What do young people from the countryside think about the past and present?
In March, Oxfam Bangladesh organized focus group discussions with 46 rural young people in Bakerganj, Barisal, and Puthiya, Rajshahi, asking them about their lives and their futures.
Almost all of them wanted to leave agriculture and the rural areas. One major reason cited was the stigma they felt is attached to farming, and how farming is not a respected occupation. They also spoke at length about the climatic changes they have observed including very hot and humid days, more rain, storms and lightning (responsible for several deaths). They were aware of the causes of climate change, noting especially about carbon emissions from brick kilns. But they also felt that climate change was bound up with wider environmental and social problems that needed tackling all together. Human-induced water-logging, for example, was blighting crops in Rajshahi and in both places depletion of groundwater was a hazard to both agriculture and human health.
To reverse trends and restore respect for farmers they said the government should:
Recognise the contribution of farmers
Ensure proper land distribution, agricultural subsidies, interest-free or low-interest loans, and fair prices
Take strong steps against corruption, including against diversion of funds for agricultural training and neutralise syndicates which dominate business
Reduce the use of chemicals in the fields which were polluting soils and water courses and provide training on organic methods
Everyone believed in better care of the environment, generally to stop pollution, increase prosperity and resilience and reduce emissions, through measures including planting trees, stopping unwanted landfill, improving drainage, using improved cooking stoves, organic fertilisers, and pesticides, and more solar energy.
Youth in Rajshahi: “We want a green and healthy environment in 100 years and we aspire for a society where gender equality and enabling the environment for women will be ensured and there will be no early marriage. We dream about a country with zero poverty, equality, well-educated citizens, where there will be no corruption, drug addiction, violation of human rights, and where everyone will get an equal and fair price”
Youth in Barisal: “We envision a Bangladesh which will be independent in food production, all people will be employed, all women will be protected from any sorts of violence or discrimination, an equitable and just country will become an exemplar for other countries, the country will be corruption-free, there will be no violent extremism and above all Bangladesh will become a country which will help other countries to become developed rather than depending on others for aid”.
John Magrath is a writer who has worked for Oxfam GB for over 30 years in a variety of roles. He specializes in climate change issues.