New DoE report also finds 25-30% of all the industry’s fuelwood is used by these kilns
A staggering 134,010 maunds of fuelwood is burned every year in the tobacco kilns of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT)—to process tobacco leaves. This poses a serious threat to the environment.
The shocking information has been revealed in a recent report by the Department of Environment (DoE).
On March 22, the then-director of the DoE (Chittagong region) Md Mokbul Hossain paid an official visit to Dighinala upazila of Khagrachhari district, and interviewed tobacco farmers plus local public representatives, to prepare the report. The report was sent to the director general of the DoE on June 12.
According to the report, the fuelwood is burned at a total of 2,978 tobacco-processing kilns in the three districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts–Rangamati, Khagrachhari, and Bandarban.
According to the report, there are 767 tobacco kilns in Khagrachhari district, while the Rangamati and Bandarban districts have 178 and 2,033 kilns, respectively.
The report also revealed that around 446,700 maunds of fuel are burned at the 2,978 tobacco kilns of the three districts annually. The tobacco kilns of the three districts use 25-30% of all the industry’s fuelwood.
According to the report, 3kg of fuel are burned to produce 1kg of Virginia- cured leaves. Some kilns also use jhut (scrap fabrics from garment factories), dhaincha (scientific name is sesvania), and charcoal, to cure tobacco leaves. On average, each tobacco kiln cures 2,000kg of tobacco leaves a year.
Curing is the term for drying tobacco, and the process is performed after the tobacco is harvested from the fields. Curing methods vary depending on the type of tobacco.
The report cautioned that if the use of fuelwood at the tobacco kilns increases, local vegetation may suffer.
While visiting some of the kilns in Dighinala upazila, Mokbul witnessed that primarily, women are employed to grade tobacco after it is cured. However, the women he observed were not wearing masks or socks as per the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) workplace guidelines. Some children even accompanied their mothers while the latter performed the hazardous work.
The report also stated that brick kilns had been set up in or around human habitations, which may pose serious health hazards.
Moreover, most kilns do not use eco-friendly barns.
According to the report, only 40% of kilns use energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly methods to cure tobacco leaves.
One environmentally-friendly method is that of the “rocket barn.” It was designed to address the inefficient use of fuelwood in the curing of tobacco leaves, and minimize the release of ozone pollutants into the air. As a result, it uses 50-55% less fuelwood than conventional barns.
Due to its smaller surface diameter, the rocket barn uses smaller pieces of fuelwood, thus making it possible for farmers to use tree branches, instead of whole trees, for the curing process.
This modern method reduces curing time and wood consumption. Maintenance costs are lower than those of traditional barns.
"Tobacco cultivation in Bandarban greatly surpasses that of the two other districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Tobacco companies lure farmers with lucrative offers. As per the rules, tobacco cultivation is prohibited within 50 metres of a water body. However, the farmers do not care. We are motivating them in various ways to move away from tobacco farming," says Bhabatosh Chakrabarty, deputy assistant officer of the Department of Agricultural Extension (Bandarban).
The report made five recommendations, that; tobacco companies switch to an energy-efficient tobacco- curing method rather than conventional one, tobacco companies ensure worker wear PPE while harvesting and curing tobacco leaves, local administration remains vigilant so that these plants cannot be set up in or around human habitations or adjacent to educational institutions, the Department of Agricultural Extension motivate tobacco farmers to opt for High Yielding Variety tobacco in order to reduce the land required for cultivation, and tobacco companies raise awareness among tobacco cultivators about biodiversity and the ecosystem.
Bangladesh is the eighth-largest cigarette market in the world, with volumes exceeding 86 billion units and growing by 2% per year.
According to PROGGA, a leading anti-tobacco group in Bangladesh, tobacco kills over 162,100 people in Bangladesh every year—and the financial loss from tobacco usage is around Tk158,600 crore annually.
Smoking causes cancer, strokes, and cardiovascular and respiratory problems—among other fatal diseases.
According to agriculturists, tobacco plantations take their toll on soil fertility, and once tobacco is cultivated, growing other crops on the same field becomes quite difficult.