A day in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, cannot be imagined without the delicious and mouthwatering assemblage of street foods. Endless unique flavours, easy accessibility and low price etc. have been playing a role to make street foods a center of attraction. People of all age groups and working class are fond of street foods.
A big chunk of vulnerable population in Dhaka earn their livelihoods by involving themselves as street food vendors( colloquially known as ‘mamas’) in informal economy. But due to the imposed lockdown at the onset of the pandemic, most of the entrepreneurs of informal food network had to return to their villages finding no other way to survive. The hygiene concerns during pandemic restricted people from consuming street foods.
The informal food network got hard hit during pandemic. The pandemic has reduced the income of vulnerable demographics’, thus exposing the lack of high productive work available in Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Economic Association (BEA) estimates, 25.5 million people had shifted from vulnerable to poverty, to below the poverty line in July. After the withdrawal of lockdown, the street food vendors gradually started starting their business again. But unfortunately, they barely can meet their needs.
In a conversation with Monir, a phuchkawala, he said, “ Just right after the declaration of lockdown I went back to my village and I came back after 10 months. During my stay in the village I survived taking loans from my relatives and now I have to earn money to repay the loans. But unfortunately now I am earning 1,000 to 1200 Tk. per day whereas I used to earn 2,200 Tk. per day before the pandemic.” Being the sole earner of his family of six members it has become really difficult on his part to meet the ends.
Beside the phuchka stall, while preparing sugarcane juice one street food vendor said, “ The demand for sugarcane juice rises in summer. Though now it’s summer but still I am not able to earn my expected income. Moreover, my business is often interrupted by extortionists.”
Moreover, during the pandemic the street food vendors are forced to reduce their working hours. They have to wrap up their business by 7pm whereas the rate of selling foods starts increasing during this hour. Hence, the street food vendors are failing to earn their expected income.
Besides, the street food vendors were hardly provided stimulus package from government during pandemic. The informal sector was not prioritized in stimulus package allocation whereas 87% of the workforce are engaged in informal economy. Even the relief programs did not reach to the vulnerable informal workers as they are invisible to government. Though Bangladesh relief programs target informal sector, it failed to deliver them due to the lack of data of informal workers, lack of proper mechanism, etc.
The initiatives need to be undertaken to mitigate the survival issues of street food vendors. The measures are suggested to be:
- The stimulus package should be directed to the street food vendors . Cash transfer program needs to be introduced to help the street food vendors restart their business.
- Government agencies should develop data protected ways to identify the informal workers who are in need of relief programs. The quality of service delivery needs to be upgraded.
- The street food vendors should be provided with debt relief measures. During their stay in village in lockdown, they survived by taking loans. Hence, this measure will enable them to repay the loans.
- The government should impose laws against extortionists and ensure proper implementation of laws.
Hence, the ongoing crisis during pandemic has affected the lives of the entrepreneurs of informal food network badly. The street food vendors of Dhaka city are facing tremendous challenges to survive. Those who have been satisfying the appetite of common people through delicious foods are facing difficulties to find a way out to feed their own family during such crisis. The sufferings of the people involved in informal sector should be taken into consideration while designing policies.