Whither self-reliant Bangladesh?

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Mazid :
Bangladesh was born out of a war for freedom, democracy, social justice and self reliance, what Andre Malraux once called “the last noble cause.” Since seceding from Pakistan and acclaiming as an independent and sovereign state in 1971, our densely populated nation at the head of the Bay of Bengal has swung between hope and despair, between mass apathy and violence in the streets. Many economic growth oriented development models which create both the gross and net happiness for the national elites, yet to bring genuine and lasting happiness for the broad national majority. That is why it appears necessary to formulate and build the premises of a self-reliant social development model for Bangladesh, a country whose population always maintains the spirit of rejuvenation for political, economic and social emancipation. A self-reliant development must be measured and indicated on the basis of social proficiency and happiness, not only on economic efficiency and productivity.  
Among the development prerequisites and aspects and prospects of development: problems of population and resources; present and desired development structure; what value Bangladesh needs; and the status of Bangladesh within New International Economic Order are very crucial for studies. Bangladesh has sufficient or abundant human resources, both skilled and unskilled; good soil for agricultural raw materials, but not always favorable climatic conditions; no important minerals like ore but natural gas , coal and probably oil in the Bay of Bengal; primitive tools, farming and agriculture system; second grade technology and equipment in the few industries; un attended railways; sufficient road, inland and sea-borne transport system; still an infant airways system; and indecisive and inconclusive mixed relations of public and private ownership in industry. These prerequisites, positive and negative, adequate and inadequate, form the basis of territorial or decentralized planning, in which territorial needs are to form the goals of planning and the course of action.
What Bangladesh needs is a combination of self-help development process and coordinating development means. By self-help development is meant development by and for the people. Without a horizontal model and process of development with vertical complementation of necessary means, Bangladesh cannot realize a much needed balanced and equitable social development. Dependence of the population on land in Bangladesh has increased more than dependence on other economic sectors, due to a higher rate of population growth in the rural than in the urban sector, a lower rate of growth in land reclamation and the addition of new land to agriculture, and a relatively lower rate of increase in agricultural and industrial productivity than in the population growth rate.
The term self-reliance was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in a similarly titled essay published in 1841 which stressed the trust in one’s present thoughts, skills, originality, belief in own capabilities and genius and living from within. A famous quote from this essay is: “Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide”. Translated to communities, this philosophical concept takes a slightly different path emphasizing the power of independence, creativity, originality and belief in strength and resilience. It also rejects the need for external support and glorifies the importance of self-application, e.g. tilling of the land to get the “kernel of nourishing corn” (Emerson, 1841 ). Mahatma Gandhi expanded this concept to incorporate a simple life style asserting that nature produces enough for our wants, and if only everybody took enough for him/herself and nothing more, there would be no people dying of starvation in this world (Kripalani, 1965: 130). The contribution of Rabindranath Tagore as a social thinker was his pioneering experiments to promote collective grassroots initiatives in rural Bengal in the mid-20th century and his philosophy of the Human Being, and of national independence and development that anticipated later-day thinking on self-reliant, participatory development.
In 1971, Bangladesh had 75 million people and its per capita annual income was $100. In 37 years, its population has increased to 148 million and per capita income to $544. Since 2001, its average annual growth rate has improved at the rate to 6.2 percent, compared to the 5.1% average of all South Asian countries for the same period. Irrespectively of this achievement, the average income still remains at $1.40 per day. Bangladesh was a self-reliant country in the past in the sense that it depended entirely on the efforts of its own people but the introduction of the Green revolution in the 1960s caused a sharp change in its self-reliance stance. It introduced dependence on outside aid which is a well-known phenomenon that slows down the path to sustainability. Schumacher (1973), for example, stressed that foreign aid is able to play only a limited role in bringing about sustained economic development.
A country that makes development plans which utterly depend on the receipt of substantial foreign aid may do much damage to the spirit of self-respect and self-reliance of its people. Even in the narrowest economic terms or in academic sense either, its loss is greater than its gains. Resources, particularly money, are not value-free. They bring certain baggage with them, depending on their origin and culture. They will not be available to you in the future, they have significant disadvantages that outweigh their advantages. Carmen (1996) also notes that development aid is tied to the power of money and the power of money is identified with the right of interventions. Such interventions generally impact negatively on traditional systems within society causing a breakdown of its integrity. While foreign funding becomes precarious, there are a few situations where the opposite may happen. Foreign funding does not build local support and supporters and throws into sharp contrast to promote self reliance.
Bangladesh’s dependence on foreign aid can be traced to the compulsion of a war ravaged economy of 1971, but what initially began as a necessity for the rehabilitation of 10 million refugees displaced by the nine months of Independence, soon became a pattern of dependent development. It seemed to become a convenient and easy option in place of taking hard decisions on mobilizing domestic resources and improving the yield of dying investments. Bangladesh receives various aids, grants and loans in the form of food aid, commodity aid and project aid. Rehman Sobhan and Iftekharuzzaman and Rumana S. Khan observed in their studies that :
a. A new elite class has emerged in Bangladesh whose affluence derives from such aid programmes so much so that the percentage of businessmen and industrialists among the legislators has increased from 4% in 1954 to 24% in 1973, 59% in 1991-92 and 72% in 2015-16.
b. Bangladesh’s human rights record, defense expenditure and other internal developments, all remain under the observations of the donor countries.
c. Privatization and disinvestments of the public sector enterprises have grown fastidiously due to foreign aid but at the cost of lack of sustained industrial growth. It is estimated that a significant percentage of aid went to the donors in the form of costs of procurement of projects inputs and consultancy fees to foreign experts.
d. Aid leads inevitably to a heavy debt burden that future generations of Bangladeshis have to pay one day or the other. Aid dependence may erode the sovereign power of any country in the economic realm. The massive amount of borrowing aid, [about US$ 34 billion from 1971-June 2018] has imposed a serious financial burden on future generations of Bangladeshis. The high loan burden has substantially curtailed the country’s development spending,
e. Heavy dependence on external resources for public expenditure has had its impact on the domestic economy. Domestic savings as a percentage of the GDP had fallen and this declining rate of saving is in turn reflected in the low rate of gross investments. This could explain the lack of dynamism in the economy.
The movement for achieving self-reliant sustainability in Bangladesh is mainly focused on food items-rice, wheat, vegetables, pulses, oil seeds, fruits, herbs, milk, fish and eggs. The rural economy of Bangladesh where the majority of population still lives is basically not money-based. Most rural people live predominantly on their own produce and only enter the money economy via excesses of this production. Productivity-oriented self-reliance leads to health, health begets happiness, and happiness welcomes modest poverty in terms of (a lack of) material possessions. It is the case that the synergies between economic and food security, health and happiness set people free to live in a sustainable way. This movement is strongly influenced by the country’s wise people such as folk philosophers. For example, Darvish Aziz Shah Fakir claims that as human life should be dictated by a human’s obligations to fellow creatures, a self-reliant livelihood means a state of affording one’s obligations to oneself and fellow beings, without claiming (undue) rights over or favour from others. He calls this self-reliance sukhobash (pleasant living) and adds that “Dhari o na, dharai o na” (neither in debt nor in credit) is another aspect of self-reliance (Hossain and Marinova, 2003).
Bangladesh’s historically self-reliant way of existence started to be neglected and consequently was frustrated as a direct outcome of synergies between mostly foreign aid based NGOs (non-government organisations) and the Green Revolution Movement in the 1960s (Brammer, 1997). A number of the technologies were promoted and disseminated through the donor-supported NGOs in the then East Pakistan which encouraged the transformation of agricultural production through the use of modern seeds and farming techniques. The consequences are now evident in the noticeable and growing syndromes of unsustainability, such as elevation of hard-core poverty, land degradation, arsenic contamination and crisis of drinking water-all in the country of naturally renewing land fertility and innumerable rivers. Although the Green Revolution produced an initial rise in agricultural output, the overall lesson from it is “that increased food production can – and often does – go hand in hand with greater hunger” (Rosset, 2000). Productivity in the country now depends on ever-increasing use of chemicals and mechanized inputs, which besides severe negative environmental impacts are also no longer economically affordable.
Understanding self-reliance from a sustainability perspective is crucial for such a lifestyle to be encouraged as an alternative to the western model of development for traditional communities in developing countries in the world, including Bangladesh. It also allows for the concept of poverty alleviation to be perceived differently by reframing the achievement of material possessions to living wholesome life styles in a happy social environment within a healthy ecology. The following five characteristics of self reliance show the close links between this philosophy and the sustainability concept.
1. Simplicity – this concept comes from the original idea of the value and pride in the things and ideas that are present, in essence the care for the future is built in the glory of the present and the acceptance that the future is secure if we do the right things today. “The more I have, the less I am” Another implication from simplicity is the nature of technology that a community uses or in Gandhi’s words technology has to be swadeshi or “home-scale”. This allows full control by people over the technology, avoids technological determinism, dominance and dependence and most importantly protects the natural environment. The negative social and environmental impacts of large-scale centralized industrialization can thus be avoided. Organic agriculture, including urban agriculture, can provide a high level of satisfaction as well as a means to guarantee a better future.
2. Responsibility – A self-reliant community takes the responsibility for its actions in creating and using goods as much as possible in a self-sufficient circle. Related to the technology used, responsibility translates into reduced dependence on fossil fuels, rejection of nuclear power and introduction of renewable energy (solar, biogas) Innovative appropriate technologies, either created locally, imported or a mix, is the option for rural people’s self-reliant sustainability. However, it is important that rural communities have the full responsibility for the management of these technologies which implies that they need to be able not only to operate them but also understand, adapt and develop further according to their own requirements. Only if they are in full control of these technologies, can they also bear full responsibility.
3. Respect – The respect is practiced in a culturally appreciable framework without harming the environment, and this links to the environmental and social aspects of sustainability. The Baul philosophers in Bangladesh are deeply respected and people are prepared to follow their advice. Respect of social cultural norms and traditions is also an important component of self-reliance and the long-term sustainability of Indigenous societies.
4. Commitment – a community needs to be committed to working and should not rely on help from outside to guarantee the provision of its needs and economic security. From an economic point of view, the long-term equitable access to resources needs to be guaranteed by replenishing of any resources used. An implication from this characteristic of self-reliance is the choice of resources used and the preference for renewable resources that can be replaced in a reliable way. Another implication of commitment is that the time outside productive work can be allocated to performing rituals, educational and cultural activities which are equally important for maintaining the capacity to work.
5. Creativity -. New innovative solutions are the key to success for implementing such a change. The concept of self-reliance implies that a community is a constant source of creativity and ideas about how the present can be made better. People are, as they always have been and ought to be, the real protagonists of their own development and future. The search for sustainable solutions should involve the people who are affected by these solutions. Neither the government nor the private sector nor the foreign NGOs can provide jobs or wage-based work for the entire population, particularly in rural areas.
The above five characteristics have been manifested in the self-reliant life style of rural families in Bangladesh. This is also encouraged by the Baul philosophers who often set examples for simplicity, responsibility, respect, commitment and creativity through their songs and actions. Most families in rural Bangladesh used to be self-reliant in terms of most of their daily needs, without harming the natural resource-base (soil, water and biodiversity). The land of Bangladesh also has had a historic status of self-reliance throughout the centuries. Its prosperity attracted traders from abroad who brought metals (iron, copper, gold etc) to exchange with Bangladesh’s artifacts, crafts and primary produces including medicinal plants. In the 16th century the country was known as the Paradise of Nations, the land of wealth. It was renowned for its agricultural surplus and manufacturing wealth (Novak, 1993).
The concept of living in a state of self-reliant sustainability involves a natural simple lifestyle with enough for basic needs. It does not encourage ill health, famine, illiteracy or inadequate living standards. Self-reliant living is a viable means of caring for nature and other human beings, and hence, for sustainability. The examples from Bangladesh show that there is opportunity for making changes and creating culturally appreciated alternatives.
Grassroots people should be encouraged to realize that they are the key agents to a better future, that the best route to sustainable development takes place when it is owned and managed by the people themselves, that their work will be strengthened and much more successful through unity and solidarity, their organizational skills should led them to form local self-help groups in order to initiate a number of income generating activities.
Against the backdrop of high loan interest and a very low number of registered taxpayers, National Board of Revenue (NBR) may take a move to generate tax money from myriad potential taxpayers to help government out of credit trap, urge people to help the government in building a self-reliant Bangladesh through paying their income tax spontaneously, initiate steps towards creation of a client friendly tax administration, try to narrow the gap between the tax payer and the collector by changing their mindset and all these should be directed and expected to transform the economy at large from credit dependence to self-reliance.
Transformation should occur in peoples’ behavioral attitude: Once people realize they are the key change agents for the end of hunger, they are empowered to take action. Several thousand families have been mobilized take actions to end their own poverty. A strong partnership may be established between Government & the grassroots people. The Millennium Development Goals are global targets but the solutions to achieve them must be worked out locally. The only way local people can ensure that this happens is through strong, accountable local democracy. Micro credit program of Bangladesh has been taken part a significant role in the world. Self-reliant Bangladesh realizing the significance of poverty alleviation has been disbursing the loan to poor people of the village by organizing them from 1978. The objectives of this program was to reduce poverty and increasing GDP up to minimum 10-11% for sustainable development of socio-economy of the country by women empowerment. To achieve the goal of to reduce poverty and unemployment of the rural people the self-reliant program was started from 1978 through circular “dheki credit” of Bangladesh bank.
Despite progress toward greater industrialization, in the late 1980s agriculture still accounted for nearly 50 percent of the value of Bangladesh’s GDP. Approximately 82 percent of the country’s population lived in rural areas, virtually all of them making their living exclusively or substantially from agriculture. Domestic production increased at a relatively steady rate in the years following independence, but not fast enough to close the gap created by the continued rapid growth in population. In those rural areas where electricity is available, tube wells with electric pumps are becoming an important irrigation device.
Absolute production has increased, and there has been an impressive diversification into a wide variety of seeds and new crops, such as wheat and vegetables. In fact, the patterns of agriculture have been virtually transformed. A previously self-contained and self-reliant subsistence economy has given way to one dependent on inputs, credit, markets, and administrative support from outside.
The diverse development endeavors of the current era have shown mixed sign of sustainable development so far; in some cases they have contributed to the depletion of natural resources. The current 168 million population of Bangladesh has a much smaller impact compared to countries such as Australia or USA whose populations consume and waste per capita more than 10 times the natural resources used by Bangladesh people.

(Dr. Mahammad Abdul Mazid is a retired Secretary to the Government of Bangladesh and former Chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), was appointed as the new Chairman of CSE on 15 February, 2014 in line with the Exchange Demutualization Act, 2013. He is Senior Vice Chairman of South Asian Federation of Exchanges (SAFE). Dr. Mazid, currently is the Chief Coordinator of the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh
He was a member in the Planning Commission, Deputy – Joint- Additional Secretary of the Finance Division, MoF, Director of the Board of Investment (BoI), and Economic Relations Division. Dr Mazid served as a trade diplomat ( Commercial Counsellor) for six years in the Bangladesh Embassy in Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Mazid has had over 28 years’ experience of working in the public finance sector. He is a resource person in the Govt. Training Academies like Bangladesh Public Administration Training Center, National Defense College, Civil Service College, Bangladesh Bank Training Academy etc. He has been a visiting faculty in the Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST) and University of Information Technology and Science (UITS).  
Apart from showing excellences as a public servant, Dr. Mazid has proved his proficiency in writing as well. He authored 28 books on Literature and Socio-economic eondition of Bangladesh. He is a regular columnist in leading national dailies and magazines.
He is a member of the Governing Board of Human Development Foundation, Bangladesh NGO Foundation, International Business Forum of Bangladesh (IBFB). He is the former Treasurer of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh and Dhaka Ahsania Mission).