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Bangladesh Priorities: Seasonal Migration, Mobarak and Akram

Research by Mushfiq Mobarak, a Yale University economist, and Agha Ali Akram, a postdoctoral fellow with Evidence Action, suggests that helping people from rural areas migrate to work seasonally in urban centers can help families overcome the lean season. Spending on these programs can provide social benefits of four takas for each taka spent.

 

Strategy Takas of benefits per taka spent
Seasonal migration stipends 4

Urban centers do not face the same seasonal downturns as farming-based communities, so cities offer low-skilled employment during the lean season, which include jobs from pulling a rickshaw to working on a construction site.

But migrating to the city is costly and risky. Migrants have to pay for the travel itself, and take the risk that they may fail to find a job and waste their money.

The research is based on six years of studying more than 100 Bangladeshi villages, randomly assigning various strategies across the communities. In the first set of villages, participant households received a stipend of about Tk 1,000 to pay for a round-trip bus ticket and a few meals to allow people to migrate. In other villages, households received information about seasonal work opportunities but no money. And still other villages were randomly chosen to be controls—they received no information or money.

When families received information only, few people migrated. But the benefits that came from a stipend for a simple bus ticket during lean season were significant. The economists found that spending about Tk 2,700 per household in the project—which pays for the temporary migration and also covers other program costs—gave each household over Tk 10,900 in economic, health, and social benefits. 

Caloric consumption went up 600 calories per day for each person in the households who received the stipend and sent a migrant— that’s the difference between eating two or three meals a day. These families also spent more money on healthier food, often on protein sources such as chicken and lentils. And for certain households, seasonal migration increased income by up to 86 percent, depending on the specifics of the program.

Workers also had chances to form lasting relationships with urban employers, which helped pave the way for migrations in future years. And not only did the stipend program help families who sent migrants, it also increased the likelihood that a household member would migrate at all—by 22-42 percentage points, depending on how the project was structured.

The experts continue to study what the effects would be if the program were scaled-up. But the initial evidence is promising. A stipend for a bus ticket and a few meals can do 4 takas of benefits for each taka spent.