Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asserted that Monga disappeared from the region due to the people of Rangpur voting for the Awami League. Residents no longer experience food scarcity, having become self-sufficient through government advancements in agriculture. Speaking during the Awami League’s election campaign in Taraganj, Rangpur on Tuesday, December 26, 2023, she emphasized that past governments had neglected the development of North Bengal and improving the lives of its people.
According to her, only the government led by Bangabandhu’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, genuinely cares about the well-being, peace, and elevated living standards of North Bengal residents. Sheikh Hasina’s efforts are credited for the eradication of the term ‘Monga’ in North Bengal today.
Manga-free Northern Bangladesh: A Transformative Journey
The term ‘Monga’ was employed to characterize a specific seasonal famine situation, particularly prevalent in several districts of northern Bangladesh, notably Rangpur. This crisis was primarily attributed to a lack of employment opportunities, leading to visible food shortages for the impoverished population from mid-September to mid-November. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ income-expenditure survey in 2005 revealed that 51% of people in northern Rangpur were below the poverty line, compared to the national average of 40%.
During this period, 75% of the land in northern Rangpur was dedicated to Aman cultivation, with the timing extended until December for farmers, mainly due to high dependence on rice. The entire Monga situation was intricately linked to agriculture, particularly the pre-harvest season.
In 2008, only 23% of households in northern districts could afford three meals during Monga, leaving 77% of family members facing days of hunger. By 2013, the situation had improved, with 74% of families being able to eat three meals a day.
Furthermore, in 2008, the average annual income for families in these areas was 35,400 tk. By 2013, this had increased to 42,700 tk and reached 78,100 tk, reflecting a 120% increase in income. Concurrently, the study conducted by the Institute of Microfinance (INM) demonstrated an increase in the investment and savings of families in Monga-affected districts.
After closely monitoring 5,600 families in Monga-affected districts of Greater Rangpur over six years (2008-2013), a positive transformation in the lives of the people was evident. Prime, a development program, played a crucial role, contributing 13% to the increase in households able to afford three meals a day (reaching 74%) and 54% to income growth. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that various government and non-governmental development programs also played a significant role in the overall positive transformation. As of 2023, Monga no longer exists in the entire North Bengal region.
Government Initiatives to Eradicate Monga in North Bengal
“North Bengal, once associated with Monga, has undergone significant development. The Prime Minister has consigned the legacy of Monga to the museum.”– Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, Minister, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting
Agricultural Diversification Drive
One key initiative of the current govt. is the introduction of agricultural diversification programs. Recognizing the over-dependence on traditional rice cultivation as a primary source of income, the government has encouraged farmers to explore alternative crops. Diversification not only reduces the vulnerability of farmers to the seasonal fluctuations of Monga but also enhances overall agricultural productivity. It is noteworthy that in that area, there is significant production of Aman rice, diversified crop production, easy and low-interest agricultural loans, alternative crop production on fallow non-arable land, cultivation of jute on abandoned land, sweet pumpkin cultivation, and easy availability of all agricultural inputs including seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. at reasonable prices.
Furthermore, the government has prioritized the development of rural and urban infrastructure to facilitate better connectivity and transportation of agricultural produce. Improved roads and transportation networks ensure that farmers can access markets more easily, reducing post-harvest losses and increasing their income. This not only addresses the immediate challenges posed by Monga but also contributes to the long-term development of the region. In this context, the current government’s initiatives, such as the construction of the Bangabandhu (Jamuna) Bridge, the Tista Bridge over the Tista River, the Sheikha Hasina Bridge, and the Dharala Bridge, have positively impacted the fate of the people in this region. Due to easy accessibility, the morning harvest of a poor farmer in the entire region of Rangpur is sold in the markets of Dhaka in the afternoon. As a result, farmers are getting fair prices, and the convenience of buying and selling goods has increased.
Industrial Development Programs
The northern districts of the country are deprived of industrial facilities. But in two decades there have been some industries. 40 thousand people have been employed in Uttara EPZ of Nilphamari. Socio-economic development has occurred. This EPZ is in Sangalsi Union, 10 km from the district headquarters. In 2001, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially inaugurated the Uttara EPZ. At that time, only one foreign company set up a factory here, but now more than 20 domestic and foreign companies have set up factories and are producing exportable products. The people of the Monga area, government officials, economists, and social analysts think that Monga has been eradicated due to various government and private activities. This is a big achievement for independent Bangladesh. This Monga Nirasan is a reminder of Bangladesh’s continued progress. The World Bank says that along with continued economic growth, Bangladesh has achieved exemplary success in reducing poverty. In terms of international poverty standards (income of $1.90 per day), Bangladesh had a poverty rate of 44.2 percent in 1991. In 2017, it decreased to 13.8 percent.
Social Safety Net Programs
To enhance the resilience of vulnerable communities, the government has initiated various social safety net programs. These programs include providing financial assistance, food support, and employment opportunities to the marginalized population during the Monga season. By offering a safety net, the government aims to mitigate the immediate impact of Monga and empower individuals and families to break the cycle of poverty.
Education and Skill Development Initiatives
Moreover, education and skill development initiatives have been implemented to equip the youth with the tools necessary to secure better livelihoods. Access to education and vocational training programs not only enhances employment prospects but also contributes to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Empowering the youth with knowledge and skills is a strategic move to build a sustainable and resilient future for the region.
Engaging Local Communities and Global Partnerships
To ensure the success of these initiatives, the government has actively engaged with local communities, non-governmental organizations, and international partners. Collaboration is essential to address the complex and multifaceted challenges posed by Monga effectively. By fostering partnerships, the government can leverage resources, expertise, and innovative solutions to create a comprehensive strategy for eradicating Monga and improving the overall socio-economic conditions in Northern Bangladesh.
In conclusion, the government’s initiatives to eradicate Monga in North Bengal reflect a holistic approach that combines agricultural diversification, rural infrastructure development, social safety nets, and education programs. These efforts aim not only to address the immediate challenges posed by Monga but also to create sustainable and resilient communities capable of thriving beyond the seasonal constraints.