, Comilla or other cities in search of job like rickshaw pulling. Food price increase has made a profound impact on the lives of these people which impacted and changed their living standard as well. For clarity, he presented a case and showed that a low earning person could not fulfill the demand of her child and tried to fulfill it beating him up. Also she said with bemoaning, ‘Poor people are not eligible for orange, rather (they are eligible for) slapping’. About Koira upazila of Khulna, he informed that food prices in the local market generally increased due to poor communication and high transportation cost. And the negative effects of it are mostly borne by the local poor people. On the other hand, as the Kallanpur slum is situated in Dhaka, the dwellers have high rate of employment compared to other two study areas which indicates their income opportunities are more convenient. Nevertheless, with the commodity price going high, the city slum dwellers depend on low quality cheap food to offset the adverse effect of high price.

 

After Mr. Shameem Reza Khan, the chief researcher of the ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’ research team Dr. Ferdous Jahan, a Professor of the department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka presented the main research findings to the audience. In her discussion she said, a large portion of poor people of Bangladesh are still deprived of basic needs like food security, education, health facilities, habitation etc. As overall living standard of Bangladesh has increased, this did not bring many changes in the living standard of low income people and they cannot satisfy their basic needs adequately. Besides, the instability and fluctuating food price in the world market for some years and the consequent effect in Bangladeshi market cause difficulties for poor people to meet their ends. Through this continuous research, we tried to analyze the reaction of both rural and urban poor people in the context of food price increase and their ability to adapt with price hike while most of their earnings still remain low. Along with this, we tried to evaluate how these affected people are incorporated in rules and guidelines of both government and non-government settings.

 

Dr. Ferdous also said, fluctuations in food prices affect the livelihood of poor people making their life volatile. She argues with examples that, in 2012 though the food prices in Dhaka were at tolerable level, the picture of Khulna and Noagaon was just opposite. After the attack of Aila in 2011, the condition of Koila upazila of Khulna became really miserable. During that time people tried to reduce their expenditure to survive with basic needs of life.  Various initiatives from both government and non-government organizations were seen at Koyra of Khulna but the situation of Naogaon in this context was worse. In Naogaon, food price increase caused tremendous sufferings on people along with lack of employment, low production of crops and l lack of initiatives by government or non-government institutions. She pictured the condition of studied area in 2013 by saying that people were better off at Dhaka than Khulna and Naogaon that year.  But, the current   situation is better at Koyra of Khulna as bumper production of crop this year has reduced their financial crisis and sufferings to a great extent.. Various NGOs are imparting practical knowledge on alternative c cultivation method at salty soil and providing assistance for house renovation and maintenance to the locals. .. But, the condition at Naogaon remains unchanged. In 2014, both Dhaka and Khulna’s situation showed signs of improvement as income of target population increased with increase in purchasing power of families. As a result, their coping capabilities have increased. On the other hand, flood is almost a regular phenomenon in Noagaon every year which inundates crops putting people in serious problems like lack of employment and spread of diseases during that time. Mentioning the coping strategy of poor people at the study area said that they adopt three types of strategies to cope with the crises they face. These are Cost-containment, Income generation and Migration. To explain these strategies she said, slum-dwellers at Kallanpur slum ate pizam rice in 2011 but in 2012 they ate guti rice as the price of paizam rice increased. But, later at 2013 they ate comparative lower quality rice BR-28, replacing guti rice. Again, in 2011 people ate mrigel fish but in 2012 they ate piranha fish (comparatively cheap) by paying same amount of money. These are the strategies of coping with the increase of food price in the market. Along with Dr. Ferdous Jahan, another specialist researcher and Associate Professor of Development Studies department of the University of Dhaka, Dr. Asif Shahan compares and provides his opinion about the data along the line with the National Food Security Policy. In his speech he said that to ensure food security to the extreme poor, it is necessary to emphasize on supply of goods and purchasing power of general people. To do this, a long term policy formulation as well as increasing the purview of social safety net program and its implementation is imperative, he added. He also put emphasis on the necessity of food assistance to the urban poor and labor class people through rationing. Besides, he suggests providing assistance to agriculture so that the food production would increase.

 

In the research article, Mr. Asif Shahan informed, ‘it is proposed to consider three distinct features i.e. food security, availability, and diverse use of resources of the National Food Policy, 2006’. Besides, ‘it is suggested to incorporate social safety net program with food security’ the article portrays. Along with this, protecting the reduction of crop production in agriculture, taking state-of-the-art initiative in agricultural management, and climate change issues etc are needed to be considered. Speaking about social safety net and food security of the studied area he said, in most cases social safety net program cannot emancipate the miserable condition of the poor. Only they give short run solution of some problems. He opined, ‘through social safety net program, the poor are needed to be included in various incomes generating works.’

 

After Mr. Asif Shahan’s speech, the participants at the seminar started a question-answer session and open discussion. At this stage of the seminar, teachers of different universities, researchers, NGO workers, respondents of the study at Dhaka, journalists exchanged their views and opinions regarding food security issue. In the initial stage, scholar from Resource Initiative Bangladesh (REB), Researcher Dr. Niluphar Haider expressed her concern about the non-coordination between the existing government food policy guidelines and the programs of food security taken by various Non Government Organizations (NGOs). She said, ‘the data are required to consider at government guidelines and we are supposed to take this messages at the government’s policy making level’.

 

The editor of the Urban Slum-dweller Development Organization Mr. Hannan Akond said, ‘we want to know the relationship between you and those amongst us who are sufferers, and the organizations who work for us.’ He also wanted to know whether the study/research includes consumer rights, the reason for food price fluctuations and the various initiatives regarding this.

 

At this stage, the Executive Director of Safety and Rights Mr. Sekander Ali Mina discussed about the determination of study’s various strategic aspects. He wanted to know whether the dimension of women and children at various professions were emphasized or not. Among the researchers Dr. Ferdous Jahan assured him that the study provided special importance to women, children and minorities and the researcher also gave additional importance to techniques of adaptation of crises by this group. In addition to this, the study suggested to provide special importance to take out the group from miserable condition. Dr. Ferdous Jahan emphasized that the study analyzed critically on more of qualitative studies rather than quantitative ones for understanding the reaction and adoption in context of food price increase.

 

Acquiescing the speech of Mr. Sekander Ali Mina, Researcher of BRAC University Mr. Bayezid Hasan said, BRAC has been working on such kind of research for many days and it  found that the food intake  of women and children face negative impact due to food price increase. In most families women and children are consuming less food for coping with the problem of price hike which causes increasing malnutrition among children. And, adults are also severely affected by malnutrition. In our study, we saw that the adolescents had left school and engaged in various income generating activities to cope up with the food deficiency in families. We worked at a slum at Naogaon where people were very conservative but females from these houses also leave houses to work at garments for coping with the food price crisis. We did not see this kind of migration earlier but it is in the increase. We have pointed out this kind of changes since few years in the study area’.

 

At the seminar, Research Fellow of International Development Studies (Sussex University) and the Lead Researcher of ‘Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility’ research program Dr. Naomi Hossain said, ‘we are working with the slum-dwellers of Kallanpur slum since 2009. People try in various ways to adapt to food price increase. Now, my question is, how far do we adapt like this! We are working with 9 countries including Bangladesh. The situation at the rest of the countries has changed dramatically but the condition here is not very well. People are tired of adapting to situations. So, it is urgent to solve the problem sustainably.’

 

After the open discussion, the host of the seminar and the Executive Director of Development Research Initiative (dRi) Mr. Md. Mamun-Ur-Rashid expressed his gratitude to all the participants for their valuable opinions and making the seminar a fruitful one. He said, ‘We all are from farmer’s family. We have worked for an effective solution to reduce food price increase and its concomitant crisis faced by the poor people and I hope this discussion would provide us a proper direction leading us to success.’ Mr. Mamun-Ur-Rashid thanked all of the audience at the seminar again and formally declared the end of the session.

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