The parcel of land required for a cottage garden may be small, but as enterprising Lalmonirhat villager Anowara Begum, 44, from Karnopur village in Sadar upazila has discovered, the reward for growing herbs and vegetables in such a plot can be large.
“I harvest at least 10 kilograms of mint weekly,” she says “It sells for Tk 200 per kilogram in the field.” The family has only 16 decimals at their disposal, with four taken up by their house and mint growing on a further five.
Anowara's twenty papaya trees on three decimals net annual earnings of around Tk 25,000. On another three decimals she grows seasonal vegetables including spinach, red amaranth which in Bangladesh is called lal shak, tomatoes, brinjals and chillies. “After fulfilling my family's requirements I sell the rest,” she says.
The last decimal is dedicated to herbs: air plant which is locally known as patharkuchi, pandan leaf which is alternately called pulao pata or ketaki in Bangladesh, and Italian coriander. “From the herbs I earn about Tk 3,000 per month,” she says. With the profits from her small garden, Anowara covers her family's daily expenses independently of the small business her husband Ruhul Amin runs in the village.
Previously, the family genuinely struggled as their land was not utilised well. Nowadays son Sohel Rana studies in class nine while daughter Rozina Akhter is studying for her Higher School Certificate. All the family members help out in the small garden that makes the children's education affordable.
“Mint is essential for the traditional drink borhani,” says Ruhul. “Air plant is used as a remedy for stomach ailments, and pandan leaves and Italian coriander are also in high demand. It's not possible to buy most of these ingredients at the local market and many people pay in advance.”
Anowara's efforts have impressed her neighbours. “I have six bighas of land,” says Soleman Miah, 48, a farmer in the village. “I grow some mint plants to meet my family's demand but have never farmed it commercially. Although I have more land than Anowara, I can't earn as much as she can.”
Other farmers including Delowar Hossain, 52, have taken advice from Anowara on how to cultivate mint, other herbs and spices, but none have been able to replicate her success. “These plants need tender care,” says Delowar, “Anowara really knows how to do it.”
“I pay Anowara in advance for mint, pandan leaves and Italian coriander,” says local vegetable trader Nur Islam, 38, who has a shop at Goshala Bazar in Lalmonirhat town. “We can sell the mint for Tk 300 per kilogram and sometimes we send it to markets in the capital, when we have orders.”
“Only a very few farmers cultivate mint on small landholdings,” says Lalmonirhat sadar upazila's agriculture officer Enamul Haque. “They enjoy good marketing facilities. Anowara Begum is exceptional, however. She is the shining example in this area of how to succeed in farming mint and other herbs on a small plot.”