Agriculture is the ancient and main source of livelihood of mankind. After hunting and food-gathering economy, the foundation of the feudal society was laid based on land ownership and agriculture. From ancient times, agriculture has been the only source of employment for a large section of the Bengali population in this subcontinent, especially in present-day Bangladesh. Located in various river basins, this small land has always been famous for its agricultural crops, poultry, cattle and fish. That is why Rabindranath Tagore has called this country ‘Golden Bengal’. Many foreign powers had taken over the country in greed for fertile land and an endless reserve of grains. They acquired valuable resources. They want to keep the majority of the peasantry in the country under their control for their comfort. But they could not. The farmers of this country had repeatedly revolted to save their crops and their existence. Following this, through the War of Liberation in 1971, the brave Bengalis (most of whom were peasants, workers and labourers) established their independent sovereign state.
The architect of independent Bangladesh, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman always thought of the betterment of the farmers of this country. Addressing public servants, he said, “You work, the poor farmers pay you, the agriculture labours pay you, your family lives on their money, I drove with their money. You should speak about them with respect and dignity. They are the owners.” He further said, “Our farmers are the most miserable and oppressed and a large part of our efforts must be put behind them to improve their condition.” This is how Bangabandhu, the best Bengali of the thousands of years, evaluated the farmers of this country and spoke of giving them dignity. But the unpleasant truth is that it has not been possible yet to ensure the proper status and respect of the farmers of this country. As a result, a large section of the young population no longer wants to be engaged in agricultural works. Economists might provide a theoretical and research-oriented explanation of why the younger generation does not want to engage in this sector. But some general observational reasons are as follow:
Expansion of educational institutions: There has been a massive growth of educational institutions in the country in the last few decades. Living in villages, many are now getting the opportunity to attain bachelor and master's degrees. There may be questions about the quality of education. But a large section of the younger generation is now interested in getting an education and engaging in non-agricultural activities. As a result, the number of workers in the agriculture sector is declining.
Globalisation: Due to globalisation, the demand for labour has increased in many countries of the world. As a result, many of the new generation from our country have moved to the Middle East or other countries. Most of them are from villages.
Increased employment in the informal sector: The country has witnessed infrastructural development in the last decades. Especially the development of rural roads is mentionable. As a result, various types of vehicles have emerged for running on these roads. Many have been employed in these transports. Many young people, especially in rural areas, are now making a living by working in all these modes of transport. Besides, a good portion of the young generation (boys and girls) working in the garment industry have come from the village. Despite a lot of adversities, they want to work in this industry. They do not want to go back to the village and engage them in the agricultural profession. Another group is engaged in the NGO sector that started working with relief activities in the country soon after the independence and is implementing various development programmes and projects now. A large section of the young generation is getting employment opportunities in the small shops and large shopping malls and construction sector. As a result, they no longer want to be employed in agricultural works.
Expansion of technical education: Technical education has indeed spread in the country. Many of the uneducated or semi-educated youth of the village are getting jobs in this sector by taking technical education. They are working in small enterprises set up on their own initiative and are also creating job opportunities for others. In urban and rural areas, we see initiatives such as mobile phone repair, computer repair, television, fridge repair, electric work, welding, grill making, motorcycle and another vehicle repair, small tailoring shop, etc. - where many young boys and girls are working.
Mechanisation of agriculture: Mechanisation of agriculture has taken place in the country in the last decades. All the work that used to be done by human labour is now done by machines. As a result, the demand for human labour in agriculture has decreased. In the future, there may be more mechanisation for which the demand for human labour will further reduce. So job opportunities here for the younger generation will shrink.
Industrialisation: In the last fifty years, the country has undergone rapid industrialisation. A variety of industrial factories have sprung up where many of the younger generations have found employment. As a result, the labour of the agricultural sector is being employed in industries.
Bangladesh has passed away fifty years of its independence. In these fifty years, we have seen a lot of progress in the agricultural sector of the country. However, experts believe that there is no evidence that significant reforms have been taken to protect the interests of the agricultural sector and farmers. That is why many of the younger generations do not want to come to the profession now. Therefore, to engage a large section of the young generation in this profession, more effective measures including agricultural reform need to be taken.
The writer is a Research Consultant, Human Development Research Centre (HDRC), Dhaka