- Poor households in Naogaon and Rajshahi are 62% and 66% respectively, 39% in Bandarban, 40% in Rangamati and 41% in Khagrachhari
- Middle-income families are higher in the CHT than in the plains
- Despite agriculture being the main source of income, their agricultural production drastically declined due to their inability to keep pace with modern agricultural methods
- Respondents are interested in skills development training on sewing, cottage industries, animal husbandry
- Residents of the hills have access to either nutritious or healthy food thrice a day, but the same is not applicable to those who reside in the plains
- Indigenous people in the plains have better access to social security benefits from the government than those who reside in the hills
Owing to low education rates among indigenous people residing in the hills and plains, they are consistently deprived of job opportunities. This, in turn, leads to increased incidence of poverty, with the numbers exceeding those for extreme poor at the national level.
The findings were part of a study entitled "The Life and Livelihoods of the Hill and Plain Indigenous People", led by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) and conducted to highlight the lives and livelihoods of hill tribes in Bangladesh. The research findings observations were presented at an online discussion held on Wednesday.
The study aimed to understand the prevailing social scenario, including the livelihoods of indigenous communities and the challenges they face. Data for the study was collected from three hill districts, Rajshahi and Naogaon. Most of the respondents were male, engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and day labour.
The number of poor households in Naogaon and Rajshahi are 62% and 66% respectively, 39% in Bandarban, 40% in Rangamati and 41% in Khagrachhari. On the other hand, according to the study, the number of middle-income families is higher in the Chittagong Hill Tracts than in the plains.
Despite the fact that agriculture is the main source of income for tribal communities, agricultural production has declined drastically due to their inability to keep pace with modern agricultural methods. This has made them poorer and increased their debt burden.
According to the research data, the literacy rate of hill tribes is slightly higher than that of plain tribes. The literacy rate in the hills is 21% and 16% in the plains, it is. Again, only one-fourth of those educated in the hills progress beyond secondary or higher secondary education. Only 3% were able to study further.
Among indigenous communities in the plains, about half of the respondents in Naogaon claimed there were unable to secure admission in schools for primary education.
The study found that changes in socio-economic status and livelihoods of indigenous families have been influenced by climate change, declining water resources, changes in food intake, market systems, agriculture, and gender inequality. Taking these factors into consideration, many aid agencies, including the MJF, have taken several steps to implement sustainable livelihood and rehabilitation initiatives.
35%-50% of the earnings of indigenous people come from plants and pig rearing. Since living costs exceed their income – 41% higher in the hills and 55% higher in the plains – they are forced to take loans for business and agricultural work. Chakmas and Marmas are engaged in Jhum cultivation. The number of day labourers in the plains is high. The risk of earning a living is higher in the hills than in the plains.
Indigenous people have shifted from single farming to other agricultural or non-agricultural activities to earn a living. Respondents said they now want to take up skills development training for sewing, cottage industries, animal husbandry. Restrictive conditions preclude indigenous people from availing loans. Their traditional, cultural practices are contrary with modern farming systems. Fruit cultivation seems to be promising from an income standpoint. 98 percent are aware of climate change, the study revealed.
Although the people of the hills have access to nutritious or healthy food thrice a day, the same is not applicable to those who reside in the plains. Indigenous people in the plains have better access to social security benefits from the government than those who reside in the hills.
Research has repeatedly recommended that the government's social security programme should take into consideration the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities.
Dr Debashish Kumar Kundu and Mrinmoy Samaddar were involved in the research. Professor Sadeka Halim, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Dhaka University, presented the research findings at a webinar on Thursday.
Fazle Hossain Badsha, a Member of Parliament, was present as the chief guest on the occasion. Distinguished guests included AKM Maqsood Kamal, Vice-Chancellor, Dhaka University; Raja Barrister Debashish Roy, and Chakma Circle Head.
Dr Niaz Ahmed Khan, Professor, Dhaka University participated in the discussion, while Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, MJF, delivered welcome remarks.