The farmer couple of Khagrachhari tends to their strawberries. PHOTO: STAR
Strawberry cultivation was a dream of Bimal Chandra Chakma and Munmun Chakma, who is now the pioneer couple of Khagrachhari who has made strawberry cultivation commercially successful in the district. They started strawberry cultivation in 2011 on 50 decimals of lands at Karallachhari Mukh area under Mohalchhari upazila. Now, as of 2014, their plantation has grown to 200 decimals within three years. In the last season they harvested 1,500 kilograms of strawberries from 4,000 plants and sold about tk 7 lakhs. Their target now is to sell around 4,000 kilograms from 9,000 plants and to sell double in value. Each kilogram of local strawberries are sold at 700-800tk to the end consumer.
Two farmers of the same area has started strawberry cultivation on their 200 decimals of land collecting seeds from Bimal. During a recent visit at their orchard the couple was found busy harvesting as the season has just started, and is expected to continue till April. “We feel really happy – collecting the strawberries from the orchard is like extracting pearls from oysters”, said the couple. Bimal, professionally a school teacher, sought to realize the dream of cultivating it. At first, he collected only three strawberry seeds from Comilla district on 2007, but he could not succeed because he didn't know the proper method of cultivation.
Initial failure could not frustrate Bimal. He collected 500 seeds of Rabi-3 species of strawberry from successful cultivator Razaul Karim of Cox's Bazar in 2012 and planted them on 10 decimals of land. He and his wife worked together and gradually raised the plants. Talking to the Daily Star, Bimal mentioned some positive sides of strawberry cultivation. Anyone with a small investment can cultivate strawberries quickly if he has access to some land. Profit are reaped quickly as well, since the production cycle is very short – strawberries are harvested in 60 to 70 days, about 30 to 35 fruits are harvested in each tree. Since 50 to 60 fruits weigh one kilogram, every two trees yield about one kilogram of strawberries. And it is easy to reproduce strawberry plants due to its vegetative reproduction habit. It can be reproduced constantly through runners or clones that resemble tendrils. “The runners grow roots and create new plants when they touch the soil and bear fruit; eventually sending out more runners,” Bimal added.
According to Bimal, sandy loam soil and regular care of the plants are essential elements for good output of strawberries, not to mention planned marketing, without which the fruits will not reach the end consumer fast enough. This is crucial since strawberries rot quickly. Bimal says that strawberry cultivation can open a new horizon for farmers, but appropriate supply chain integration, marketing facilities, along with some government patronization are needed to fully harness the potential of the low hanging fruit.
Over a decade ago, Professor Dr. Manjur Hossain of the Department of Botany of Rajshahi University (RU), pioneered the technology to launch local strawberry farming using tissue culture method. Dr. Manjur's research evolved RU-1, RU-2 and RU-3 (Rabi-1, 2, 3) varieties of strawberry through tissue culture method using 'Semiclonal Variation Technology' at the Plant Breeding and Gene Engineering Laboratory at Botany Department of RU. Demand for strawberries in the country can be estimated at about 50 tonnes annually, since that is roughly the amount of imports per year, from Thailand, Australia and the USA. Strawberries, in addition to direct consumption, are also used in preparing ice-cream, jam, jelly, pickles, chocolate/candy products, biscuits, cake and flavoured drinks.
Mohammad Abul Kasam, the Crop Production Specialist of Khagrachhari Agriculture Extension Office, said that Bimal's initiative in cultivating strawberries and turning his project into a commercial success in the district in a milestone. The soil and weather of the district is suitable for the fruit and this can definitely be a profitable source of income for farmers. The official also added that they are planning to collects Strawberry seeds from Bimol and distribute it among interested cultivators, along with necessary knowledge, suggestions and support aiming to increase the cultivation of strawberries in Khagrachhari.