Curiosity leads to business
Once unproductive and full of water hyacinth, a five-decimal pond at Moulvibazar's Nuna village has become the centre of attention in the region, as a youth successfully farmed pearls in the waterbody.
The owner of the pond, Sultan Ahmed Rony, who works as a computer operator at the police department in Sylhet, often pondered about using the pond to supplement his paltry income.
In 2018, he heard about pearl farming and watched a number of Youtube videos on the topic.
"I have often seen mussels in the ponds and rivers of our area, but never believed that it is possible to culture pearls from these creatures," he said, adding that the Youtube videos changed his perspective and he wanted to experiment with the idea.
He contacted Ruhul Amin Liton, renowned pearl farmer from Lalmonirhat, and took training on pearl culture from him for Tk 5000.
Towards the beginning of last year (2019), he collected 2000 mussels, cleaned his pond and tested its water quality for pearl farming.
When this correspondent visited his farm, Sultan described the technique he followed.
In nature, pearls are formed when a particle, often called an irritant, enters a mollusk such as an oyster or a mussel. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk secretes a fluid called nacre and coats the particle over two to four years forming the pearl. The particle becomes the nucleus of the pearl.
Cultured pearls are formed using the same principle, explained Sultan.
He said, first a mantle (the organ that forms the shell) tissue and a nucleus is implanted inside a mussel.
A dice made from candle, oyster dust or dental powder is used as the nucleus. An image is imprinted on the dice so that the nacre coatings take the shape of the designed dice producing an image pearl, he said.
Sultan showed some of the flat image pearls he harvested from the mussels farmed last year. Each designed pearl, attached to the inner shell of a mussel, came in a variety of shapes including a flower, a butterfly, a leaf and even a Hindu deity.
After implantation, the mussels are suspended in the pond from net bags 1.5 feet to 2 feet below the surface of the water. The image pearls are formed within 10 to 12 months, he described.
He said he invested a total of Tk 15000 for collecting mussels, buying implantation equipment, suspending the mollusks in the pond and finally harvesting the pearl.
Till date, Sultan collected 320 image pearls embedded in mussel shells and sold each shell for an average of Tk 300 to local jewellers and other individuals.
He plans to harvest the rest of the about 1600 mussels at stages, said the 27-year-old young entrepreneur.
Bidhan Chandra Mallik, owner of Mausumi Jewelers shop in Kulaura upazila told this correspondent, pearl, known as 'jarwa' or 'naoraton' in Bangla, is very costly. Traditionally, the gemstone was only set with gold along with various coloured stones.
"If it is farmed locally, we will be able to buy it at a lower price compared to the ones sold in Dhaka," he said.
Senior Fisheries Officer Mohammad Azharul Alam of Kulaura told The Daily Star that as far as he knows Sultan Ahmed Rony's venture at pearl farming is the first in Sylhet Division.
He said Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute carried out research on pearl culture and interested people can take training from their Mymensingh training centre.
"The abundance of mussels in haors can create a lot of opportunities for pearl farming in this area," he said.
Jaglul Haider, upazila agriculture officer of Kulaura, said, the soil and weather conditions of the region are suitable for pearl farming. Freshwater pearl can be grown here within eight to 10 months.
He said Sultan's success in pearl farming has attracted the attention of others in the area.
Upazila Nirbahi Officer ATM Farhad Chowdhury of Kulaura said, pearl farming can create a source of income for unemployed youths.
He said the upazila fisheries department can arrange for loans if anyone wishes to start the business.