To create expert tea farmers, as well as teach tea cultivation management and safe tea production in a scientific manner, the Bangladesh Tea Board has undertaken an innovative initiative.
Camellia Khola Akash School, or Camellia Open Sky School, is a practical training programme beside most tea gardens, in open fields, for the marginalised tea farmers of different places.
The Bangladesh Tea Board told The Business Standard (TBS), these activities will enable tea growers to get a fair price for raw leaves, use the necessary pesticides, reduce production cost, and increase product quality.
Under this initiative, 1,482 registered and 5,076 unregistered small-scale tea farmers – of the Panchagarh, Dinajpur, Lalmonirhat, Thakurgaon, and Nilphamari districts – will be trained.
The initiative started with 500 farmers of the northwestern part of the country in October 2020. And the eight-step training activities of this initiative ended a few days ago.
Camellia school's activities will continue in the long run, in different parts of the country, to bring different types of services to the doorsteps of tea growers, the Bangladesh Tea Board informed TBS.
The school is training farmers to select tea varieties, prepare nurseries, plant seeds, select leaves, prune plants, install irrigation and drainage, apply fertiliser, plus control pests and diseases, etc.
The name of the school is inspired by the scientific name of tea – Camellia sinensis.
Mohammad Shamim Al Mamun, director of the Extension of Small Holding Tea Cultivation in Northern Bangladesh Project implemented by the Bangladesh Tea Board and Senior Scientific Officer of the Bangladesh Tea Board, is implementing the school project.
Under the initiative, the Bangladesh Tea Board is: preparing a suitable syllabus for the farmers, holding classes with subject matter experts, providing assessment at the end of the training, teaching the use of the Ekti Kuri Duti Pata (One Bud, Two Leaves) mobile app, and teaching organic tea cultivation.
Additionally, a plan is ongoing to include expert trainers from the Expert Scientific Officer and Project Development Unit of Bangladesh Tea Research Institute.
An officer of the Bangladesh Tea Board told TBS, "Most of the small-scale tea farmers in these regions were inexperienced in tea cultivation. So, they used to randomly plant seedlings, pick leaves, prune plants, apply fertiliser, and control insects. As a result they were often seen following the wrong practices in the tea gardens."
A tea farmer of Sonapatila village of Panchagar's Atwari upazila, Matiar Rahman, has been cultivating tea on 60 acres of land for a long time. He participated in this training programme.
He said, "This initiative is really useful. We used to cultivate according to traditional practices before, but now we are following scientific methods which are giving us better results."
"More initiatives like this will help the farmers even more. The steps could even have been taken earlier, I thank the Bangladesh Tea Board for them now," he added.
Meanwhile, the training programme has been extended to: Lalmonirhat, Bandanbar, Mymensingh, Sherpur, and Jamalpur.
Training has been started for: 180 farmers in Panchagarh, 55 in Bandarban, 60 in Lalmonirhat, 120 in Thakurgaon, 55 in Nilphamari, 60 in Dinajpur, 45 in Sherpur, and 60 in Jamalpur through this school.
Dr Mohammad Shamim Al Mamun told TBS, "Small-scale tea growers' own gardens are the most effective and suitable place for practical training."
He further said "The Camellia school selects the location adjacent to the tea garden to conduct the training, so that the farmers do not have to come a long way to the regional office or office of the Bangladesh Tea Board."
"In many cases, the Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat and Bandarban offices motivate the most successful local farmers to run this school. In many cases we conduct training activities by clustering a few gardens together," he added.
Currently tea is being produced on 8,680 acres of land in Panchagarh's, Thakurgaon's, Lalmonirhat's, Nilphamari's, and Dinajpur's nine registered and 18 unregistered tea gardens as well as 6,558 small gardens. Last year 9.6 million kilogrammes of tea, which is 10% of the total production of the country, were grown in this area.
Meanwhile, 8.8 million kilogrammes of tea were produced this season till October. Experts are expecting production to reach 10 million kilogrammes by the end of the year.