The Financial Express

Tapping African job market

| Updated: July 20, 2020 21:55:15

Tapping African job market

This time Bangladesh should not miss the opportunity to enter the African job market. It has been beckoning for two long years. Apparently now the authorities have turned their attention to the immense prospects in that continent. The news ofthe Africanopportunity came from the sector of agriculture, to be precise.Its clear visibility notwithstanding, the job market still liesuntapped byother countries. Despite being confined to a 'non-traditional' sector, its emergence as a new job market in an adverse time is evidently serendipitous - especially for a country like Bangladesh.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the country is helplessly witnessing afast shrinkage of its Middle East-based job market. The once-vibrant overseas employment sector in the Gulf countries drawing upon oil revenues and the related construction boom had been in decline due to falling oil priceslost its appeal in the Gulf countries.Then came the Covid-19. The overseas employers have now resorted to the age-old practices of jettisoningforeign workers. Against this dismal backdrop,embarking on the venture to implement a dormant proposal toexplore the African job market couldn't have come at a riper time.As reported inthe FE recently, the initiative had its seeds in a proposal made by the then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2018to the Bangladesh ambassador, then serving in Sudan. In his proposal, President Bashir, besides inviting Bangladesh to contribute to the job sector related to Sudanese agriculture, underscored the urgency of implementing the plan. The Sudanese president cautioned that delays on the part of Bangladesh might prompt Pakistan or India to grab the African agro-job market. He reminded the envoy that the two South Asian countries were the major competitors of Bangladesh in the global job market. Upon being on the backburner for two long years, the initiative appears to have been revived in earnest, and is being examined seriously.

As a job market with the sector of agriculture in focus, Africa offers a large vista of opportunities. Parts of the continent comprise vast swathes of land, lying unused due to labour shortage.As mentioned in a written proposal submitted to the government two years back, Bangladeshis interested in 'contract farming' would be allowed to take lease of large tracts of African farmlands. Moreover, the agro-based African governments had agreed to provide 10-year visas to the Bangladeshi farm workers. The countries which showed interest back then in employing Bangladeshis in their agricultural sectors included Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Tunisia and a few more. A similar bid to send Bangladeshi farm labour to the African country of Mali had been taken in the late 1970s. It did not progress.

As has been observed by the same ambassador during the earlier negotiation phase, African countries have the scope for employing around 4.0 million farm handsfrom Bangladesh. Given the current seriousness of the government in pursuing an African job market plan, it's time the authorities began making anin-depthappraisal of the venture's nitty-gritty. Foremost among them is the Bangladeshi farmers' capability to adapt to the African climate and socio-cultural milieu. In short, Bangladesh cannot afford to lose this job market to other countries out to grab it.           

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