Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reiterated her government's resolve to change the living standard of rural people for the better. Earlier she and a few of her cabinet colleagues have gone so far as to envisage literally turning villages into towns. Political rhetoric apart, the intention is clear. Her government feels that infrastructure-wise villages lag far behind cities and towns and, therefore, the gap should be bridged as much as possible. Already, the government has taken up a project to build multi-storied buildings in a few village settings. This certainly can serve double purposes. First, the allied utility services will have to be developed if people have to enjoy living in such accommodations. Second, such housing facilities will reduce pressure on cropland which is declining as a consequence of newer homesteads required for a growing population. Then housing is not the only infrastructure that contributes to raising the standard of life.
On this score, the prime minister seems to have her focus on target. She is in favour of strengthening rural economy. But how? One option open before the government is to frame policies that are rural economy-friendly. In fact, farmers are the overwhelming majority in villages and they have already proved their enterprising skills. Not only have they made the country self-sufficient in staples but also been highly successful in diversifying crops and vegetables to a large extent. Some educated young farmers have taken to cultivation of crops - some of those exotic ones - to a new level. They and their likes are ready to take up challenges in raising production of crops for both domestic consumption and export where possible. Dragon fruits are grown here now. Even home-grown dates comparable with those from the Middle East are available in the market. So there is no question about the ability, skill and willingness of village people.
What is needed is strong policy support. That farmers do not get reasonable prices of their produces is a sore point. No wonder that the prime minister has taken the occasion of observance of the National Cooperative Day to highlight the spirit of cooperation among village people in order to put forward their case. She has pointed out that they can avoid wastage and reduce transportation cost if they operate on a cooperative basis. This they certainly do when they find it convenient.
However, such cooperation is not a substitute for policy and infrastructure support. For example, if road communication gets improved, warehouses or silos are built by the government for preservation of produces at a cheaper rate, railway carriages for transportation of goods are reserved for farmers and where there is no rail service, trucks are provided by the Bangladesh Road Transportation Corporation (BRTC) on lease. Thus, the farmers will be able to elbow out the middlemen from the marketing system. Further support can be provided by connecting them to chain shops which will receive deliveries from them on a regular basis. There are ways if there is will to improve the lots of farmers and by extension the economy of villages.