He was a dropout from school
After a flood drove Md Ole Ullah from his home in Comilla, he moved to Chuadanga to find a roof over his head, and a means to make some money.
He was a dropout from school, and at 24 years of age, there was little he could do other than menial work. A reputed local, named Islam Mechanic, took him on as an apprentice in Sarojganj Bazar. Ole’s life would never be the same again.
In just four years, the young mechanic developed a knack for understanding machines, and decided to open a workshop of his own. With nothing but Tk4,000 in savings, and an enviable acumen, Ole set forth.
“I started Janata Engineering with very little. There was noticeable demand for small farming tools and equipment but not enough supply. I took a small loan, and started manufacturing them for our farmers.”
Today, Janata Engineering (JE) is a titan in the industry – a leading figure in agriculture machine research, development, manufacturing, and supply. Their annual sales far exceed Tk10 crores. Throughout the country, nearly 50 dealers distribute JE’s farming equipment.
Although the company’s portfolio proudly touts its manufacturing and training programs, their true service lies in modifying imported machines and making them user-friendly in Bangladesh’s context.
Until 2010, Ole’s prize product was a paddle thresher that separated paddy from the chaff. But in that year, he received help from the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), and Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI). They helped scale up his manufacturing capacity.
By 2012, Ole was working with the USAID funded Agricultural Mechanization and Irrigation Project, implemented by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), and International Development Enterprises (iDE Bangladesh). The new collaboration helped Ole develop the market for his locally-manufactured machines.
Between 2012 and 2015, JE’s market expanded throughout Khulna and Barisal divisions. By 2016, they were selling all over the country.
Ole Ullah, currently serving as the managing director at JE, was proud of how far his company has come.
“In the beginning it was just me. When we first started manufacturing, there were 20 people. Now, we have 32 people working, and we have trained over 200 others in the same discipline. We may not have formal training, but nothing beats lessons learned through trial and error.”
How domestic farming equipment helps
Domestic farming equipment have a higher demand than imported products because of their competitive prices, availability of spare parts, and the capacity of local mechanics to repair them.
The JE and BRRI jointly developed a combined harvester costing Tk7 lakh in 2015. Previously, an imported model would cost Tk12 lakhs
Ole said: “We signed an MoU, and it took us a whole year for the first model. It was hard getting the raw materials – they are costly and scarce. By the time we had the sixth unit out, it took only a month to assemble.
“The quality was nothing you could criticize.”
BARI and BRRI designed equipment for local markets, and Ole’s company modified and manufactured them for ease of use.
The mechanization has contributed to astounding leaps in production capacity. The paddy thresher produces 20-22 maunds (1 maund=40kg) in an hour on just 500ml of diesel. Within the same time period, four farmhands could only thresh 3-4 maunds.
Currently, a maximum 70% government subsidy is in place for farmers to purchase various types of agricultural machinery. JE looks forward to their upcoming sales boom.
Some farmers purchase the higher-capacity machines and rent them out, as well as use them for their own needs.
“Our main goal is to build compact machines, which farmer families can afford and use at low cost,” he added.
He further said that mechanization is increasing agricultural production, and reducing costs.
In 2019, Ole was recognized as the Best Microentrepreneur of the Year by the SME Foundation under the Ministry of Industry, for his long struggle against poverty.