Districts in Focus
Orange farming goes big in Sylhet
Iqbal Siddiquee, Sylhet
Traditional orange farming on a large scale is about to begin again in the hilly areas of greater Sylhet. For decades, the farming practice dropped due to a lack of proper care, patronisation and training of the farmers in modern cultivation methods.
Previously, orange farmers in Beanibazar, Golapganj, Gowainghat, Companiganj and Jaintapur in Sylhet and Kulaura, Barolekha, Juri, Srimangal and Komolganj of Moulvibazar and Chhatak and Doarabazar upazilas of Sunamganj in the region used to enjoy bountiful yields of this seasonal fruit. They could then meet the region’s demand and even send their produce to other parts of the country.
The farming practice was one of the major sources of income for many villagers in the areas. Besides, the tribal Khasias in the bordering areas in the hills had a lead role in orange farming in a planned way. But orange farming gradually declined in the years before the country’s liberation war.
In recent years, orange farming is beginning to rise again. Farmers are interested again in cultivating the cash crop, while the government too has extended initiatives to encourage farmers in the area.
A number of seniors in the areas said severe pest attacks and damage to fruit bearing trees in the late 60’s took a toll on cultivation. Orange orchards in the whole region were damaged, they added. It was a big blow to the growers as they lost all their money and interest. Orange farming is yet to regain its past glory.
However, a good number of farmers are now trying to get back with better arrangements, management and initiatives. The hilly topography in the region is still suitable to cultivate juicy-fruits like oranges, pineapples and lemons.
Villagers from Gallasangan, Boroil and Gulsha of the adjacent Barolekha upazila are also making a comeback with a bang. They are anticipating good harvests this year, while some farmers have already started on a limited scale.
One can easily spot orange trees in the backyards of people’s homes in the Beanibazar, Golapganj, Barolekha and Kulaura upazilas, especially in the hilly areas.
Abdul Wahid, 65, from the Pariabahar village, is one among many who are returning to organised farming of the cash crop in the hilly areas, around his 10 acre home in Beanibazar. CS Karim, the then agriculture adviser to the caretaker government, also visited his orchard in 2008 and lauded the initiative.
“Following repeated pest attacks and crop losses for many years, we lost interest in the traditional farming practice, which I had inherited from my ancestors. Like many others in the area, I am back again and trying to revive the age-old methods. We need technical assistance from the government and the agriculture scientists to succeed.”
He alleged that the orange growers in the area suffered when the agriculture department operated an orange farming development project for a number of years. The saplings supplied by the project did not yield good results, he said.
Wahid has 1,500 fruit bearing plants in addition to some 500 others. Last year, he sold oranges worth Tk 1 lakh, which is expected to be 50 percent more this year.
He said marketing options are limited. “After consumption by my family, we have to sell our produce to the local traders or ‘forias’, who take advantage of us. At times, they blame imports from India for low prices.”
“I never use chemical fertilisers on my orchard. Irrigation and other nurture methods are very important to the trees.” Wahid also has plantations of ‘tejpata’ (aromatic leaves) and some other crops and fruits, which bring good returns every year. Some 300 orange plants are there on the Department of Agricultural Extension’s (DAE) block demonstration on his plot, which are yet to mature.
Botany experts from Jahangirnagar University have been running experiments on his orchards for the last two years, said Wahid.
A good number of people from the villages of Astosangan, Kalaiura, Barogram, Patuli, Konagram and Sengram in addition to Pariabahar have also resumed orange farming on a large scale, Wahid added. The Jaldhup mouja is well known for orange and pineapple farming.
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya, 54, of the same village, is also a successful orange farmer. Returning from Dubai years ago, Nikhilesh resumed the farming, which he had inherited from his father Dr Bhattacharya, who is also a retired medical officer.
“I am trying to regain the family tradition of cultivating oranges by farming the fruit on a 10-acre orchard around my paternal home on a small hillock,” Nikhilesh said.
“It is profitable no doubt. However, we need support from the authorities for marketing. A supply of quality saplings from DAE or any other government organisation would help raise new plantations or orchards. Many people are interested in getting involved in modern farming methods.”
As surface water is not available in the hills, deep tube well irrigation is the only source of water, he said. The orange farming development project of the government could not benefit the farmers in a big way, Nikhil added, as such programmes should be more farmer-oriented.
His elder brother Bishnupada Bhattacharya, 60, is also a successful orange farmer. He was awarded the ‘Bangabandhu Krishi Padak’ at the national level for orange farming in 2004.
Bishnupada earns about Tk 2.5 lakh by selling the fruit every year. “We are deprived of fair prices mainly due to an absence of marketing facilities,” Bishnupada said to The Daily Star.
Many people in Beanibazar and adjoining upazilas lost their interest in the fruit mainly due to low prices as well as an absence of skilled manpower and pest attacks.
There is potential for development of the orchards and increasing yield by to three to four times if proper infrastructures are built and other facilities given, Wahid said.
The number of plants has increased in recent times as plantations are being raised in a planned way and farmers are given orange saplings, he said.
On the other hand, many farmers stopped large scale farming of oranges mainly to avoid hassles by law enforcers in marketing their produce, Bishnupada said.
Earlier farmers were discouraged from planting orange trees as many farmers, especially from orange growing areas of Beanibazar, Barolekha, Companiganj, Jaintapur, Gowainghat, Chhatak, Doarabazar, Kulaura and Juri upazilas close to the Indian border were harassed by lawmen on false charges of smuggling oranges.