Vast tracts of agricultural land in Lalmonirhat are losing fertility as owners of brick kilns, no less than 47 in total, are allegedly compelling landowners to sell topsoil from their farmlands.
In many places, the powerful and influential kiln owners are removing up to five feet of soil from a particular piece of land even though the landowner had agreed to sell only one foot of topsoil.
After losing the topsoil that contains essential nutrients for plants, the farmers are spending more money on chemical fertilisers and pesticides than the money they had received in exchange for the topsoil.
Moreover, the excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides is causing long-term damage to the land, the surrounding waterbodies and ultimately the ecology in the district.
Bidhu Bhushan Roy, deputy director of Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Lalmonirhat, said the upper layer of soil up to six to seven inches deep is called "life" of the soil as it helps plants grow.
Cautioning farmers about the negative impact of selling topsoil, he said if four to five feet of topsoil is removed from a piece of land, it becomes barren and it might take around 12 to 15 years to regain fertility.
After visiting areas near several of such brick kilns, this correspondent also found truth in the allegation.
Atiar Rahman, a farmer in Saptana village in Lalmonirhat Sadar upazila, said he agreed to sell one foot of topsoil from his land, but the kiln owner removed around four to five feet of topsoil from there.
Their objections bear no result as the landowners are hostage to the powerful kiln owners, he also said.
Farmer Nibaran Chandra Burman, from Bamonerbasa village in Aditmari upazila, said he was forced by a kiln owner to sell topsoil from one bigha of his land for around Tk 12 thousand.
The kiln owner first bought a piece of land adjacent to Nibaran's land and removed topsoil from there. As irrigation water from Nibaran's land was seeping out into the kiln owner's land, Nibaran had to agree to sell topsoil from his land.
Badiar Rahman, a farmer in Dalgram village of Kaliganj upazila, said two bighas of his land became barren after he sold topsoil to a kiln ten years ago and the land still remains infertile.
He made some money from the sale of the topsoil, but he lost more in the long run as he could not get good harvest from growing crops on the land since then, he also said.
"I have been using lots of chemical fertilisers, but the land did not regain fertility."
Refuting the allegation of forcing landowners to sell topsoil to kiln owners, Jalal Uddin, a kiln owner in Paschim Bejgram village of Hatibandha upazila, said they prefer topsoil for making bricks, but the farmers sell the topsoil to them without being pressurised.