When 41-year-old Abdul Hakim was assigned to Mymensingh as a project supervisor by an international NGO, he came upon the idea that would change the course of his life. While working there for the US-based International Development Enterprises (IDE) in the early 1990s, he found that the nursery business was thriving in the district.
"I decided that I would do the same in my own village in Cumilla," said Hakim, now the owner of a nursery spanning over 3 acres of land.
In Mymensingh, he learned how to properly sow seeds, how to propagate and take care of the saplings. After a while, he quit the job to begin his new business in Parihal Para, a small village situated 40km west of Cumilla city.
"I had a savings of Tk80,000. I invested a portion of that money in a nursery. It was a small beginning, but I soon experienced success. This encouraged me to expand the nursery to 3 acres," said Hakim, who is a freedom fighter.
His endeavour to grow saplings did not only change his life but also the lives of hundreds of others in Parihal Para. Inspired by his success, many others followed suit. Since then, in nearly three decades, the nursery business has become one of the primary sources of livelihood in the village.
Though there are no official data, locals claim the number of nurseries in Parihal Para has grown to 40, annually generating over Tk6 crore. The village is now known to many as the 'nursery village of Cumilla'.
"On average, each nursery makes annual sales to the tune of Tk15 lakh. After meeting local demand, saplings grown here are also sent to other districts such as Chandpur, Feni, Brahmanbaria and Noakhali," said Hakim.
By 1994, the nursery business began to thrive in Parihal Para.
According to local nurserymen, more and more villagers began to take up nursing at the time. People from afar would come to the village in search of saplings. Currently, there are about 400 people involved in growing saplings for commercial purposes.
Many have their own nurseries, while some other nurseries are jointly owned. In addition, each of these nurseries has dozens of people working on them.
"I got into the nursery business in 1994. I have been successful. It is easy to make a profit from nurseries if you work on them yourself. This is more profitable than fruit-related business," said Harunur Rashid, a nursery owner from Parihal Para.
According to Harunur Rashid, the village's close proximity to the Dhaka-Chattogram highway in Burichong has made the nursery business more profitable there.
"We did not have to face any problem with sales as the village is located near a highway. The transportation facility has brought us additional benefits," he said.
The primary method for Parihal Para's nursery owners is to grow seedlings and saplings by using seeds bought from Kushtia, Jashore and Bogura. Propagation is another popular method to grow saplings.
However, despite their long history in growing seedlings and saplings, nurserymen of Parihal Para have not been able to diversify their production. Due to demand for common plants and lack of training, they have been growing only conventional saplings.
Nursery owner Mamun Mia said, "The saplings from Parihol Para have a high demand. But due to a lack of technological knowledge, we haven't been able to produce saplings of new species. It's a shortcoming in our long-running business."
The local administration is aware of the growth of the business and its limitations in Parihol Para.
"They are doing well. Many of them are learning to propagate through watching Youtube videos. They are earning in the thousands but diversification efforts have not been successful so far," said Mizanur Rahman, deputy director, Cumilla unit of the Department of Agricultural Extension.
Mizanur Rahman said the Agricultural Extension Department is working to diversify plants production in the region.