Dhaka, Sep 14 (bdnews24.com) — An Oxfam-led campaign has demanded that land-grabbers and their abettors be punished.
The Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, of which Oxfam is the secretariat, heard testimonies of grassroot farmers and their predicament, on the second day of a three-day launching programme of the Oxfam's new global campaign 'GROW'.
The new campaign demands significantly higher agricultural investment to enable small and marginal farmers to grow sufficient food.
Noting that global food production is sufficient compared to the demand, GROW also demands limiting corporate machinations, and plugging loopholes in national and international policies towards a more equitable system.
Reacting to testimonies heard on Wednesday's in Dhaka's CIRDAP auditorium, the NGO alliance of over 200 organisations also stated that many farmers, especially women, had been left out of the government's Agricultural Input Assistance Card scheme due to the government's flawed policies.
Among others, 60-year-old Ambia Khatun of Kushthia spoke about how she was left out of a government scheme although it was meant for farmers. Bibhash Mandal of Khulna and Kamala Rani spoke of their campaign to free rivers and government lands from illegal encroachment.
Rural development and cooperatives secretary Mihir Kanti Majumder said, "It is true that a section of government officials is actively engaged in helping powerful quarters, and they must be brought to book."
"It became apparent from the testimonies that a section of corrupt officials are actively engaged in helping politically and economically powerful people to grab government land or common resources," said Ziaul Hoque, CSRL member secretary, who moderated the testimonies.
Bibhash Mandal, a 26-year-old man, narrated how he turned into a carpenter from an Economics student at the Khulna's BL College.
He talked of his parents' sacrifices for putting him through schooling. "But I realised that our existence was at stake as the river was being taken over."
"So, I decided to build up resistance and began this campaign. Ever since, there has been one case after another lodged against me."
Bibhas could not make a living, study and run the campaign at the same time. He had to choose. "I took up carpentry and gave up education." But the campaign is still on.
Ambia Khatun told the audience about her hard work in the field and how she was as much a farmer as anyone else, tending to her land all the time.
"Whenever I go to the dealers for fertiliser, I am the last one to get it. I have to wait at least two hours in line every time. Men get it ahead of me."
She said the people behave as if "it is an offence that I have gone there myself instead of sending the men of the house".
Ambia Khatun had heard that the government provides the input assistance to cardholders with funds for irrigation. But she never got one. "It would make my life much easier."
Information commissioner Sadeka Halim said, "An overwhelming proportion of female farmers have been excluded from the agricultural input assistance card scheme. It must be changed."
MP Shawkat Momen Shajahan, also head of parliamentary standing committee on agriculture, said, "Access to common resources must also be open to small and marginal farmers."
MP Hasanul Haq Inu said, "The state must protect the interests of the marginal food producers and female farmers."
CSRL steering committee member Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, also a climate scientist, presided over the dialogue.