Tobacco is being cultivated on vast tracts of land in the five upazilas of Lalmonirhat due to farmers’ lack of awareness about the crop’s negative impact on fertility and encouraged by profitable offers from different tobacco companies.
Many farmers have ventured into tobacco cultivation as they have lost interest in cultivating paddy after incurring huge losses in the recent years.
Abu Taher Miah, 50, a tobacco grower at Sapatibari village of Aditmari upazila said he could not get a fair price from the paddy harvest last year and it made him interested in cultivating tobacco instead.
“I have cultivated tobacco on eight bighas of land that last year were brought under paddy cultivation. I hope to earn at least Tk 64,000 from tobacco this year,” he said, adding that many farmers like him have cultivated tobacco on their land this year.
Azgor Ali, 56, another tobacco grower at Karnopur village in Lalmonirhat sadar upazila said, “I have lost my interest in paddy cultivation as I don’t get a fair price. I know tobacco cultivation is harmful for soil fertility but it generates profit. I have cultivated this crop on twelve bighas of land this year, whereas I cultivated the crop on only one bigha last year.”
The Lalmonirhat Sadar Upazila Agriculture Officer Mohammad Nuruzzaman said: “We advise farmers not to cultivate tobacco, but they disregard our advice after getting lucrative offers from tobacco companies.”
An awareness campaign is underway in the area and has succeeded in making farmers better aware of the hazards of tobacco farming to some extent, said Aditmari Upazila Agriculture Officer Hamidur Rahman, adding that tobacco farming is nonetheless continuing on a large scale in the district.
He apprehended that if all farmers in the district were not made aware of the bad impacts of tobacco cultivation, its prevalence would increase further.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), farmers have cultivated tobacco on 16,000 hectares of land this year, while 6,000 hectares of land had been brought under tobacco cultivation last year.
In 2002 tobacco was being cultivated on only four thousand hectares across the five upazilas of the district.
Abdul Mazid, deputy director of DAE, alleged that representatives of at least six tobacco companies were working in the district to encourage farmers to cultivate tobacco.
They are luring farmers with lucrative offers including interest free loans, free supply of tobacco seeds, fertilisers and insecticides. The farmers are also provided health services and money for the education of their children, he said.
“If the tobacco companies stop luring farmers with lucrative offers, cultivation of the crop will fall to a large extent,” he said.
Rothindro Nath Roy, 55, a tobacco grower at Sarpukur village at Aditmari upazila said, “I have been cultivating tobacco on my land for the last ten years, but nobody cautioned me about the harmful effects of it.
“Apart from interest free loans, the free supply of tobacco seeds, fertilisers and insecticides, the tobacco companies also provide other technical support. They even turn up on my doorstep to purchase the produce, giving a fair price,” he said.
Azisul Islam, president of Lalmonirhat District Farmers’ Association, said it would be possible to grow at least 80,000 more tonnes of paddy in the district if tobacco was not cultivated on such a large area of land.
However, seeking anonymity, representatives from different tobacco companies disagreed. They said they only advise farmers how to cultivate a huge quantity of tobacco on a small piece of land using modern technology.
The conscious section of farmers in the district urged government authorities, social organisations and other NGOs to wage further awareness campaigns among the farmers.
They also demanded necessary steps be taken against the people who encourage the farmers to cultivate tobacco instead of paddy on their land.