The Financial Express

The changing rural landscape

| Updated: May 23, 2021 22:03:58

The changing rural landscape

In accordance with human nature, people eventually get used to new realities which they have never thought of encountering. It happens quite insidiously. As days, months and years wear on they accept the newer spectacles without their knowledge. At one point of time, they cannot think otherwise, i.e. the reality was different in the past. Few could be served as more apt instances than the cases for Bangladesh villages. Not long ago, the cows, boats, ploughs etc would comprise a rural spectacle in Bangladesh. The scenarios have long been changing. Let's turn to the slow replacement of cows with horses. The latter is widely used in the vast remote areas in the south-western and northern Bangladesh villages. And it has been so for ages.

Horses are used in these regions as the traditional beast of burden. But in some central parts, farmers are getting used to engage horses in farm-related activities. Using horses to till agricultural lands manually has yet to become a custom in Bangladesh. Cows are there to do the job.  Bullock carts filled with harvested paddy and other crops are still the common sights. Boats and trawlers are used in the task in areas near rivers. Harvested paddy carried by 'dingi' boats was once a common sight in central and southern Bangladesh. They still are. But few can deny the increased use of horses in pulling crop-filled carriages in the regions having dearth of healthy cows.

Lately, elements of surprise have started striking people in many parts of the country. In utter disbelief, they discover the traditional cows --- bullocks and oxen in the main, being replaced by horses. In carrying rural passengers and harvested crops, the use of horses is seen making inroads. In the central parts of Bangladesh, imaginary horses normally populate folktales, like the now-extinct 'jatras' and 'kabi-gaans'.  And there are countless villagers who have never seen a horse, except at circuses, also now-extinct.

In the olden days, 'zeminders' and feudal lords and their guards would be seen riding horses while on rounds. Horses were not a common sight. Those days, many think, are set to undergo a change in the following days --- especially in areas with no navigable waterways. Thanks to the increase in the price of fodder, attack of myriad cattle diseases etc, rearing cows continues to become a burden for even many affluent farmers. They turn to mechanised farming having the capacity to perform jobs from tilling, irrigation, harvesting to threshing. All parts of the rural Bangladesh may not be able to turn to horses. But they can form cooperatives to buy machine-run agricultural implements.

However, machinery like small rice planters or harvesters can be bought by relatively affluent farmers. It was unthinkable in the distant past. And it would be hard for poor and marginal peasants to own even an antiquated plough or a pair of bullocks. As the futurists in Bangladesh agriculture view it, activities related to cultivation and harvesting, long done with the help of hand-held manual ploughs, land levellers, manual winnowing etc are set to undergo a radical change in the near future. It might begin with the slow replacement of the traditionally timid agricultural cows with sturdy horses in many unlikely regions in Bangladesh.

In a broader context, the present scenario of rural Bangladesh has little resemblance to the one which prevailed in this land even fifty years ago. The changes have components of both socially refreshing and obscurantist aspects Two classes of people are now dominant in villages. One class is ever-ready to embrace changes in every sector including agriculture. The other finds it hard to extricate itself from the monolithic archaism. The rural Bangladesh was once home to openings to a new future with broader horizons. But a small section of people has always been enthusiastic about spoiling dreams.

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