F. Kuhnen

I. Context

“Comilla Kotwali Thana is one of the most economically depressed areas of the world." This statement, made by one of the staff members of the Comilla Project, probably indicates better than any long description the context of the project and the task of the project personnel.
Comilla Kotwali Thana is one of the 413 Thanas of Bangladesh and has many characteristics which are common to former East Pakistan. with 220,000 inhabitants in an area of 107 sq m, the Population density exceeds 2.000 inhabitants per sq a. Most of the Thana is an alluvial plain situated only about 25 ft above sea level. During the monsoon, a river carries huge quantities of water and frequently causes heavy flood damages.

The district town of Comilla has a population of less than 60,000 and is a centre of commerce, education and Administration. More than 160,000 of the Thana's Population live in the rural area in one of the villages, the number of which is about 300. These villages are rather small clusters of dwellings and often have 300 to 500 inhabitants only. It is not unusual that inhabitants of a village Are divided into factions, and important social relations are organized in networks reaching beyond the single village. Rice farming constitutes the basis of livelihood. About two thirds of the rural population live an subsistence farms, often of no more then two acres, and people have to look for part time jobs to make both ends meet. Five per cent of the population live an the so called surplus farms, which indicates that production exceeds the needs of home consumption. while these farmers too do not usually own much more than five to ten acres, they are economically much better off in comparison with their fellow villagers. This enables them to engage in moneylendinq which, an account of the constant need for credit among the subsistence farmers and the prevailing high rates of interest of 50 to 100 per cent pa proves a good investment.

Another approximately 30 per cent of the population is landless and has to look for paid labour which, under the prevailing conditions, is rather difficult to find. They often find temporary work only and, consequently, their level of living is very low.

Agriculture is heavily influenced by the monsoon and consists primarily of rice cultivation this crop covering 80 per cent of the cultivated area. Cultivation is divided into three crop seasons: the "Aus" crop is grown on 50 per cent of the cultivated area from April to August. As this is the monsoon period, the climatic conditions are very good for rice, but constant floods often destroy the harvest so that farmers are reluctant to cultivate lowlands. As floods are less frequent during the Amon season (August to September), 80 per cent of the cultivated area are under rice. In the BURO season, there is no danger of flood at all, but the land is dry and only five per cent of the low lying areas can be irrigated and cultivated.

Cultivation is of low intensity. Half of the farmers own bullocks for the cultivation of their land and that of others on hire. The traditional methods of rice cultivation lead to a yield of about 1,500 lb/acre of Amon paddy. This is only about one third of the average yield in Japan.