Most people with disabilities (PWDs) are very poor in Bangladesh. Although they are entitled to various government supports, the question of disability has not yet been integrated into general development programme. According to the World Disability Report, published by WHO and World Bank in 2011, it is estimated that around 16 million or 10 per cent people in Bangladesh are living with disabilities.
Rights activists say that the agricultural sector can be one of the best ways of improving their economic condition. Agricultural sector includes crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry. PWDs can be engaged in agricultural works like rearing of domestic animals, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, fish farming, kitchen gardens and running shops for selling fertiliser, seeds and other agricultural products.But PWDs are victims of stigma, which deprive them of getting necessary support. Most PWDs do not have access to land, water bodies, capital, modern equipments, trainings and other supports in the sector. There is no favourable environment for the PWDs to participate without support. Providing them with necessary supports, including adequate access to institutional credit and effective agricultural extension services, is crucial for raising their income and enhancing agricultural production in the country.
Agriculture is a special field of social activities that are directly involved in food and nutritional security, income generating opportunities and poverty reduction. Besides, it is the largest source of market for a variety of consumer goods, particularly in the rural areas.
We have ‘Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act 2013’. But the issue of disabled farmers and the facilities for them from the government services were not categorically mentioned in the Act, and also in different agro policies, including the 7th FYP and National Agriculture Policy 2018. Separate policies on agro-services, including Agriculture Policy and 7th Five Year Plan (FYP), have been taken up by the government to provide various support services for the farmers to promote agricultural production and marketing. Unfortunately, in many cases the disabled farmers have not been able to get access to the government support services due to their comparatively weaker position in the society. In our agriculture policy, nothing has been mentioned regarding ensuring the rights and access of disabled farmers to the agricultural support services by the government or the formation of cooperatives.
Most of the disabled farmers do not have the capacity to provide food for their family due to their weak position. They face problems in selling their agricultural produce in the market. They do not get remunerative price of their crops and other products due to absence of or limited linkage with market actors, lack of information about market and storage facilities. As a result, disabled farmers are facing a number of problems in their agricultural production and marketing including a very limited access to information relating to agricultural support services from the government or non-government organisations, lack of ease of access to or availability of a special corner in the markets for them, as well as lack of bank loan, etc.
To involve the disabled farmers in the agricultural production system and thus improve their livelihood, priority should be given to them regarding all government support services in the agricultural sector. The rights activists say, “To ensure their access to the government support services, a separate clause in the agriculture policy can be made like ‘Disabled Farmers in Agriculture’.” The following recommendations are suggested for its inclusion in the policy: “The issue of disabled farmers needs to be recognised and addressed properly in the agriculture policy, with a focus to involve them in the agricultural production system.”
There should be a quota for disabled farmers in any sort of government support for the farmers, which should be categorically mentioned in the agriculture policy. There should be representation of disabled farmers in all the committees, including Union Krishi Committee and Upazila Krishi Committee, relating to agriculture.Proper initiative should be taken to manufacture and market disabled farmer-friendly agricultural equipment so that disabled farmers can get it free or at subsidised price and can operate without any problem. Manufacturing and marketing of such tools can be encouraged by providing interest free loan or VAT exemption of the local manufacturers and companies.
Dealership priority for fertilisers, pesticides and agricultural equipment can be given to disabled farmers. Disabled farmers should be included in all sorts of agriculture related training. Special training programmes for disabled farmers need to be organised. A special corner in all markets should be marked for disabled farmers. Market toll should be waived for them. A subsidised vehicle support should be ensured by the government for their easy transportation to the market. A proper vigilance and monitoring should be done so that the disabled farmers get the remunerative price.
All the criteria to get the agricultural support services from the government should be made flexible for the farmers with disabilities. A negotiation can be made with banks so that they can simplify the process of giving loan to disabled farmers. For the disabled people involved in agriculture, it is not always the question whether they can work, but whether they have access to the opportunities like training, credit and other facilities like non-disabled farmers.
Regarding their access to the opportunities, the major barriers are not the physical, but related to the attitudes, stigma and lack of awareness. Therefore, initiative needs to be taken to make our people aware, so that the disabled farmers are well accepted in the society and are given opportunities to take part in agricultural activities.
Officers working in district and upazilla level at the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), Department of Fisheries (DoF), Department of Livestock (DLS) and Department of Social Welfare can take up various awareness programmes in association with NGOs, national and regional political parties, social organisations, print and electronic media.
Different educational and training programmes should be taken up for creating awareness among the disabled farmers. The farmers should be encouraged to form cooperatives from where they can improve their livelihood and also raise voices about their rights. Different government organisations and NGOs should come forward to make the PWDs aware of their capacities, potentialities and rights.
If the SDGs “No poverty” (SDG 1), “No hunger” (SDG 2) and “Reducing inequalities” (SDG 10) are properly executed, disabled farmers in the country would be benefitted and thus they would be able to lead a hunger free healthy life and take part in the development of the country rather than being considered as “burden” of the country.
Special steps should be taken for providing necessary facilities (modern training, credit, land and other supports) to the PWDs. PWDs, who are engaged in the sector, should be allowed to take part in market monitoring system. Steps need to be taken for keeping the above mentioned provisions in the agriculture policy and other relevant policies for ensuring the rights of farmers with disabilities.
Poverty among the PWDs would be eradicated and food production increased in the country if we can utilise them with proper support in the sector. National and international documents, Bangladesh Constitution, SDGs, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) called for ensuring the rights of all the people. Let us come forward to establish a rights-based equitable society.
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