Project without a people

SOON after the euphoria of the Green Revolution in India subsided, it became clear that the high-yielding varieties (HYVs) of rice and wheat were not the answer to the problem of foodgrain scarcity. The planting of HYV seeds, in fact, resulted in more agricultural problems. HYVs of rice required more water, which meant that large-scale irrigation and flood control projects had to be set up.

The Meghna-Dhonagoda Flood Control and Irrigation Project in Chandpur, Bangaladesh, was built for the usual Green Revolution objective of producing more from the same land. But like other such projects funded by international agencies, it failed to take into consideration the needs of the local people.

The Asian Development Bank had contributed Taka 900 million for the project. But what promised to bring prosperity brought instead displacement, hunger and disillusionment. In the process, it disturbed the whole socio-economic structure of the villages that came under the project and those in its vicinity. The drastic change in cropping patterns and the course of rivers has severely affected the ecology of the area.

In order to increase the annual yield of rice, traditional oilseed crops and fishing have taken a backseat, turning farmers into landless agricultural labourers, small shopkeepers or rickshawpullers. Many are unemployed. Those luckily employed earn far less than what they did pre-project. For instance, a boatman who used to earn Tk 100-150 daily now earns Tk 70-80 by pulling a rickshaw.

What Tareque Shahriar, in the Panos production, In Quest of a Golden Dream (37 mins), wanted to highlight was that the views and suggestions of the local people must be taken into account for such mega-projects. The film gives the farmers who were not consulted in the planning and implementation of the project a chance to air their sufferings. To this litany, the experts added their assessment of the affected area.

The technique is simple: 4-5 people delineate a problem, like the building of a 60 km embankment; this is then supported by expert opinions. If one villager complains that he has to use more pesticides for HYVs of rice, he is backed up by other villagers. The comes scientific validation.

The film is accompanied by a short clip apparently directed and shot by the landless labourers after a 5-day video training course. The Life Struggle of Aleya (18 mins) is an interview with a woman named Aleya, who has led a very hard life. She hopes to live a better and more secure future with the local samiti's support. The entire interview leads Aleya towards the foregone conclusion that the samiti has actually brought about a change in her life. This doctrinal stiffness is characteristic of earnest social treatises like this one.