RK Metal: From a Small Welding Shop to Light Engineering Ecosystem Shaper
Gloomy, dark, confined chambers; limited lights; many workers working day and night on heavy iron machines or welding equipment in filthy clothes — such a scenario may be found in small light engineering (LE) workshops across Bangladesh. These workshops make a substantial contribution to the Bangladeshi economy by supplying machinery and spare parts, as well as repair and maintenance services, to the country’s manufacturing and agricultural industries. According to the Bangladesh Engineering Industry Owners Association (BEIOA), around 600,000 people are employed by almost 40,000 LE companies in Bangladesh. Most of these people work without any formal skill training, knowledge and occupational health and safety measurements. However, despite significant hurdles, such as a lack of space, low-cost financing, technological support and technical capacity, manufacturers are working hard to position themselves for the next growth phase and compete with imports from major companies.
To help these workshops overcome the issues outlined, Feed the Future started the USAID-funded Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia — Mechanization and Extension Activity (CSISA-MEA), which is delivering skill development training to the workforce and management in collaboration with local training service providers in Bangladesh’s Feed the Future zones. The USAID effort is also teaming up with lead LE enterprises through collaborative agreements to develop a sustainable ecosystem of machinery production and use, and help small- and medium-sized agricultural machinery manufacturers produce high-quality and competitive parts and gain market access. RK Metal in Faridpur has faced the same challenges when, as one of the pioneering companies, it began operations in 1997 with only three employees. The USAID mechanization effort assisted RK Metal in developing prototypes of advanced agricultural machinery and expanding their business by establishing relationships with dealers and other market operators. With the help of the CSISA-MEA, their business has grown to include the yearly production of around 600 machines, including 40 different types of small machines, such as rice threshers, maize shellers and fodder choppers.
RK Metal recently inked an agreement with CSISA-MEA to build the capacity of small, agricultural-based LE workshops to be suppliers of quality spare parts, as well as promoting RK Metal’s agricultural machinery in underserved areas of the country. Through this USAID mechanization initiative, they are also collaborating with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute
(BARI) to build a jute fiber extraction machine. RK Metal’s positive gesture is an example of an ideal LE workshop. However, RK Metal went even further in supporting the LE workshops and sponsored their own company-branded safety products to 20 training participants in a recent CSISA-MEA workforce training program in Faridpur, so that they can use it and cultivate the practice of wearing safety equipment in the workshop.
This CSISA-MEA mechanization effort is working with the goal of bringing about long-term change in the agriculture-based LE industry by helping to build several enterprises, like RK Metal, that will provide farmers with sustainable access to machinery services.
Paritosh Malo, owner of RK Metal said, “The hard-learned truth is that no LE enterprise can meet the requirements of demanding agricultural mechanization sector all alone. We have to combine our know-how, expertise and information to be able to offer a competitive product or solution to the farmers.”