I recently visited Madanhaat in Natore Sadar Upazila to see a dentistry diploma student, Atiqur Rahman Atique, who has started a Thai guava orchard. He believes his guava orchard is one of the biggest in the region, set upon 65 bighas of land. He has already invested more than 40 lakh taka and has been able to turn a profit with expected yield. As I set my eyes upon the greenery of Atique's guava orchard, the only word I could think of is 'huge'. All the bending trees are full of guavas. Atique is thankful to the local horticulture department for the training he received before coming into guava farming. Like him, many others have started to farm this high value fruit.
Wherever I turned, I could only see trees packed with guavas. They were covered with polyethylene so that birds and other insects can't harm them. It is a commercial guava orchard. To me, the story of Atique is a very hopeful message of educated youth of Bangladesh who are self-employed as farmers and are being able to earn a decent living. They've got involved in poultry, dairy and other high value crops. The new crops are being transferred from one young entrepreneur to the other. In Mati O Manush aired on BTV, a long time ago, I first featured Kazi Peyara (Guava) on television. You may recall how people used rooftop gardens to grow Kazi Peyara. That variety has stopped giving higher yields. Now, the youth have brought in the Thai variety of guava, which is spreading across the country. Perhaps one day another variety will take Thai guava's place.
I learn many things from Atique, and asked “I'm amazed to see your huge guava orchard. How did you become a farmer?”
“Since my childhood, though many people didn't watch BTV, I used to watch your Mati O Manush regularly”
“I heard that you studied dentistry.”
“You've heard right.”
Atiqur Rahman Atique wraps his guavas to protect them from pests, birds and other diseases photo: Mati O Manush
“You should have been a dentist by now. Why are growing guavas instead?”
“When I watched your programme on BTV during 80s, I felt the urge to get involved with farming.”
Inside the orchard I noticed a processing and packaging facility. I also found many women and men labourers working, and shared a few words with them.
“Are you all from this village?”
“What did you do in the past?”
“I was a housewife. Now, I work at Atique bhai's guava orchard.”
“Do you get daily or monthly wage?”
“I earn weekly, Tk. 1,050.”
The Thai varieties of guavas are large and weigh pretty well. Since 2000, Bangladeshi farmers started growing them, and there are a few varieties now. Atique uses 'Thai-3' variety in his orchard. The farmers believe if you farm in a planned method, this variety would give you best profit. The most important factor in growing these guavas is to cover the guavas with polyethylene at a specific time of growth. The women labourers working in this orchard have become really expert in doing this. This protects the guavas from pests, birds and other diseases. Without polyethylene, it's quite impossible to keep a single guava intact. There are more ways of nurturing and producing guavas apart from this polyethylene technique. Farmers cannot earn good profits without implementing the right production methods
I spoke to K.G.M. Abdul Awal, Horticulturist of Natore, who gave me interesting information on the Thai guava varieties. “The traditional guavas in Bangladesh grow during September and will stay for two months and then it's over. The trees in Atique's orchard will grow guava for the entire year. One tree can give a minimum of Tk. 3,000 worth guava and a maximum of Tk. 5,000, a year. This is simple mathematics.”
“Could you explain how farmers get started with producing this variety?”
“Seven months before harvest there are some specific farming management. They have to ensure fertilizer and irrigation for the guava trees. Moreover, they need to bend their trees. When the stems are bent, you get more guavas.”
“This is how they get guavas round the year?”
“Yes, this bending method is new technology.”
Abdul Awal mentioned a key factor here. Without organic farming method, you won't ever achieve the expected produce.
“If farmers use chemical fertilizers to grow guavas, they won't get it all through the year. Those will not look fresh. The organic method is the secret to success.”
I discussed with guava farmer Atiqur Rahman Atique regarding costs and other issues he regularly deals with.
“Each bundle of polyethylene is 2.25 KG. We get around 1600 pieces of polyethylene. When we've used about one bundle of polyethylene, we know that we've covered around 1600 guavas. On an average, three guavas weigh one KG.”
There is a growing demand for guavas and other fruits at the moment. Agricultural products are profitable if farmers chalk out a proper plan for commercial marketing. If the fruits are high value, then there are good opportunities for gaining profits. However, knowledge on successful farming methods and market management are key success factors. Proper time management, assessment of opportunity, labour management are equally important. Farmers prefer to cultivate crops on their arable lands. If they want to engage their work with the industry perspective, they can easily make it happen. Atiqur Rahman Atique has followed all the basic thumb rules.
“I'm planning to sell the seasonal guava which will give me around Tk. 20 lakh. And the one which grows round the year will give me hopefully another 50 lakh taka.”
I was amazed by the orchard. I've been to many guava orchards for filming, but this one was a league apart. Wherever I looked, everything appeared well-planned. Atique's success story is not his alone – there are many in the region following his example.
Since 2011, Natore has seen a revolution in guava farming. Farmers are now growing guava on approximately 1000 hectares of land. Around 60 farm entrepreneurs are directly involved with guava cultivation and most of these people are educated. Integrated Quality Horticulture Development Project of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has played a vital role in making this a reality. Under this project, 600 farmers, farm entrepreneurs, labourers from Natore and surrounding districts have been trained in 20 batches. I came to know most of the agro-entrepreneurs of the region are paying Tk. 12,000 for each bigha on yearly lease. Most of these newly leased lands used to grow sugarcanes before guavas came into the picture. Farmers are coming out of sugarcane farming due to many unwanted problems. Now the land-owners are happier with the lease money. On the other hand, on each bigha, farmers are investing Tk. 60,000 to earn between Tk. 200,000 to 400,000 per year.
There was a key issue about converting the paddy lands to guava orchards. I wanted to find out what Atique's opinion was on this vital factor.
“You are converting paddy lands to guava orchards since they are high value crop, right?”
“Why aren't you cultivating paddies?”
“In our region, we can't irrigate the lands massively. This is high land and paddies don't give us the profit we need.”
“Do you think these lands on the other side will be converted to fruit orchards, some day?”
“It means, food production of Bangladesh will come down.”
“We'll cultivate paddies in low-land areas. This is high-land area and here we have water scarcity – so paddy cultivation is not as feasible here.”
Atique took the challenge of taking a grand enterprise of growing guavas huge orchards, but it all started from talking smaller farm initiatives. Guava is now one of the major cash crops of Natore. When consumers buy these Thai variety guavas, they are no less than import quality fruits, in fact they are fresher. Buying it means that the consumers are contributing to making educated youth farmers of Bangladesh become self-reliant. Atique was supposed to become a dentist but he chose to become a farmer instead. He is much better off. Following in his footsteps, many other youngsters can become self-reliant, while working towards a much more sustainable and prosperous Bangladesh.