Farmers are switching over to tobacco cultivation in the command area of Teesta Irrigation Project, the largest of its kind in the country, as Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) has failed to provide adequate irrigational water in the dry season.
This problem has arisen due to scanty flow in the Teesta river as the Indian authorities closed all gates of Gajaldoba barrage in the upstream to store river water for their own use, said agriculture officials.
Massive tobacco farming poses threat to human health and the environment, in addition to affecting food production in the country, said agronomists, physicians and environmentalists.
This correspondent recently found farmers cultivating tobacco on several thousand hectares of land in villages like Kukha Para, Singdoi, Ramnagar, Bahali Para of Sadar upazila and Kalkeut and Harish Chandra Pat, Deshibai, Uttar Deshibai, Araji Kathali, Dundibari and Satjan of Jaldhaka upazila.
Herombo Roy, a farmer of Dakkhin Deshibai village, said they are not getting smooth supply of water from the Teesta Irrigation Project this boro season.
“We have to irrigate our land by using diesel or power-run pumps on a contract with the pump owners. We have to pay the pump owners Tk 3,000-3,500 for per bigha of land,” he added.
“My land is a way off the T1D2 tertiary canal (side canal) at Sindoi village. Farmers in the upstream blocked the canal to divert water to their fields. To avoid hassle, I cultivate tobacco on my land,” said farmer Zahidul Islam.
“Tobacco farming has almost doubled in the last couple of years in the command area as boro farmers are not getting sufficient water for irrigation,” said Shafiqul Islam Tuhin, chairman of Ramnagar union parishad of Sadar upazila.
Amalesh Chandra, agricultural extension officer at the BWDB in Teesta Irrigation Project, said farmers are inclined to tobacco cultivation.
Mahbubur Rahman, executive engineer of the BWDB's Dalia division, said 300-400 cusecs of water flowed in the Teesta river in a day during March to third week of April this year.
But at least 3,500-4,000 cusecs of water a day was needed for smooth irrigation of around 60 hectares of land, he added.