Transfers for Extreme Poverty Reduction: Implications for Patron-Client Relationships in the Context of Bangladesh’s Agricultural Reformation

This paper investigates how a development intervention which targets extremely poor households with investment capital influences relationships between those households and the landowning elite. It places this investigation in the context of the ‘agricultural reformation’ of rural Bangladesh, whereby the growth of the non-farm economy and increased connectivity of rural areas are eroding the historical rigid position of the landowning elite at the top of the rural hierarchy. The paper is based on the findings of primary fieldwork on the char islands of north-west Bangladesh which examined the processes resulting from implementation of the Chars Livelihoods Programme (CLP). In weakening the economic dependence of extremely poor households on the landowning elite, this paper argues that the CLP is ‘swimming with the tide’ with respect to the wider social processes operating in rural Bangladesh. Because of this, the activities of the CLP have the potential to be ‘transformative-by-stealth’. Short-term material gains and reduced insecurity provide a platform for changing inter-household relationships, particularly those with the elite. The activities of the CLP have had valuable short and medium term impacts as well as contributing to, and providing a basis for, longer-term transformation in society.