Viewed by many people as a curse, disability is a cause of embarrassment to the family. People with disabilities (PWDs) are very poor in Bangladesh where most of them live in rural areas. They are often discriminated against, socially marginalized and do not have access to basic social services. They along with their families are often excluded both from their communities and development initiatives.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, about 10 per cent of people in Bangladesh have a disability of one kind or another. Disability is, to an increasing extent, being addressed as an issue to be included in mainstream development rather than as a matter of separate programmes and charity. This follows recognition that PWDs are citizens with equal rights, who-given the opportunity-are able to contribute economically and socially to their households and communities.
They must be brought into the mainstream of the development process. As PWDs are predominantly poor and marginalized in society, it is necessary to first support their organizing in order to make them "visible" and to empower them to make their voices heard. Our National Agriculture Policy 2018, Disability Rights and Protection Act 2013 and other relevant policies did not give a clear directive to establish their rights in the agricultural sector.
Those policies need to be packaged in such a manner as to establish a logical path to escape from poverty and vulnerability through agriculture. Disability is a vital issue with respect to human rights. Article 21 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, states that everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
Despite this, PWDs in Bangladesh face severe difficulties in accessing services, facilities, and opportunities. There are a number of reasons behind the poor accessibility in Bangladesh. Perhaps, the origin of the problem is a lack of awareness of disability and the needs of PWDs. This results in disabled people being marginalized and barred from mainstream society. Without understanding disability and the needs of disabled people the situation cannot drastically improve - to solve a problem it first needs to be understood. Increasingly, societies all over the world are beginning to realize that disability is an issue can that no longer be ignored and left on the sidelines of public policy.
As the number of disabled persons inflicted with varying types and degrees of disabilities is on the rise, societies all over the world have come to a consensus that disabled people have rights, they are an integral part of the society and given the opportunity, they too can contribute to the nation's economy.
Recent development studies have directly linked poverty as a major influencing factor on issues of disability. Disability and poverty are intricately interlinked. Disables are under a vicious circle of poverty as poverty can cause disability and disability can cause poverty. Poverty causes disability with its associated malnutrition, poor health services, and sanitation, and unsafe living and working conditions.
Conversely, the presence of a disability can trap people in a life of poverty because of the barriers disabled people face to taking part in education, employment, social activities, and indeed all aspects of life. Negative attitudes and practices reinforced by poverty create barriers that result in the exclusion of PWDs from mainstream national development activities. Employment of PWDs in a just and fair environment of equal opportunities and scopes will ensure economic sovereignty and contribute to the reduction of poverty. With poverty being addressed, positive influence will occur in improving the situation of the PWDs in the country.
In most developing countries, agriculture is the main form of economic activity in rural areas. But PWDs are facing immense challenges in agricultural activities as they are often the first to be excluded from access to water, land, capital and other necessary supports. Being excluded from agricultural activity means being excluded from the community and the opportunity to earn a living. PWDs are thus at greater risk for hunger and poor nutrition, as well as resulting secondary conditions.
Projects executed by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners have shown how appropriate some agro-industries are for take-up by PWDs, for example, sericulture production, mushroom production, chicken production, beekeeping, etc. Likewise, fish farming, hatching, seed processing, floriculture, horticulture, and poultry production are also among the "light" farming activities that can be extensively practiced by the PWDs.
Some other activities that can be carried on by the PWDs are basket weaving, carpet weaving, pottery, running shops for selling fertilizer, seeds and other agricultural products. Small and medium enterprises can also prove to be income generating activities in rural areas for the PWDs. An SME can initially focus upon small-scale and/or cottage-scale added value activities, with goods or services sold to neighbours or into local village markets. The contributions of PWDs to agriculture projects can have a significant impact on food security, said a FAO study, calling for helping them to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to maintain agricultural activities.
There are a number of problems, faced by the FWDs, in our agricultural sector. They lack modern training, modern equipment, land, capital, extension services and necessary inputs. There is a lack of a proper environment for them in the sector. They find it hard to get credit and there is also the high interest of the loan. The PWDs have no special agriculture-related facilities. Farmers with disabilities are deprived of getting a fair price of their products due to middlemen, lack of marketing and preservation system. The rights activists stressed solving those problems so that PWDs can be self-reliant through agriculture. It is needed to arrange special agriculture-related facilities for the PWDs and keep its provision in the national agriculture policy.
Developing disabled-friendly technology should get more priority. Other steps are needed for establishing the rights of PWDs in the sector. These are: making the share-cropping policy effective and modernized, building organizations of disabled farmers, simplifying the terms and conditions of getting the loan for PWDs, the scope for disabled farmers to participate in agriculture-related committees across the country and market system and monitoring.
It is needed to ensure easy availability of loan for the PWDs at all level of agriculture. PWDs, especially female ones, should get priority in the relevant policies. A countrywide awareness campaign should be launched so that congenial atmosphere for an inclusive rights-based society is created, paving the way for the PWDs to participate in the sector smoothly.
If the PWDs get specialized support services along with assistive devices, it can ensure their meaningful participation in the agricultural sector. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted by the United Nations, states that all development aid should now be: '�inclusive of and accessible to, persons with disabilities.
Article 19 of Bangladesh Constitution stressed ensuring equal opportunities for all the people by removing social and economic inequalities. The needs for agricultural production are beginning to explode and the potential for PWDs to make a substantial, enduring, and fulfilling impact on the agricultural sector remains largely untapped and must be explored. Now is the time to address all the barriers for involving the PWDs in the agricultural realm. As we continue to expand our economy and education opportunities, we should also expand opportunities for the PWDs in the agricultural sector.
Mohammad Zihadul Islam is a journalist