Seasonal migration and its effects on poverty: Evidence from the Shiree program
AKM Fazlur Rahman, and Sohel Rana

  • A family of seasonal migrants working in a brick kiln in Dumuria, Khulna 
    Photo- AKM Fazlur Rahman

Seasonal migration is common among Bangladeshis living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) to cope with difficulties finding sufficient employment in their villages. Attracted by the availability of jobs, many move to urban and rural areas in other districts.

The land-use patterns of the southwestern coast of Bangladesh has changed over the last 30 years, with commercial shrimp farming replacing traditional rice farming. The local demand for labour has decreased as shrimp cultivation is not as labour intensive. The situation is further aggravated by the cyclones that hit coastal Bangladesh leaving many people without homes and property.

In 2009, Save the Children, funded by UK Aid, started the Shiree program in Khulna and Bagerhat districts in Southern Bangladesh. The programme found that people living in extreme poverty  find it difficult to find work in their locality and migrate for one month to a maximum of six months. In the Shiree program area, the agricultural male day labourers migrate during harvesting season to nearby districts while others migrate to brick kilns during dry seasons. Findings of the study shed an important light on the plight and conditions of people who migrate from different levels of poverty. 

In the Chanmari Slum of Khulna city, we interviewed Farzana who migrated to Khulna after Cyclone Aila. “Rice cultivation no longer exists in my community and expansion of shrimp farming reduced labor demand,” she says. In her village, people seasonally migrate to different parts of the country to work in the brick kilns. They work there for six months and remain unemployed the rest of the year. Most of the people do not have cultivable land. Before coming to Khulna, her husband also used to work in brick kilns. In Farzana’s village, most of the male members go alone in the brickfields; however, there are few households that move together to brick kilns. In her case, she could not move with her husband because she had to look after her mother-in-law. Seasonal Migrants perceive that migrating their entire family is beneficial since with more labourers, their income will be higher.

Improvements in physical infrastructure, telecommunication, and higher wages in the urban areas of Bangladesh have facilitated the increase in this type of seasonal migration. However, research shows that seasonal migration does not necessarily support migrants to improve their life circumstances. Indeed in some cases, they become further impoverished after migrating because of exploitation. Our analysis shows that seasonal migration creates an obstacle for a child’s education as the entire household migrates to a brick kiln before their year-end school exams. Child labour is also increasing.

Able-bodied men from extreme poor households migrate to the urban areas and nearby district towns to ensure food security. The majority of them are not able to experience a decent improvement in their wellbeing through seasonal migration. Most of their income is used up for household consumption back in the village because their family is highly dependent on their income, lack of other income sources, no savings, and very much vulnerable to climatic shocks and hazards. 

However, able-bodied men from moderately poor households (relatively better position than extreme poor) are often able to experience upward mobility in their wellbeing through seasonal migration. Those households sometimes have other income generating activities such as small businesses in their village that are usually managed by their wife in their absence. Their entire income from seasonal migration is not used by the household and they are able to save some portion of it. When they return to their villages, they usually buy livestock, repair houses, and invest to expand the small business with the money they have saved.

Seasonal migration is a temporary solution against the crisis of earning opportunities in areas affected by climatic hazards. There is little evidence found about the long term positive impact on extreme poor households. 

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AKM Fazlur Rahman, and Sohel Rana

AKM Fazlur Rahman and Sohel Rana are working in the Research team of Save the Children – Shiree Program.