Soma Akhter and her employees collecting green leaves of tea in Soma Tea Estate. PHOTO: STAR
A woman has successfully farmed tea in the mainland at Bicchandai village of Hatibandha upazila in Lalmonirhat. She started tea farming on about 8 bighas of land in 2007 and now her farm has grown into about 25 bighas. Her Tea garden is named “Soma Tea Estate” and, in addition to being a new source of occupation, it makes the village quite beautiful. Soma Akhter, the woman who took the risk of farming tea on land which people believed were not favourable for tea, has not only creates a means of livelihood for herself, but has created work opportunity for poor women of the village. Over a hundred women are working at Soma Tea Estate.
After achieving a Master Degree from Carmichael University College, Soma Akhter from Bicchandai village of Hatibandha upazila in Lalmonirhat joined a NGO. She was encouraged on Tea farming after visiting different Tea Estates in Sylhet and Panchagar since 2004 to 2006. Soma shared her idea with her husband Ferodus Alam, and after receiving his support, Soma Akhter started farming tea in the mainland after soil test in the village in 2007. “In the beginning, I had to face a lot of criticism and negative attitude of the local people, as they never wanted to believe tea farming is possible in the mainland but now they are also interested in tea farming,” says Soma Akhter. Her tea leaves are being sold at the rate of tk 26 per kg in Panchagar. “I produce tea from some leafs for selling in the locality at fair prices as the local people are highly interested to purchase tea from me,” she added.
Soma Akhter now gets 8,000 to 8,500 kgs of tea leaves from her tea estate every month in an average, and each kg is being sold at tk 26 in Panchagar, as there are no tea processing machine in Lalmonirhat. “Now I able earn a profit of tk 70 to 80 thousand after bearing all expenditure including labour and transport costs every month. My tea estate has also turned into a tourist spot in the village, where many travelers come to visit and they also purchase tea from me,” she added. According to Soma, her husband is very keen to help her and she could lead such a large endeavor only because her husband's encouragement and support. Soma's husband Ferdous Alam said, “My wife has set an example of tea framing in the mainland for the first time in the northern bordering district Lalmonirhat. She has made me proud. Seeing her, many local farmers have already started farming tea in their lands.”
Rashed Begum, 52, who has no means of earning money before in the village said that she earns tk 100 and gets lunch every day for working at the tea estate. Like her, many vulnerable women have found means of earning money and have been able to transform their labour into a better life. All these women are grateful to Soma for taking this initiative.
Tea Board official sources at Hatibandha upazila said that now tea is being farmed at 26 gardens on 70 acres of land at different villages in Lalmonirhat. These tea gardens did not exist even a few years ago – they've all been encouraged to invest and establish tea farms following the example set by Soma. Her success of tea farming in the mainland has changed perceptions, and lead to the creation of jobs for thousands of people. Official sources also added that, in light of the increased interest, 700 farmers in the district were given training on tea farming in the area last year.
The Senior Field Officer of Hatibandha Tea Board, Mizanur Rahman said, a tea processing machine is going to be set up at Hatibandha in mid-2014. Once the processing station is established, tea growers would be able to earn a lot more from tea farming since they will be able to offer a more refined final product.