Entrepreneurial waves

Entrepreneurship has been unleashed in waves in Bangladesh, each building on the momentum of the preceding ones.

The eminent Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, had defined entrepreneurs as individuals who exploit market opportunity through technical and/or organizational innovation.  

To Frank H Knight, another famous economist known for his work on risk and uncertainty, entrepreneurship is mostly about taking risk.  

When HYV rice was introduced in Bangladesh in the 1960s, there was concern whether the small peasants of Bangladesh, living on the margins of subsistence, would adopt this new variety of rice.

To the surprise of many, Bangladeshi farmers, including the small ones, were rather quick in adopting the new technology.

The so-called seed-fertilizer-water technology (HYV rice needed irrigation and fertilizer; hence the name).

These intrepid small farmers were among the early entrepreneurs of Bangladesh.

The farmers started with new varieties of rice and gradually diversified.

First came other crops, such as potatoes.

Then came non-crop agricultural activities, such as aquaculture and poultry.

In doing so the farmers were responding to market opportunities with technical or organizational innovations, however modest these might have been.

They were taking risks too – price risks, demand risks and technical risks.

Schumpeter and Knight would clearly have been impressed.

As irrigation coverage and fertilizer use increased in support of HYV rice cultivation.

And policy reforms expanded space for private sector distribution of irrigation equipment and fertilizer, a new class of traders emerged in the rural areas.

As many farmers could not afford the cost of irrigation pumps, a rental market developed for such equipment, along with repair and maintenance services (see chart).

In many cases, farmers who had the required capital carried out such activities in parallel to farming.

This also created entrepreneurial opportunities in rural Bangladesh.

As mechanization increased in agriculture, initially in the form of mechanized irrigation and then expanding into other types of equipment.

A domestic manufacturing industry developed to make some of these equipment and their spare parts, even while imports remained dominant.

Meanwhile, as farmers diversified into non-rice crops such as potatoes and vegetables, and non-crop agriculture such as fisheries and poultry.

A value-chain developed around these activities with the entry of new players besides the traditional village traders.

These included cold storages for potato and hatcheries for aquaculture.

Yet another new breed of entrepreneurs emerged in rural Bangladesh.

Finally, as rural incomes increased due to agricultural growth, remittance inflows and wage earnings of rural women employed in the garment industry.

Demand increased for a wide variety of rural non-farm products, as well as products made in the urban areas.

The significant expansion in the rural road network, starting in the late 1980s, helped expand the supply of such urban goods to rural markets while also facilitating.

The sale of rural products, both agricultural and non-agricultural, to urban areas.

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