What the papers say

Growth, Agricultural and Digital

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 18th March 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

The government wants farmers to cultivate more land to increase food production. Photo by Nishaan Ahmed on Unsplash.

…The Government of Bangladesh is funding farmers and looking to spend big in digital connectivity and infrastructure. And for the first time, some of those funds are coming from the foreign reserve funds.

Financial Services

The Bangladesh Infrastructure Development Fund (BIDF) debuted to direct funds from the foreign exchange reserves to select development projects. To begin with, it will only select ports and power sector projects for loans, and the maximum annual investment will be capped at $2 billion. Currently, the country’s foreign exchange reserves are at a record $44 billion. The first loan will be nearly $628 million for the dredging of a channel for a seaport, Payra Port, in the south. Speaking at the BIDF inauguration event, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “Instead of borrowing from others repeatedly, we have to develop our infrastructure with our own money… It will also benefit the country and give us confidence.”

Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus gave an interview to the Indian newspaper The Financial Express (FE). The Grameen Bank founder spoke about the future microcredit in the pandemic era, when social distancing has challenged his modus operandi. According to the FE, Microcredit has historically delivered less loss than traditional means of lending, and this success has been credited to frequent group meetings with borrowers. Yunus said, “nobody expects microcredit to remain unchanged,” and pointed to the example set by Grameen America. The US branches have transitioned to entirely virtual meetings and digital payments. He also said, “Grameen America is now considering abolishing physical offices for all branches.”

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

To encourage gender equality in e-commerce, the government will disperse grants of 50,000 taka each (about $600) to 2,000 women entrepreneurs. The ICT minister made the announcement, and he said the funds will come from the ICT Division’s Idea Project.

The government is looking to spend about $700 million on a massive digital connectivity project. The project proposal includes more than 100,000 broadband connections to government offices, 10,000 digital labs in schools, and additional IT labs and digital service and training centres. If the proposal is approved, the ICT division will be tasked with management. Additionally, 65 percent of the funding will come as a loan from the Chinese government and the implementation deadline is set for December 2024.

Some garment factories are reverting to paying workers with cash according to bKash. The largest mobile financial service (MFS) in Bangladesh, bKash, was dispersing salaries to some 400,000 workers before March. That number rose to 1.1 million after the lockdown in March, when government wage-guarantee loans required export-oriented factory borrowers to use MFS. Now bKash is dispersing salaries to about 750,000 workers. Some factories are paying wages through other MFS providers or bank accounts.

The air quality in Bangladesh was the worst in the world last year according to the Swiss company IQAir’s annual report. In the capital city rankings, Delhi, India was number one, and Dhaka came in second. The rankings are based on the average of PM 2.5 concentration readings: Bangladesh averaged 77 µg/m³, seven times higher than the WHO target of 10 µg/m³ for minimal health risk. More generally, South Asia was the most polluted region in the world: 42 of the 50 most polluted cities were in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Agriculture and Growth

The government intends to cultivate fallow lands with nearly $57 million and family nutrition gardens. There are some 83 lakh hectares of land already under cultivation in Bangladesh, and another 4.5 lakh hectares of land that are arable but remain unused. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has previously said that all usable land should be cultivated in order to temper the current food shortage.

Other News

For work with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Brac has signed six local organizations. The organizations are scheduled to work on social improvement and WASH, health and education until December this year.