In the northern region, there was a time when tobacco was most cultivated in Rangpur. But now, leaving the harmful and poisonous cultivation behind, farmers of the district are leaning towards various alternative crops, including tea.
Tea was already being cultivated in Panchagarh district in the northern region. Finding its cultivation more profitable, Montu Barman Roy, a farmer from Taraganj upazila in Rangpur, has achieved exemplary success planting a tea garden on the land on which he used to cultivate tobacco only two years ago.
Hailing from Sayar Bhanga Para village in the upazila, Barman was the first to start tea production in the district.
He said as the cost of tea cultivation is low, and profits are high, many farmers in Rangpur have now given up tobacco cultivation in favour of tea plantation.
Barman said, "I bought 600 tea saplings from Panchagarh at a cost of Tk1,20,000, and planted them on 150 decimals of land. Spending Tk3 lakh in total to establish the eta garden, I now annually earn Tk3-4 lakh profit, excluding the cost."
Saying that tea leaves are collected after every 45 days, he said, "Collecting tea leaves, I sell them to tea traders in Rangpur and Sylhet."
He said he was interested in doing so as he considered tobacco cultivation harmful for not only consumers but for farmers as well. Vegetable and tobacco farmers from different areas of the district now come to consult with him every day.
"If the government pays a little attention to the tea industry in North Bengal, tobacco farmers of the region would get the chance to come out of a harmful agricultural practice," observed Mantu Barman, adding that storms cannot damage tea gardens.
Md Riyad Islam, Tulsi Rani Roy and Pubita Rani Roy are working in Barman's tea garden.
They said, "Around 100 male and female labourers are engaged in the garden.
Barman's son Sanjay Barman also works in the garden following his father's advice."
Sathi Roy, a female labourer in the garden, said, "I have been working here for about two years and am happy to bear the educational expenses of my sons and daughters from the income."
Another female labourer, Jayanti Rani Roy, said that tobacco was grown on this land only two years ago.
"Several of my family members became ill working on this same land at the time. But the land has been turned into a tea garden in the meantime, and at present several of my family members are working here. No one falls ill anymore and our family is doing well," she added.
The Deputy Director of Department of Agriculture Extension in Rangpur, Dr Mohammad Sarwarul Haque, said, "Mantu Barman has set a good example by cultivating tea instead of the toxic tobacco. His garden is the only tea garden in Taraganj upazila. Being inspired by his deed, many people come to take advice from him regarding tea plantation."
"Barman is being given all the support he needs," he added.