A variety of means and mechanisms have been recommended to assist with the implementation of projects aimed at allowing the extreme poor to cross the lower poverty line. The Practical Action approach argues that to deal with extreme poverty, one potentially effective method is to equip households with technology that builds their capacity to use unutilized natural resources, in this case relatively less fertile sandbars or river beds. In the northwest of Bangladesh, there are vast areas of sandbars that appear in the dry season which could provide livelihood opportunities to the extreme poor. Accessing these sandbars for cropping can help extreme poor households diversify their incomes and facilitate a process of asset building alongside reducing the risks which threaten their livelihoods. It is one way of accessing a means of production.
Since 2005, Practical Action has been introducing sandpit cultivation technology suitable for use in the unfertile sandbars. It has been supporting extreme poor households in the cultivation of pumpkins under the River Erosion Project. This Shiree-supported project is a scaled-up version of a previous Practical Action project aimed at creating livelihood opportunities for those extreme poor living alongside the flood protection embankment of the Teesta and the Dhorola Rivers in four north-western districts of Bangladesh.
This study investigates the processes of negotiation undertaken to gain access to the sandbars. In so doing, the study tried to identify the main factors that facilitated successful access to sandbars by the extreme poor, and to question which approaches and methods are likely to continue to work in the future. In order to do this, the study looked specifically at the advantages and disadvantages of existing modes of access to sandbars, including free access to crop-sharing, and explored the different roles of relevant stakeholders (current and future). Key questions included: what are the factors that could change future access modalities? How long will land claimants allow free access by the extreme poor if sandbar cultivation proves profitable (despite the fact that the land remained unused before the project)? What is the role of local government and local administration in the on-going access negotiation process in relation to protecting the potential long-term gains secured by the extreme poor? Are there characteristics or features of sandbars (which change in size and location every year) which give the extreme poor leverage or greater chances of access?
The research focuses on the different types of agreements and arrangements established between land claimants and groups of extreme poor households that are involved in sandbar pumpkin cultivation. The research is highly relevant as in the first year of the project, there were no claims on the land because people felt it was not productive. With the pumpkin cultivation proving to be a success, a number of elites as well as some of the extreme poor who lost land because of river erosion made claims on the land at the start of the second year of the project. These claims posed a threat to the potential gains the extreme poor could secure from the sandbars. Lessons are drawn from the research with a view to identify relevant project recommendations and policy advocacy issues.
Khan Areef Ur Rahman; Imran Reza. Accessing and retaining access to the sandbars by the extreme poor: experiences from the Practical Action Project. Shiree Working Paper No. 9. Shiree, Dhaka, Bangladesh (2012) 28 pp.