- The government commenced initiatives for leasing agricultural land in Africa in 2010
- Producing rice, wheat, cotton, and coffee in African countries would be feasible and profitable for Bangladeshi investors
- Around 40 lakh Bangladeshis can be employed in four african countries by 2027
- An inter-ministerial committee has been formed to look into the African labour market
- Experts blamed for slow movement of the authority concerned to access the market
The government fears that the Middle East's labour market will be exhausted in the near future, so the authorities have been trying to open windows to the agricultural labour market in some African countries.
Around 40 lakh Bangladeshis can be employed in different sectors, especially in agriculture – in Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, and The Gambia – by 2027, said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Wednesday after a programme titled "Contract Farming and Job Opportunity for Bangladesh Abroad," organised by the Bangabandhu Research Centre for Foreign Policy and Diplomacy at the Foreign Service Academy.
Earlier, the foreign minister said in June last year that these countries have shown interest in recruiting Bangladeshis in the agriculture sector and our ambassadors are working on it.
Bangladesh started seeking employment opportunities in Africa a decade ago, but made little progress in this regard due to inadequate initiatives of the authority concerned, said experts.
"While we are thinking of creating employment opportunities in Africa, some countries – like Pakistan, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia – have already started investing in the agricultural sector of African countries like Sudan. China and India are also working on such processes," Golam Moshi, former Bangladesh Ambassador to Saudi Arabia who also represented Bangladesh in Sudan, told The Business Standard.
"If we take proper steps, we will be able to start investing and recruiting there within two years. The opportunity in Africa is not the same as in other traditional labour markets. These countries are able to give huge amounts of land to us. Our private investors have to take lease of the land in African countries. Then we can recruit our people there," said Golam Moshi, who was the keynote speaker at an event on Wednesday.
It has been almost a decade since the Government of Bangladesh commenced initiatives to lease agricultural land in Africa, but the process is still at the very preliminary stage, said a ministry official.
A fact-finding mission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by the then-foreign secretary, visited Ivory Coast, Senegal and Ghana in 2010 to explore possibilities of contract farming in African countries.
The fact-finding mission found that the production of rice, wheat, cotton, coffee, etc., will be feasible and profitable for our investors in those countries, said sources at the foreign ministry.
Bangladesh initiated contract farming in the African countries with the appointment of 11 Bangladeshi farmers in Zambia in 2016.
A Bangladeshi company, Bhati Bangla Agritech, received clearance from the government there to appoint 11 Bangladeshi farmers in Zambian agricultural projects.
Nitol-Niloy Group and Bhati Bangla Agritech Ltd had been working in some other African countries cultivating food grains, but made very little progress, said the ministry sources.
Dr Momen said, "If we talk about labour employment in Africa, they will not be interested. But if we want to invest in their agriculture sector, they will agree as they have food crisis,"
"An inter-ministerial committee has been formed to work on the issue. It is not an easy job," he added.
The foreign minister also mentioned that the labour market in the Middle East may be exhausted and experts fear that it may affect Bangladesh's remittances. So, they are searching for alternative markets.
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, former secretary-general of the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira), said, "Accessing the labour market in Africa is a lengthy process. First, we need a government-to-government level agreement; then our investors have to manage the land. After completing all the processes, we, the recruiting agencies, will manage the farmers."
However, he emphasised on training for our workers as they have to deal with the issue of technology-based farming in Africa.
Bangladesh's Ambassador in Kenya reported that the Kenyan authorities were interested in providing about 1,000 acres of land on lease to a financially competent Bangladeshi company for cotton cultivation.
In Sudan, there are 20 million hectares of land, 40% of which is agricultural land.
"Bangladesh agricultural scientists may introduce suitable agricultural methods in Sudan. The Sudanese side has sought the cooperation of Bangladesh for the fabrication of fishing boats for catching fish in the Red Sea," said the foreign minister.
"I know that countries like The Gambia and Sierra Leone as well as stretches of both the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa, might be fertile areas to explore possibilities in this regard," he added.
According to unofficial estimates, around three lakh Bangladeshis are working in different African countries. Among them, more than one lakh are in South Africa where most of the Bangladeshis are self-employed.
According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, around 1.22 lakh Bangladeshis have been employed in Libya since 1976.
Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary-general of the Baira, said Bangladeshis are working in different companies in Libya that are conducting various activities including construction.
"Most of the Bangladeshis go to Africa through unofficial processes," he added.
Among others, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmed was also present at the programme.