Barind orange shows hope
It was mid-October this year and a bright sunny morning. I was travelling through the Barind area on Rajshahi-Chapainawabganj highway along the Mahananda river to reach the orchard of one of the most progressive farmers of the Barind region. Fields after fields of green grains. It was as if someone had placed a green carpet on the ground. Aman is cultivated in the fields at this time of Sharat (autumn). Again, some fields are full of early Rabi crops. Twelve years back, Barind was not as green like today. Barind means barren land, barren hard soil, and barren fields. But history says that the name 'Barendra' comes from 'Indra's land of blessings.' Long ago this region was fertile, rich in fruits and crops. But over the years, the soil of Barind lost its organic attributes. Another reason for the soil to become dry was the Farakka barrage. The people of this region could produce only one crop. There was no other crop except the Aman rice. Mango did not become a cash crop back then as it is now. As a result, hunger and scarcity engulfed the people of the Barind region.
I have had the opportunity to witness and learn the socio-economic context of agriculture and farmers in this region since the 80s. This area became a storehouse of pulse crops. But as the water level went down, shortage of crop diversity was evident. Although the Barind has changed due to efforts from government and non-government organizations, there are still many areas where agriculture is still troubled due to lack of enough water.
I arrived at Matiur Rahman's fruit orchard in Jamtara village in Chapainawabganj. I came here a few years back. He's more known for his malta, but he also does guava, orange and many other diversified fruits. I went there this time especially to see Matiur's success on his 16 bigha orange orchard. He has cultivated three varieties of oranges. Once we knew that oranges are cultivated in hilly lands. But with the invention of new varieties, there is no longer a seasonal constraint. You probably would recall Rafiqul's orange orchard located in Jhenaidah's Maheshpur. Let me again remind you that, Matiur was a truck driver of the Roads and Highways Department. He could have easily carried on with his job, but he fell in love with nature and his spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling was expressed through his diversified fruit orchard. Over the years, agriculture has brought him great economic prosperity.
I was chatting with 55-year-old Matiur while walking in his orchard.
"I started off with a leased land of seven bighas when you first came to my orchard. I gradually increased the farming area to 61 bighas," said Matiur.
"My orchard now has increased to 70 bighas and I hope to do even better in the future; You know what, today I have my own 15 bighas of land," gladly said the successful agro-entrepreneur. Each of the orange trees in Matiur's orchard is full of oranges. According to statistics, in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Bangladesh imported 1,17,170 tonnes of orange and malta. Per tonne, the price was Tk 93,000 (USD 1098). And the total amount that was spent was Tk 1,088 crore (USD 1285 million). The total import of orange and malta during the previous fiscal year (2018-2019) was 1,02,100 tonnes. In other words, there is a demand for oranges worth around Tk 1,500 crore (USD 1800 million) in our country. Matiur attempts to cultivate 100 percent organic fruits and crops. In the orchard, therefore, various arrangements of integrated pest management, for example, colour charts, sex pheromone traps are already installed. Matiur still faces some problem with pest management and also looks forward to the bagging method.
"How much are you looking forward to earning this year?" I asked Matiur.
"No less than Tk 4 lakh this year, but next year the profit would be even more," he gladly replied.
I also saw some female Santal labourers who looked quite happy working at Matiur's orchard. It was great talking to them. They are well satisfied with their employment. Matiur hasn't only worked on orange farming, he is industriously working on orange saplings and thus he could make improved varieties. He also has his nursery for selling saplings and seeds of various fruits and is earning very well from his nursery project. Matiur is pretty successful in his family life as well. He has the most cooperating wife, a son and a daughter. His son Nahid obtained his degree in Computer Engineering and now has a store of agricultural tools in Chapainawabganj. His daughter, Mitu recently completed her studies in Statistics from Jagannath University. Her dreams revolve around the farming sector and she wishes to become a successful agricultural entrepreneur, just like her father.
Agriculture has changed Matiur's life. It's not just that he has enriched but he has helped others becoming enriched too. Many have found employment at his orchard and nursery. He has inspired many farmers and those who want to become real entrepreneurs. He has received many honours from government and non-government organizations for his contribution to the development of farming in the country and for his brilliant agricultural initiatives.
Diversified fruit cultivation is changing in the hands of enterprising farmers of Bangladesh. The farming scenario of Barind is also changing with the help of farmers, young and big entrepreneurs, keeping the objective of commercial farming in mind. Loving the soil and fruits, they are setting example of diversified success in agriculture. After guava, mango, dragon fruit and malta, orange production has started in Matiur's orchard and it is gradually spreading across the Barind region. The massive production of oranges in the soil of the Barind shows the immense potential of the fruit. I strongly believe that we can come out of the import-dependence of fruits through the assistance of enterprising farmers like Matiur and also sure that Bangladesh will go a long way towards sustainable development.