When we wish to have a cup of coffee, many of us love to think about various flavours that are produced in Latin American, African or Indonesian blends. Despite the drink’s popularity, coffee was never commercially produced in Bangladesh, not until now.
The situation has been gradually changing in recent years as people living in the hilly areas have started producing coffee, though on small scale. The locally produced product has already earned a moniker – the Hill Tract Blend.
Fonkal Bawm is one of the farmers who has taken an interest in coffee plantation.
“I sold my first harvest of 80kg for Tk10,400 to a customer from Dhaka last year. I grew them on 25 trees,” he told the Dhaka Tribune when this correspondent visited his plantation recently.
Inspired by the profit, this year, he has planted coffee seedlings on five acres of new land. It will take approximately four years for the newly planted coffee trees to bear fruit. There is typically one major harvest a year.
Coffee trees does not require separate land as they can be planted alongside other crops on the same plot.
Fonkal planted around 5,000 coffee trees in his five-acre orchard where he produces crops like papya and pineapple.
A number of indigenous communities have been living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts – Khagrachhari, Bandarbans and Rangamati – for a long time.
Among them, the Bawm community has long been growing coffee at their homes since they drink it daily.
Commercial coffee production in the area got an unexpected boost when the “North End Coffee Roasters,” a popular coffee shop in Dhaka, started procuring coffee from the locals. The cafe introduced it as “Hill Tracts Blend,” an official of the North End said.
Apart from the Bawm, other indigenous communities have taken an interest in coffee plantation thanks to the patronisation of different non-government organisations including Arannayak Foundation and Moanoghar.
“We trained 51 Mro and Khumi families in Bandarban and gave them 15,300 seedlings this year to promote coffee cultivation,” Kirti Nishan Chakma, general secretary of Moanoghar, said.
“We hope the coffee trees will bear fruits after four to five years. We plan to buy coffee from them at fair price and introduce the product in markets at home and abroad,” he added.
Kirti said their efforts aim at ensuring socio-economic improvement of the hilly communities as well as setting up a secured marketplace for coffee producers in Bangladesh.
In addition, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute has been running a pilot project to promote coffee in the Khagrachhari for the last few years.
Department of Agriculture Extension Director General Md Hamidur Rahman told the Dhaka Tribune: “The government’s endeavour is still in the piloting phase. If we are successful, the government will promote coffee cultivation and its marketing in the hill tracts.”