A farmer with a difference

http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=206871

Pockets of change
A farmer with a difference

A foreign variety of onion is being cultivated on a field in Shibganj upazila, Bogra. Top, An asparagus field in the same area. Photo: HASIBUR RAHMAN BILU. Inset- Md Anser Ali

Hasibur Rahman Bilu, Bogra

Vegetable grower Md Anser Ali, 60, has made a living from farming uncommon produces. For the last few years, he has been cultivating foreign vegetables, including asparagus, to sell to markets in Dhaka and Chittagong.

Ali won the Citi Micro Entrepreneurship Awards-2010 as the best micro entrepreneur of the year in agriculture. With his farming practices, he is now able to earn an average of Tk 6 lakh a year.

He first began farming foreign vegetables about 20 years ago on seven decimals of land by investing only Tk 200. Pioneering the business in the Bogra district, Ali received Tk 3.5 lakh as prize money on September 17, 2011.

Agriculturist Md Mahatab Uddin first encouraged him to cultivate the foreign variety of capsicums in 1992 in his village Bujruk Shokra under the Shibganj upazila of Bogra district. However, harvests were not great for a lack of knowledge on cultivation methods.

He cultivates 660 decimals of land for the winter season and 231 decimals for summer to supply foreign vegetables to several international hotels in the capital.

“My net profits have reached Tk 2.70 lakh a year selling vegetables like pepper, lettuce, capsicum and asparagus,” said Ali.

He has been commercially producing sweet corn, hybrid cabbage, parsley, Chinese cabbage, hybrid broccoli, hybrid onions and some other foreign vegetables, he added.

“Obtaining quality seeds is one of the main problems in producing foreign vegetables in the country,” said Ali. “I usually earn Tk 70,000 a year selling asparagus to several hotels in Dhaka and Chittagong. February to March is the peak time for asparagus.”

With profits from selling vegetables, he has purchased 429 decimals of land in the last 20 years to exclusively cultivate foreign vegetables.

“I have been maintaining my family and making payments on loan repayment by selling vegetables,” he added.

He said vegetable cultivation, especially the foreign varieties, is more profitable than paddy or other crops. “I am not interested in the commercial cultivation of paddy for low profits. But I usually cultivate 116 decimals of land for paddy, spices and some local varieties of vegetables for my family to consume.”

Ali supplies 20 varieties of foreign vegetables to eight buyers in Dhaka and Chittagong. He counts an average of Tk 1.50 lakh as labour payment to grow the foreign varieties.

Creating jobs for local men and women on his vegetable fields as agriculture workers, he pays Tk 150 for eight hours of labour.

“For the lack of a direct railway connection between Bogra and Dhaka, I have to pay Tk 1 lakh extra in transportation costs.” Vegetable growers in Bogra and adjacent districts have to count large sums of money as truck fares.

“I also plan to export vegetables but I don’t know how. I need government assistance to do so.”

Md Sagor Mia, 22, a farm labourer of the same village, earns Tk 4,500 a month working on the vegetable fields. He is the sole bread earner in his family.

“I was totally jobless before joining as a labourer in the vegetable fields a year ago,” he said. He works for eight hours on the field from early morning to noon. He said he is happy to be able to contribute to his family.

“I keep only Tk 500 as pocket money and give the rest to bear my family expenses.”

Another farm labourer, Md Wasim Ali, 21, has been working on the vegetable fields for seven years now. “My savings reached Tk 15,000 in the last 5 years.”

“I even cultivated sweet corn on 20 decimals of rented land for the first time recently for high demand of the crop,” he said.

He invested Tk 11,000, including land rent worth Tk 8,000, and expects Tk 30,000 in sales.

“I hope to become a successful vegetable grower in future,” said Wasim Ali, who was unable to study beyond class five due to poverty.

He used to receive only Tk 50 a day as a farm labourer in the early years; he gets Tk 150 now.

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