Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sharecropping in response to landlessness

With a big number of Adibashis who are illiterate due to poverty and ignorant of the law, they are vulnerable to remaining in this way of life as farm workers and sharecroppers, denied of social services and representation to governing bodies. The 90% landless Adibashis and the remaining 10% at the brink of losing their lands, illustrates a poverty-stricken and illiterate Adibashi who need internal support and external support as well.

Indigenous peoples in the remote areas compose one of the most disadvantaged sectors of society considering their non-access to services which facilitate livelihood sustenance. Due to limited economic sources and landlessness, most of them are employed as bargadar (sharecroppers) working on other lands as wage laborers- and other seasonal jobs in the city. Daily farm workers get as low as 65 taka a day.

Particularly in the northwest, the share ropping system of land owners termed as barga prota lets the land owner take 50% to 2/3 of the harvest from farm tillers. This exploitative contract/arrangement is much more manifested by the land tiller bearing all of the farm production inputs including fertilizer and seeds aside from the labor.

This, in irony to the Land Reform Ordinance Code of 1984 which provides that 1/3 of the harvest goes to the landowner, 1/3 to the provider of the production inputs, and 1/3 to the land tiller. In Hindupara of Tanore upazilla, almost 95% of the people here don’t have lands of their own to farm except their home lots which they acquired lease from the government. They practically rely on other people’s lands to farm and thus end up as farm workers or on barga prota arrangement as sharecroppers.

As for barga prota contracts, sharecroppers only get as low as 1/3 to 50% share of the harvest. While they handle the labor, they still handle the fertilizers and other production costs and inputs. Most of those interviewed are not happy with their share. In a validation workshop with the residents here, the sharecroppers said the above arrangements however is not fair to the land tillers saying that their share should be 2/3 of the harvest. They are apprehensive about protesting to the landowners as the landowners will get hired labor from other places, sharecropper-farmers from Hindupara said.

The following are cases noted in a 2006 research undertaken by the author with Shima Murmu and Moshi Murmu, staff of Adivasi Unnayan Songstha.

  • Shamlal Mardy, 24, is on borga arrangement and faces a water problem on the farm. Much as he contracted the land and expects the land to be fertile and harvest to be robust, Shamlal faces water problems to irrigate the land because irrigation supply cannot adequately reach the land he is farming. Manason Tudo also had been a farmworker for the past 25 years earning 60 taka a day while on barga arrangement. He also faces irrigation problems. Water from the government’s deep well charges 85-100 taka per hour and with only three hours to irrigate all the lands in the village, such duration is not enough to cover all the agricultural lands.
  • For 20 years, Susil Tudu, 40, has been on a barga prota arrangement. He gets 50% of the share while supplying the fertilizers and the seeds. He says he should get at least get 2/3 of the harvest.
  • Mozifor Murmu, 35, had also been in the borga prota arrangement for 25 years. And with the arrangement, he said he does not get what is due him.
  • Mongal Murmu, 80, had been a contract worker for 70 years from a land owner who lives in Rajshahi. Aside from fertilizers and seeds, Mongal also handles irrigation costs.
  • Madon Kisku, 75, contracted 1.66 acre land for 70,000 taka for three years on barga prota arrangement.
The terms of share cropping most of the time is left at the command of the landowner where the sharecropper has nothing to do but accept the terms of the contract. Asked if the sharecroppers know of a law which provides for their just share, sharecroppers from Hindupara, in a focused group discussion said “no”. And even if there is such a law protecting their interests, they said they find it hard to resist the landowner who can easily find a replacement for the bargadar.

Source: Discourses on Policy Perspectives on Land Rights of Adivasis of Northwest Bangladesh, by Gina Dizon, Published by VSOB, April 2008

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