POST TIME: 22 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Tobacco farmers take over govt lands in Cox’s Bazar
Toufiqul Islam, Cox’s Bazar

Tobacco farmers take over govt lands in Cox’s Bazar

Children are seen at a tobacco field at Gorgonia in Ramu upazila of Cox’s Bazar district on Tuesday. Independent photo

Tobacco farmers are cultivating more and more lands in Cox’s Bazar district, taking over the ‘khas’ land, reserve forests and roadside area.

The amount of croplands earmarked for tobacco cultivation in the district has reached 1,390 hectares of lands, half of which belong to government, said sources with the District Agricultural Extension office in Cox’s Bazar.

The Independent investigation revealed that more lands in Kawarkhop, Garjonia, Kachchopia, Eidgarh, Rajarkul, Fatehkharkul in Ramu upazila and Manikpur, Suezpur and Baraituli in Chokoria have gone under tobacco cultivation, threatening environment as farmers in Bangladesh’s Chittagong belt use wood from nearby forests for tobacco curing.

Tobacco companies such as multinational British American Tobacco Bangladesh and local Dhaka Tobacco Industries provide contract farmers with seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs in Chittagong and Kushtia, the Virginia tobacco growing hubs in Bangladesh, for good harvest.

Fire-cured tobacco is hung in large barns where fires of hardwoods are kept on continuous or intermittent low smoulder and takes between three days and ten weeks, depending on the process and the tobacco.

“But when it comes to curing the tobacco leaves, the cigarette makers leave us in the dark, forcing us to use firewood to process in the barns. I’ve not heard any alternative solutions such as coal or solar energy for tobacco curing,” said a contract farmer with a multinational company, who sought anonymity.        

The barns, commonly known as “tandul”, burn around 100 maunds (1 maund equal to 40kg) of firewood annually to cure 70 bales of tobacco. 107,600 maunds of firewood are needed to burn the 75,320 bales of tobacco.

Cox’s Bazar Civil Society President Abu Murshed Chowdhury said apart from personal croplands tobacco is being cultivated on fallow lands, on the bank of Matamuhuri river and on the land reserved for social afforestation.

Last year Department of Forest and local administration launched some anti-tobacco cropping drives but this year we have not noticed any, Chowdhury added.

A tobacco cropper of Manirjheel under Kawarkhop in Ramu said in spite of knowing the harm caused by tobacco, farming is being attracted because of easy loans offered by tobacco companies.

Another tobacco cropper of Chokoria Khalilur Rahman said in the case of vegetable farming there is no surety

of fertilizer but for tobacco it is ensured by the tobacco companies.

Deputy Director of District Agricultural Extension AKM Shahriar said it requires a huge amount of fuel wood for tobacco curing that is abetting the deforestation in the district, adding that they are inspiring the farmers to switch to flower and vegetable cultivations.

Bangladesh has ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) aimed at tobacco control measures to reduce both demand and supply.

Sections 17 and 18 of the international treaty direct governments to help farmers to grow alternative crops and take preventive measures to protect the environment and public health from tobacco damages.

According to www.tobaccoatlas.org, tobacco harms the health, the treasury, and the spirit of Bangladesh. Every year more than 92,100 of its people are killed by tobacco-caused disease, while more than 164,000 children and more than 25,492,000 adults continue to use tobacco each day.