Mohammad Abdullah (35) was standing near a roadside iftari shop at Khajulal village of Bogura.
Time was rolling on, but Abdullah, a landless peasant, was yet to buy some food for his family members who were fasting during Ramadan.
This correspondent reached out to him through his neighbour's phone.
"I earn my livelihood from working on cropland. Since last month, I could not earn a single taka due to the shutdown. My family members now escape their daily food demand by fasting. Rising food price has also become a problem for us," he said.
Till May 20, Abdullah had taken loans of around Tk15,000 to meet his family's expenditures. How would he repay them?
"Two weeks later, I will harvest the Boro crops. Initially, I will have to pay the mahajan (usurer) who had invested in the cultivation. Then the grocery shop owner would have to be paid," he said.
Abdullah did not know how much money he would earn during harvesting because the country's agriculture is not equipped to overcome damages caused by natural calamities. A sudden tropical storm could make everything worse.
But Abdullah's spending never stops. And lenders would not spare him if he fails to pay them back.
This is a glimpse of the grim reality faced by the country's low-income people during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
A recent study titled "Impact of Coronavirus on Livelihoods: Rural and Low-Income Population of Bangladesh" by business consultancy firm LightCastle Partners found out that 80.4 percent of respondents experienced a decrease in income from February to March while 93 percent worried about further income decrease in April.
Among the respondents, 25 percent of farmers and rural workers expected to have no income in April.
The country's agricultural sector contributes 14.1 percent to the GDP and the livelihood of almost 40.6 percent of the population depends on agriculture.
However, among the respondents, 37.3 percent of the rural poor did not have any arable land available as an alternative source of sustenance.
Given the consistently increasing quarantine period, the pandemic has aﬀected the agrarian group in the worst possible way, the study revealed.
According to it, as the coronavirus is spreading through the country, 54.72 percent of farmers and rural workers are running on zero savings during summer, which is a season of high income for households who are involved in rice cultivation.
A peasant from Gaibandha's Baunipara village, Moshiur Rahman is also an organiser of "Bangladesh Khet Mojur Samity"–a nationwide peasant organisation.
He informed The Business Standard that during the Bangla month of Chaitra (March-April), local cropland workers would migrate to different paddy fields across the country.
After harvesting summer crops, they would return to their villages with an earning of Tk15,000-Tk20,000 per person.
"Due to the shutdown, none could step out and earn. All of us have fallen on hard times," he said, adding that this year's Eid-ul-Fitr would not bring any joy to their families.
On May 20, Khet Mojur Samity activists submitted a memorandum to more than 200 Upazila Nirbahi Officers across the country, demanding food rations for at least two crore unemployed rural poor.
The study by LightCastle Partners was conducted among 160 rural farmers and workers between April 11 and April 13.
When the government imposed a countrywide shutdown from March 26, many Dhaka-based factory workers went to their village homes.
Among them, particularly the respondents of the study, more than 76 percent said that they do not own any lands available for backward or mid-scale farming.
Daily transport workers like rickshaw and cart pullers, and truck drivers have faced the sharpest drop – 84.78 percent, in their income in April.
Jahangir Islam, who was a rickshaw puller in Dhaka two months ago, went to his home in Shahjadpur village in Sirajganj, dodging travel restrictions.
"Suspecting that I would not earn on empty Dhaka streets during the shutdown, I came to my village. But it was a wrong decision. The local rickshaw pullers are running out of passengers. Meanwhile, I have spent almost all of my savings," Jahangir told this correspondent over phone.
More than 50 percent of respondent households involved in retail business, daily driving and repair work reported having some form of debt.
85 percent of households in rickshaw, van or truck driving said they had some form of debt.
Almost 20 percent of households in retail business reported having debts of Tk300,000 or more.
Among respondent households, vegetable and ﬁsh farming reported the highest proportions of no cash savings.
Price shocks across all major food value chains have also greatly aﬀected the farmers in earning a fair value for their output, leading to further drops in earnings.
Farmers usually take loans from usurers to buy seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
Golam Rabbani, a Khet Mojur Samity organiser in Netrokona, said, "Farmers cum fishermen of the haor belt could not work in fields during April. They still joined in harvesting Boro crops, but low price of paddy has shattered their hopes to earn back at least some amount of the money they had borrowed."
The study data showed that only 6.96 percent of farmers and rural workers received any form of support from institutions; government or otherwise.
Recommendations in the study included the government's procurement of food and agricultural outputs to be directed towards sourcing from farming communities, no syndications so that the money goes to only those in need, proper identification of the agricultural labour and landless population for the government's cash support; and rapid deployment of farm loans to rural borrowers with extended interest freeze.