Rabiul and Selina live with their three children in a village in Panchagarh sadar upazila. For around half the year, the family gets by easily, but during the other six months, every meal a day is an uphill battle.
The reason is the dependency on agriculture in the northern region of Bangladesh. The other six months sees very little farming, jeopardizing the livelihood of thousands of people. To find stable jobs in an urban area, people like Rabiul need to lend travel money at monthly interest rates as high as 20% on Tk1,000 from local rich families.
No Lean Season aims to provide interest-free loans of Tk1,500 in cash – roughly $19 – to destitute families so their members can travel to areas with stable job opportunities. Rabiul received one to fund his trip to Dhaka, where he started pulling rickshaws, and was able to earn Tk15,000 per month for three months. With the money he made, Rabiul paid off his debts, freed his land from mortgage, and was able to repay the interest-free Tk1,500 he received. After clearing his debts, he was able to support his family for six months at ease.
No Lean Season is a beta project developed by Evidence Action. In partnership with RDRS Bangladesh, it began providing the transport expenses to eligible applicants to the program from 2008. The program remains open from September to November – this is when job crisis and food security become acute threats to thousands of families.
Enamul Kabir, executive director of RDRS Bangladesh, said they have set up offices in every upazila in Rangpur division. RDRS field officers select villages and households based on their level of poverty. One adult member from each family is eligible for the loan so that they can migrate to seek work.
The 2016-2017 season saw Tk7,998,000 disbursed among 5,332 families.
The 2017-2018 season saw Tk60,853,500 disbursed among 40,569 families.
The huge increase in number of borrowers indicates how successful and popular the project has proven in the region. There was an increase of 30%-35% in food and non-food expense, and 550-700 more calories consumed per person per day, relative to the comparison group, according to RDRS Bangladesh.
If the migrant labour cannot travel because of illness, injury, death, or other catastrophic event; or if they travelled but did not find work; or if travelled, found work, but earned less than twice the amount of the loan; or if travelled but suffered a serious accident or illness that prevented them from working, the loan receivers are exempted from paying the amount.
The failure to repay is less than 2% currently.
Globally, approximately 805 million people do not have food security, and about 600 million are rural poor.
Mushfiq Mobarak, chair of South Asian Studies Council at Yale University, says: “Half the rural poor worldwide suffer from seasonal hunger. This affects the landless families who rely on agricultural labour. The fall in income results in missing meals over two to three months.”
Mushfiq said he believes the program is very efficient and thorough in its fight for food security.