The phrase ‘rural Bangladesh’ no longer means what it once did. We believe it to be out of date as the distinction between urban and rural life is no longer clear cut. Powerful external economic forces, including those of globalisation and the expansion of physical infrastructure – especially roads and bridges, rural electrification and the growth of marketing outlets – are creating a rural landscape that is increasingly ‘urban’ in character and have radically transformed village life. New livelihood opportunities are emerging – often in the non-farm sector. The numbers of small shops, tailoring and other craft enterprises, rickshaw pullers, petty traders in villages and local bazaar centres have grown substantially. Remittances now form a critical part of the rural economy. However, change is happening faster in some places than in others and for some people more than for others. We see a continuum rather than a divide – from areas where traditional views and images still hold true to areas where a more modern picture is taking hold. Some people, too, have been unable to embrace change and the new opportunities it brings. For many of the poor, who have little or no access to land, their primary asset remains their labour – a healthy pair of hands is critical to their livelihoods. But whether they are engaged in agricultural labouring or in the non-farm sector they continue to be marginalised from the development process.
This assessment of livelihoods is the result of applying a range of tools and methodologies. More important than examining these in detail, and precisely how they were used, are to appreciate the spirit of open inquiry in which this assessment was conducted. We wished to answer the question: “what are life and livelihoods like today for men and women in rural Bangladesh?” We feel that our findings offer an up-to-date and realistic picture of life in a country that is in the throes of tremendous change and have implications for anyone concerned with livelihoods and the poor in modern Bangladesh.