Coffee fruits have ripened at different gardens of Chimbuk hill in Bandarban and farmers of the hill, 20km away from the district headquarters on the Bandarban-Thanchi road, are now busy collecting them.
Chonkrat Mro first learned about coffee cultivation in 2017 through a local entrepreneur. That year, he planted 300 coffee saplings in between the trees of his mango orchard in Chimbuk hill. He planted 400 more saplings the following year. After three years, the coffee trees began to bear fruit.
He told The Business Standard, "The yield is satisfactory this year. I am now busy collecting coffee fruits. I hope to get about 50kg beans this year."
"As a new farmer, I had a lack of experience. At first, I received training from a company in Dhaka. I was trained at Bandarban Horticulture Centre later. Now I am moving towards commercial coffee cultivation with the experience of all these trainings," he added.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), two varieties of coffee are cultivated in the hills. One is Arabica and the other is Robusta. However, the yield varies from area to area. Good and bad yields mainly depend on nurturing the trees.
DAE sources said the topography of Bandarban is suitable for cultivation of the Arabica variety. This variety of coffee grows well in shady climates in any orchard. As a result, no separate place is required for cultivation.
Tonsi Mro, a farmer from Mendui Para in the hill, planted 200 coffee saplings five years ago. Two years later, he planted 400 more saplings.
"Last year, I got 32kg of coffee from the 600 trees. I have planned to plant another 1,500 coffee seedlings," he said.
Yonsa Mro, another coffee farmer from Arapara in the hill, planted 900 coffee seedlings four years ago, but half of the seedlings died. After planting more saplings, he now has 1,300 coffee trees. However, this year about 300 trees have borne fruit.
He told TBS that he sold 17kg of coffee last year. The price was Tk240 per kg without husk. If coffee beans are sold with husk, the price is Tk150-200 per kg. However, if the quality is good, one can get up to Tk400 per kg.
Many people want to cultivate coffee trees, but the seedlings are not available. The saplings that are available are not of good quality, he added.
Menyoung Mro, a farmer from Headman Para, said, "Coffee cultivation is yielding positive results in the hill. There is a good chance of profitable coffee cultivation if the farmers get proper training. I have already started selling powdered coffee beans in bottles at Wijongshon in Chimbuk hill."
Shiaung Khumi, a resident of Bandarban town, said a few farmers of the district first started coffee cultivation in 2016 at Chimbuk hill, Ruma upazila and Taracha union of Rowanchari upazila. At that time, I started making coffee saplings myself and distributed them among the farmers.
"Depending on the amount of land, 200 to 2000 saplings were distributed free of cost to each farmer. Training was provided on gardening and fruit collection. However, many farmers did not show interest in the beginning. Some farmers did not nurture the trees thinking that there would be no profit," he added.
Shiaung Khumi said, "There are currently 80 farmers in different areas of the district who were given saplings for free five years ago. I collect coffee from them every year. About 500kg of coffee was collected last year. This year, I expect to get about 600kg."
Bandarban Horticulture Centre Deputy Director Safayet Ahmed Siddiqui said there are 65 beneficiary farmers in Bandarban Sadar, Ruma, Roangchhari and Thanchi upazilas. Each of the enlisted farmers was provided with 150 coffee saplings. Besides, the Horticulture Centre has two nurseries of coffee saplings at Lama and Naikhyangchhari upazilas.
SM Shah Newaz, acting deputy director of DAE, told TBS that in the last several years, farmers in the district have been moving towards commercial coffee farming. The DAE assists the farmers in various ways.
"Coffee has been planted on 146 hectares of land of 625 farmers in the 2020-21 fiscal year. If a small coffee processing factory can be set up, the farmers will be hugely benefited. A proposal has been sent to the ministry in this regard," he added.