The world market for daily necessities is instable since last few years. This instability has created negative impacts on poor countries like Bangladesh. Price instability and fluctuations on the daily necessity commodities market make the people’s life vulnerable and troublesome. In this backdrop, Development research Initiative (DRI), a research organization of Bangladesh and Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of Sussex University, England jointly organized a research program to inquire into the causes of the crisis (fluctuations in food prices), its effects and how people adapt their income and expenditure in price hike situation. Both IDS of Sussex University and DRI of Bangladesh make endeavors to inquire on a process to alleviate the misery of the poor people in Bangladesh. They have been working continuously for three years from 2012, 2013 and 2014. To conduct the study, Kalyanpur slum of Dhaka, Dhamurhat upazila of Naogaon and Koira upazila of Khulna were selected as study area. The information necessary for the study were collected through both individual and group discussions. After thorough analysis of the information collected, the outcome of the study was presented, shared and exchanged at Dhamurhat upazila, one of the three study areas. A Work Shop was organized titling ‘Food Price Fluctuations: Living with Crisis’ on 29th of February, 2016 at Uttar Jahanpur Govt. Primary School situated at No. 6 Jahanpur union under Dhamurhat upazila of Naogaon district. Before organizing this workshop, the opinions of the respondents of the study were taken to decide about the venue of the program. They are asked to propose a convenient place to facilitate easy participation in the program. All of them suggested selecting a place within their region to make it convenient to participate. Especially the women opined that their participation in a workshop far away from their locality would not be viewed positively by their husbands, family members or local people. . As most of the women have household chores to do, a program in a nearby place would make their participation more convenient. . Initial plan was to organize the workshop at the hall room of Sadar upazila or union council with a provision of paying them conveyance money, but they did not agree to the decision for which the workshop was arranged at local Uttar Jahanpur Govt. Primary School.
The discussion, suggestion and opinion of the participants of the workshop held on 29th of February, 2016 at Uttar Jahanpur Govt. Primary School are arranged below:
In the workshop, the outcome from the three-year-long study (2012 to 2014) was presented by Development Research Initiative’s (DRI) researcher Shameem Reza Khan. The woman vice-chairman of no.6 Jahanpur union council Sultana Razia Lovely, union council member Abdul Quddus and other renowned persons, teachers, Imam, NGO workers, members of bazaar committee, journalists and various low income people were invited as participants. Besides, the respondents of the last three years study also attended at the program. The discussion, opinion and suggestion part started after research methodology and outcomes of the study were presented.
In the beginning of open discussion, pointing on the area’s economic condition an influential farmer Abul Hossain said, “The income opportunity of the people in our area is very less. In our area 30% to 40% of the land are agricultural land and rest of the land are nothing but homestead land. Many farmers take lands on lease for cultivation. After cultivation season is over, most of the males leave the locality in search of jobs like day laboring or rickshaw pulling at Gazipur, Narayanganj, Sylhet, Comilla etc. In our area very few people are engaged in day laboring and the wage is BDT 250 to BDT 300 with one time meal. At present auto rickshaw drivers earn well. But, most of people have no ability to buy an auto rickshaw. Moreover, many young girls work at the garment factories of Gazipur, Dhaka etc. About the situation of the region, a teacher of Uttar Jahanpur Govt. Primary School, Md. Rezaul Hossain said that the higher education rate among girls is very less in the area due to prevalence of early marriage in the area. That is why the dropout rate among female students is very high. Generally, the girls are married off when they are between class five and seven eight. Besides, the rate of girls going to high schools is also very less. The danger about child marriage is that, almost all the marriages are settled with dowry. At present, even the poorest parents have to provide at least BDT 50,000 as dowry and the demand rises as high as BDT 700000 to BDT 800000 on special cases. Though, an improvement/development in education sector is visible, but it is very slow compared to the other parts of the country.
Among the participants a retired government official Alhaz Abdul Quader said, - “most of the people in our area are migrants from India who came to this country during the partition of India (1947) leaving their lands to the Hindus of India. Though, the lands left by the Hindus India were in our possession, the land office have not provided us any legal authority. The government circulated a gazette of ‘Vested Property Return Act’ on 13th of October 2013. But, the property in our possession is never vested. The officials from lands office said that they cannot do that. In this circumstance, my question for the government is ‘what type of gazette is this that the officials (AC Land) cannot implement? We are poor people and we are in need of money for marrying off our children, for getting suitable job for son or son-in-law in exchange for bribe, for educating our children, for providing health services to family members and for many other reasons. We need to sell our land to arrange money for all these but we cannot sell it because these are vested property. We cannot even exchange our land with others. . Now, you say what we can do? Our area is considered as colony and for this reason people from other areas look down upon us negatively. Pakistan and India had been divided on 1356 BCE. During that time government made some aligning houses for the poor and destitute people for living.
No. 6 Union council member Abdul Kuddus said that Uttar Janahpur is under Ward-2 which is under his jurisdiction. The area is considered as colony by all the people of the Jahanpur Union. In 1356 BCE, a colony was built by Pakistan government for providing shelter to the poor and destitute. In this area there are plenty of people poor people. Various NGO like BRAC, KARITAS etc. came to this area and promised development for the people of Uttar Jahanpur. But except getting some petty loans, they didn’t get anything, though other villages of Jahanpur Union like BikhundoKhas, Sahapur, Halkhola, Boro-Shibpur, Sutrapar were selected for development. Besides, due to absence of financial allocation for one or two paved road(s), development of infrastructure is also not happening. As a Union Council member of No. 2 ward of Jahanpur Union, I urge upon the prime minister through you to see the miserable condition of this area and take steps for its development.
After that, in the open discussion, retired government official Alhaz Abdul Kader said, “Save farmers to save country’ is only in the mouth but in reality no one has taken any initiative to save the farmers. At present, selling price of one mound of paddy is BDT. 570 while the production price is BDT. 750. Asked what solution he would suggest, he said, - a subsidy on fertilizer is needed which is BDT 750 to 780 per sack. We request that the price be fixed at BDT 300 for the rice cultivators. Earlier, the price of fertilizer was cheap as in 2006 per fertilizer was sold at BDT 280-300 per sack. He thought, if the raw material price for producing crops is reduced, farmers would be benefited. He further said, now we need to pay fees for visiting village doctor. The fees for MBBS doctor in the area is BDT 300. When a patient is taken to Rajshahi following an emergency, doctors charge BDT 700 for each patient and BDT 500 for old patient revisiting within five months. The female member for reserved seat of the Union Council added that one of her neighbors could not get necessary medical treatment due to lack of money which compelled him to put his 10 kathas of land on mortgage to get some money for treatment.
Among the discussants Meena said, you have many things, if you only ask all the questions then how can we the poor people say about our problem?( She beckoned to Abdul Kader who is an influential land owner of the area). She said,” my family comprises of five members and my husband has asphyxia so he cannot work. We live by rearing ducks and chickens. The price of oil is BDT. 120/kg, onion is BDT. 40/kg and other necessities like chili, garlic and ginger are also expensive. Most of the people in our colony are poor and we cannot afford electricity bills for our houses. Kerosene sales at BDT 72/kg. For this reason, please present our problems to the government”. At the open discussion, the participants were asked whether they eat seasonal or other nutritional fruits, or how the low income people meet the demands for nutritional food. Especially, as India is very near to you, do you get low cost food supply from India? Answering to the question, a housewife named Meena said, ‘we don’t even see the peel of an orange’. Once her child wanted to eat orange and she had only BDT 20 that time. The price was BDT 150/kg and BDT 20 apiece. She asked the seller to give with BDT 10 but the seller didn’t agree. Then, she agreed to pay BDT 20 but after taking weight, the seller demanded BDT 30 on that piece as its size was big. The child was crying for the orange and she had not enough money to buy it. So, out of anger and frustration, she slapped her child and pulled in from the shop and said “poor children do not t eat orange, they eat slap”.
Among the participants, Abdul Hanna said, “it is nearly impossible to buy meat as one mound of paddy cannot pay for one kg of meat”. What will the poor eat? They only eat meat during Eid-ul-Azha. He also said, we cannot effort soya bin oil as it is costly, so we take palm oil which causes gastric disease. Some buy low quality soya bin oil which also causes skin diseases. Life is going on like this and no one cares about us.
Union council member Sultana Razia said, you found at the outcome of the study that people eat legs, through or other leftovers of cows but one day people eat the feather of her well.(not understood) Supporting her, Abdul Hannan said, we grow and sell given vegetables and buy adulterated oil from market. How can we solve problem?
Abdul Kader said government provides some VGD and VGF card to some poor people. But, now these cards are not distributed to the actual poor rather those who can pay taka 2000-3000 as bribe can get those cards. The extreme poor do not get the cards but they need the card and facilities. Answering the question of Abdul Kader regarding VGF and VGD card, union council member Sultana Razia’s husband said, generally a male ward member of a Union Council gets 75 slips of VGD card and on the other hand a female member get 75 slips for three wards. Some cards are reserved for the local leaders. About the matter he also mentioned that, Prime Minister gets BDT 125000, ministers get BDT 95000, the MPs get BDT 80000 to BDT 85000 per month. Besides, they have home rent and other allowances. They eat all, then why only members are accused? He added, corruption prevails everywhere in the country. First of all corruption should be stopped and only then people will change. Through this, all the problems of the country will be eliminated.
Among the participants, Babul said, there is no good road in this area so the people have to pay extra cost for taking their goods to market for selling. Besides, extra money is needed to transport raw materials to the market.
About the high price of clothes, Monoara Begum said, the price of clothes keeps increasing. You said, “take with only 20 taka” and we are using these 20/30 taka clothes for our basic needs. But it is not possible to provide low quality clothes for children. We have to buy new clothes for school going children with an average of BDT 400 to BDT 500 for one set clothes. Children don’t want to go to school with old clothes. If they do, then (the children said) teacher asks, “where are you from?” In this circumstance, where will the poor go? We cannot eat, cannot wear, and cannot properly send the children to schools. We cannot even provide tuition to our kids.