Development with rapid urbanisation and industrialisation has not yet reached Khansama upazila of Dinajpur as there is no bus or rail communication there. The people of six unions and 57 villages of the upazila still depend on rickshaws, vans, easy bikes or small vehicles like Nasimon-Karimon for transport.
But nothing could hold back the hardworking people of this upazila from changing their fortune. They have taken their ancestral profession of agriculture seriously. With the help of the local agriculture department, village farmers of the upazila are now exporting potatoes to different countries.
They are growing safe vegetables without using any chemical fertilisers or pesticides which have a high market demand.
New varieties of crops like Japanese sweet potatoes, sunflower, and BARI garlic are also showing new promise for the farmers of this region.
In the last financial year, farmers from the upazila exported 3,448 tons of different varieties of potatoes to different countries, including Malaysia and Singapore. According to the local agricultural office, the same is expected in the current fiscal year too.
According to the Upazila Agriculture Office, 66,950 tonnes of potatoes have been produced on 3,250 hectares of land this year.
"We are happy that our potatoes are going abroad. This is a big achievement for us," said Ekramul Haque, a farmer from the village of Hossainpur in the upazila.
Another farmer, Abdul Alim, said, "The price of potatoes was very low this year, but it increased due to export."
Additional Agriculture Officer of Khansama Upazila, Yasmin Akhter, said that potato export has brought new hope to farmers of the upazila. "They are getting good prices for their crops due to export. Work is underway to ensure that more potatoes are exported in the future and the cultivation of exportable potatoes will be further enhanced."
After success in potato cultivation, farmers in the upazila are now trying Japanese sweet potatoes experimentally. The yield of two varieties of these sweet potatoes is about double that of local varieties.
According to farmers, yield of local sweet potato is 1-1.5 maunds per decimal, but the Japanese variety yields 3-4 maunds per decimal.
In the first phase, 20 farmers of six unions in the upazila have planted Japanese sweet potatoes on 20 decimals of land each. The Department of Agriculture is providing all kinds of help, including seeds, fertiliser and maintenance services to the farmers under the Kandal Crop Development Project.
Khodeja Begum and Altafur Rahman of Hossainpur village have cultivated Japanese sweet potatoes. They said, "The demand for this sweet potato in the market is quite good as it is a new variety. We hope to cultivate this potato on one acre of land in the future."
Hafizul Islam from the same area said, "We are satisfied with the yield this year. Other farmers have also shown interest in planting this variety of potato next season."
Mrinal Kanti, deputy assistant agriculture officer of the upazila, said, "The nutritional value of this potato is very high. Farmers have shown much interest in this so more land will be used in future."
Some farmers of the upazila have taken the initiative to cultivate vegetables without using any chemical fertilisers and pesticides to provide safe food to consumers. The demand for their vegetables is also high in the market as people who are aware about the toxicity of chemicals used in agriculture are buying their products.
Most of these safe vegetables including rice, squash, bitter melon, cucumber, and eggplants are being cultivated in villages like Basuli, Shushuli, and Faridabad.
Farmers use pheromone traps to keep insects away, and organic fertiliser instead of chemicals. Some farmers also use the sap and leaves of various trees, including neem leaves, to control insects and pests.
Ahmed Ali from Basuli village of Khansama upazila, said, "We have been cultivating safe vegetables ever since we came to know that chemical fertilisers and pesticides harm people as well as land. I have been cultivating in a safe way for about three years and it is quite profitable. The demand for these vegetables is much higher in the market and the price is also good."
Another farmer, Sumi Akhter, said, "We farmers in this area have decided not to poison people by using toxic chemicals in cultivation. Most farmers in this area produce safe vegetables."
Garlic changes fortunes
Many farmers of Khansama upazila prefer to grow garlic as it is more profitable with less labour.
According to the Upazila Agriculture Office, garlic has been cultivated on 2,950 hectares of land in the upazila this season, which was 3,750 hectares last year. Garlic is mostly grown in the villages of Jugirghopa, Kayempur, Jowar, Kachinia, Agra, Guliyara and Goaldihi in the upazila.
Alamin Islam, a farmer from Guliyara village, said he has cultivated garlic on five bighas of land this year.
"The labour cost of cultivating garlic on a bigha of land is Tk12,000. The cost of seeds, fertiliser, pesticide and irrigation is Tk24,000, and the cost of harvesting, sorting and marketing is Tk20,000. An acre of land can produce 35 maunds of garlic with a market price of Tk1.5 lakh. As such, the profit on one bigha of land is about Tk50,000," he said.
Smile of sunflowers
The cultivation of sunflower has added a new dimension to the agricultural landscape of Khansama upazila. The soil quality and climate of this region are suitable for sunflower cultivation and the interest of farmers is increasing.
Most of the sunflower cultivation is being done in Angarpara, Bhandardah, Gobindpur, Chhatiangarh, Agra, Margao villages.
The agriculture office has also undertaken programmes to provide seeds to 30 farmers to cultivate sunflower on 30 bighas of land in eight unions.
Sariful Islam, a farmer from Gobindpur village says the cost of cultivating sunflower on a bigha of land is around Tk5,000 to Tk6,000 and yield is available in three to three and a half months. Sunflower seeds harvested from a bigha of land can sell for Tk25,000 to Tk30,000.
Another farmer, Humayun Kabir, said, "You can have more profit at lower cost with sunflower. The government gives the seeds and there is no problem in farming. A good yield is available with irrigating only twice and most of the sunflower plants can also be sold as fuel."
Jahedul Islam, deputy assistant agriculture officer of the upazila said, "There is a huge shortage of edible oil in Bangladesh. Every year 14 to 20 lakh tons of edible oil have to be imported so the government is encouraging sunflower cultivation."
The upazila agriculture office provides all kinds of assistance to farmers for cultivating different crops including sunflower. The authorities also bring companies to buy sunflower seeds directly from the farmers. Farmers are also being trained and advised on modern techniques to increase production.
Basudeb Roy, agriculture officer of Khansama upazila, said, "Potato export, Japanese sweet potato cultivation, safe vegetables, garlic and sunflower cultivation will take the upazila one step ahead. We are providing necessary assistance and advice to farmers to increase production of these crops."
"Due to good weather, more than 10 tons of vegetables per hectare are expected to be harvested this year. Farmers are also being encouraged and assisted to grow improved varieties of BARI Garlic-1 and BARI Garlic-3 for higher yield," he added.