Markets and livelihoods programme, Bangladesh
Practical Action Bangladesh
Poverty in Bangladesh has a unique scale and intensity, which is predominantly manifested in the rural areas. Nearly half the rural population, some 50 million people, is estimated to be almost unable to meet their minimum livelihoods needs.
Though an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, scope and opportunities in the sector is limited and offer little hope to Bangladesh's poorest people. Average farm sizes have declined steadily to the point where typical holdings are now only adequate to meet 50% of a household's livelihood needs. This means the traditional reliance of rural livelihoods on income from agricultural is diminishing.
In this context, rural non-farm activities in the form of micro enterprise development offer an indispensable alternative to reducing unemployment. This claim can be supported by the fact that during the 1990s the rural non-farm employment not only played a critical role in poverty reduction - it also made the major contribution to overall economic growth in Bangladesh (Osmany et al. 2003). Therefore, it is quite evident that if massive micro enterprise development initiatives can be taken up involving poor who have potential entrepreneurial capacities and benefit from micro credit then there is every possibility that the existing rural unemployment would be reduced leading to economic growth and poverty alleviation at the grassroots level.
A vast majority of people in Bangladesh are small producers whose livelihoods depend on the income from selling their products. However, their livelihoods are strongly influenced by various factors, such as inadequate access to knowledge and information, unaffordable appropriate technologies and skills, physical and commercial isolation from markets, uneven competition with imported products in the domestic markets, price distortions due to national and international trade policies and decline in productivity as a result of environmental degradation and inequitable land distribution.
To ensure an enabling environment for the poor but potential entrepreneurs in the field of micro-economic development and market operation, the Markets and Livelihoods Programme of Practical Action Bangladesh aims to address the following thematic priorities:
Strengthening viability of smallholder farming: In response to this priority, programmes have been taken up to increase the productivity of agricultural farmers. It is evident that if the farmers have appropriate knowledge, skills and technologies, their productivity will be increased. In meeting this objective, different service providers of agro-machinery subsector have been identified to develop their overall technical knowledge and skills. This has enabled them in turn to provide skill development training to the manufactures and repairers of agro-machinery subsector. As a result the manufacturers and repairers are gradually becoming capable in manufacturing quality machineries to be used by the farmers. Moreover, in consultation with the farmers, interventions are designed in phases to develop the market for agro-machinery subsector by providing necessary information, rental facilities, embedded services, heat treatment arrangement, market linkage, policy advocacy, etc.
Empowering women's non-farm enterprises to benefit from markets: This priority is being addressed by extending skill development trainings and services to the women group members of partner NGOs, individual potential entrepreneurs, network members and producers' group members on enterprise development and promotion. In addition, exposure visits, information sharing and market survey are also included for acquiring innovative business ideas and technologies, which help the entrepreneurs to upgrade their business in terms of quality and product development. Moreover, group based production and marketing is being undertaken for increasing the volume of products and making more profit.
Upgrading technologies for rural entrepreneurs: One of the major interventions that has been developed and will be implemented next year under this priority is to provide technical and other services to the pottery subsector in several areas of Bangladesh. The objective of this initiative is to develop and promote quality pottery products, so that the gradual shrinkage of pottery industry in Bangladesh can be reversed. A number of interventions such as trade fairs, information product, display centres and product development are to be organised provided for both the pottery subsector and other enterprise development activities.
Improved (institutional and policy) frameworks for developing small producers' skill and knowledge: Under this priority partnership, networking and policy advocacy work are being pursued. The criteria for maintaining partnership has been revised in accordance with the midterm review, and the same criteria is followed for involving those partners who are interested in entrepreneurship development for economic sustainability of the poor people. The network activity has been further strengthened, so that local level issues on micro enterprises can been addressed more intensely.
The Markets and Livelihoods Programme (MLP) is currently implementing the following projects to address the priorities mentioned above: