In 2004, Channel i's Hridoye Mati O Manush (Soil & People in Heart) featured a unique farmer; the programme was about a young entrepreneur who was cultivating Saudi dates on Bangladeshi soil at Paragaon village in Mymensingh's Bhaluka upazila. Farmer Motaleb, the enterprising young man became hugely popular through this programme. I still remember an article I wrote on Motaleb and his Ajwa dates on The Daily Star's publication, Star Insight on October 6, 2012. I visited Paragaon several times since 2004. Motaleb has become stronger, bigger and better as a farmer in all these years. When I first went to Paragaon, many people were sceptic, but Motaleb has tremendously done his job and uprooted all doubts on growing Saudi dates on Bangladeshi soil.
When I first went to Motaleb's home, I saw a clay house. Today there is a two-storey house. He has various pictures on the walls of his house; desert, camel, date palms. Now it looks like a Baganbari (Farmhouse). Dear readers, Motaleb went to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to change his fate. He used to work at a local date orchard. In 2004, Motaleb told me, "While working in a date orchard in the hot desert, I used to think about Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and how much he liked having dates. I thought why not I give it a try in Bangladesh; why not I start cultivating Saudi dates in my country?"
This thought kept Motaleb inspired all the time. Then one day he collected seeds of different variety of Saudi dates, packed them in a bag and left Saudi Arabia for home. After returning to the country, then began the relentless effort of Motaleb to produce seedlings from those seeds. Villagers thought Motaleb has gone crazy, seeing Motaleb's madness with dates, Motaleb's wife also went away from him to her father's house.
"Everyone thought I was crazy, but I proved myself," said Motaleb back in 2004. I asked his wife, why she left him. "People come back from the Middle East with lots of gifts, but my husband returned with a bag, full of date seeds. I thought he became lunatic," replied Motaleb's wife, back in 2004.
Nothing in this world could stop Motaleb from chasing his dreams. He brought dramatic changes working at his orchard from the 2001 to 2004. In 2008, I went to Motaleb's date orchard again. By that time, Motaleb was already successful in cultivating and selling Saudi dates across the country. Motaleb made the impossible possible. I have seen many farmers in Bangladesh who have an impossible vision, but they made it possible, only with their heart and soul efforts. Such was the case with the late Haripada Kapali, the inventor of Haridhaan. Motaleb, son of a poor farmer, had a dream to see the face of prosperity. So he migrated to Saudi Arabia. His dream did not come true there. But the technique of date cultivation he mastered brought him enormous success.
A few days back, I went to Bhaluka, once again. Motaleb is now the most successful date palm entrepreneur of Bangladesh. Motaleb's date orchard, which started on 10 kathas (0.16 acres) of land, has expanded to a successful date orchard of 5 bighas (1.65 acres), where he has 65 different varieties of Saudi date palm trees. In the meantime, 100 trees are giving fruits regularly. I could see the dates on the trees and Motaleb has attached iron ladders right beside the taller trees. It helps him to pluck the fruits quite easily. I remember witnessing an automated machine for plucking dates while I visited Mecca and Medina long back. I asked Motaleb, "Where did you get the idea to make such a ladder with an iron rod?" Motaleb said he saw the automated machines while working at a date orchard in Saudi Arabia. He doesn't have that technology, but he has created a similar structure on his own.
Motaleb said all his dates are sold directly from his orchard. He sells at Tk 1,000 (USD 11.72) to Tk 1,500 (USD 17.58) per kg. Each tree has 40 to 50 kg of dates. He has already sold 600 kg of dates this year. Motaleb said he might be able to sell another 400 kg. That means he'll get a total of 1,000 kg of dates from his orchard. The price of dates varies from one variety to the other. If he gets an average of Tk 1,000 per kg, he will earn around Tk 10 lakh (USD 11,724) on average. His main profit though comes from selling date seedlings. He gets seedlings from the seeds, most of which are male in kind. As a result, it is not possible to get fruit from that tree. But he is sure that the seedlings he makes through grafting, would give fruits. He sells each grafted seedling for Tk 60,000 (USD 703) to Tk 70,000 (USD 820). Motaleb has been producing such valuable seedlings for few years now. Sometimes he sells the tree from his entire orchard. Now he has 100 grafted seedlings for sell, which will at least give him Tk 50 lakh (USD 58,623).
The dates have changed the fate of Motaleb. Motaleb's life has entirely changed. Not only he's highly respected in his family and society but considered to be one of the most courageous and innovative farmers of Bangladesh for his Saudi dates, which he spread across the country. The government has many plans and working steadily on nutrition development. Motaleb's dream is, one day farmers would be able to produce enough dates on Bangladeshi soil, which would meet the total local demand.