By Md. Toufique Hossain
Dr Mahabub Hossain was not only an agricultural economist, he was also internationally renowned as a development economist. Though an expert of hard economics, Dr Hossain had a curious quality when it came to rural development and agriculture policy in South and South-East Asia.
He studied development economics at Cambridge University and specialised in development economics and agricultural policy in South and South-East Asia. On the whole, Dr Hossain had a proven track record of expertise throughout his long career in the areas of agrarian structure and land reform policies; rural non-farm proceedings; technology, credit and infrastructure policies; income distribution and poverty; and Asian rice economy.
For instance, regarding the development of the infrastructure of agriculture sectors, Dr Hossain pointed out that it is very urgent to stimulate crop- diversification and ensure balance between government and NGO partnerships. Moreover, he took initiatives to introduce knowledge-based technology to ensure right use of inputs for healthy agricultural growth.
In addition, Bangladesh land reform commission vastly used Dr Hossain’s extensive research in 1984 like land reform condition in Bangladesh, non-industrial development theory, subsidiary and price policies in agriculture, the role of micro-credit to remove poverty, the role of Grameen Bank, and so on. He was an executive director of BRAC, the world’s largest development organisation. He had also been elected as president of the Asian society of agricultural economics for 2011-2015.
Dr Hossain was very hardworking, modest, and industrious. He was born on January 2, 1945, in a village called Bangaljee in Nadia district, West Bengal, India. He was the second child and first son of his parents, Dr Kobad Ali and Fatema Zohara. During the Partition, Dr Hossain’s parents migrated from West Bengal and settled in Karpashdanga village in Dhamurhuda upazila, Chuadanga.
Dr Mahabub Hossain received his primary education at Bishnupur School in Dhamurhuda. However, in the early stages of his childhood, he was sent to his grandfather’s house in West Bengal for higher education. He was meritorious in his student life, standing first in every examination. He achieved brilliant results in both HSC and Bachelors. He completed his HSC in 1963 in King Edward High School in Chapra, West Bengal. Then, in 1966, he passed his BA examination, obtaining Honours in Economics from Krishnagar Government College. Later, at Honours level, Dr Hossain was presented with the prestigious Gilchrist Award for obtaining highest mark in economics in 1966.
After completing his BA Honours, Dr Hossain went to the University of Kolkata for an MA degree in economics, but the financial condition of his families compelled him to break away from studies for a couple of years. There was every possibility available for Dr Hossain to build his career but he sacrificed everything and returned to his village to assist his parents.
As they had a large family, it was difficult for his father to maintain it with whatever meagre income he had. Dr Hossain attempted to support his family by working as a teacher in his village school. He joined the secondary school in Karpashdanga and served as a teacher for two years.
Under his tenure, the first batch of students in Karpashdanga secondary school achieved brilliant results in their final exam; out of 30 students, 12 passed with first class. He was a good son and made his parents proud, but his father wished him to go for higher studies so that Dr Hossain could learn to be self-reliant. During that time, Dr Hossain struggled a lot. He started tutoring from the very beginning of his student life and carried on with his studies through hardship.
He started his professional career in 1970 and served as a staff economist in Karachi. Later on, he completed his PhD from Cambridge in 1977. Dr Hossain’s rigorous efforts like land reform policy and many other extensive research work, including 150 papers in distinguished journals, has really paid off. The focal points of his research were the breadth of poverty and rural development of Bangladesh, micro-credit, technologies, and structural changes in agriculture.
He has also published 11 books that serve the society profoundly. Some of Dr Hossain’s significant books are: Gramer Manush Grameen Aurthoniti -- Jibon Jibikar Poriborton Porjalachona, Asian Rice Bowls, A returning Crisis?, Rice Research in Asia: Progress and Priorities, among others.
Apart from that, Dr Hossain was also involved with different reputed global and local organisations. In 1985, he was elected as a visiting scientist in the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington DC. Then, in 1992, he was a chief of the Social Sciences Division and program leader of the Rain-fed Ecosystems Program of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines. Before that, he worked as the director general in Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) from 1989 to 1992.
Dr Hossain was well-liked for his valuable contributions to rural development sectors, agriculture policies, and procedures in southern part of the world. The exhaustive intelligence, on the operation of agriculture and rural economy in Bangladesh, that Dr Hossain has forwarded with a rigorous analysis of primary data, has made vigorous impingement in the procreation of agricultural development policy in Bangladesh.
Dr Hossain was awarded the first gold medal from the Agricultural Economist Association in 1985 for contributing to the understanding of the operation of rural economy in Bangladesh.
He specialised in the development of Asian rice economy, and restraints to technology approbation and percussion of agricultural technology on income distribution and poverty has similarly persuaded the formulation and priority setting of research programs at IRRI and in several national agricultural research systems.
In addition, Dr Hossain published two monographs about Grameen bank. Dr Hossain conducted an exclusive evaluation of the Grameen Bank micro-credit program. It is still widely referred to in the literature on micro-credit. For that, Dr Muhammad Yunus also praised and thanked him in his autobiography for introducing Grameen Bank to the world. I always thanked the Almighty for the great opportunity and a good fortune of meeting him. I consider Dr Hossain to be a most unforgettable character for several reasons.
He had been admitted to a hospital recently owing to heart diseases. Dr Hossain is such a man of dedication that even when entering into the room of angiogram, I found him discussing issues of work with his colleagues. I take my hat off to him for his spirit.
Dr Hossain has left a permanent impression on everyone’s mind with his qualities of love and affection, integrity, and admirable quality. He earned genuine love and respect from all kinds of people around the world. He was a very eminent economist and personalities all around the world, like Indian economist Dr Amartya Sen, had sent massages wishing him an early recovery.
It is impossible to give a brief autobiography of Dr Hossain. He served his nation well; his progressive and multi-faceted observations regarding agriculture have brought an epoch-making and revolutionary change in South and South East Asian agriculture.
Our thoughts, best wishes and prayers are with his family. I strongly believe that Dr Hossain has been a priceless asset to our nation. The secret of his success lay in his instinctive empathy with the tillers of the soil. He firmly established himself in their hearts and nothing could shake him off from this inalienable position.
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Dhaka Tribune, January 5, 2016