Though coastal district Lakshmipur is renowned for coconut, betel nut and hilsha fish, soybean production has earned the region the nickname "Soya Land." According to 2018 World Atlas data, Bangladesh ranked 36th in the world for soybean production – and Lakshmipur tops the list of soybean producing regions in the country.
On average, the district earned Tk300 crore annually from soybean over the past years. Lakshmipur earned a total of Tk324 crore from soybean in 2019, according to Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) and Department of Agricultural Marketing, Lakshmipur.
However, this year, soybean cultivation in the district is uncertain due to untimely rains – according to local farmers and agricultural experts. The experts said climate change was responsible for the unseasonal rains.
Local farmers said they were supposed to cultivate soybean across a vast area of Lakshmipur this season. However, the land for the Robi crop – sown in winter and harvested in spring – was submerged due to unseasonal rains from December 7 to December 10 last year. Later, from January 3 to January 5 – and on January 29 this year – the farmers again faced unseasonal rains. So, most of their land was submerged.
Bongshidhari Bhowmik, a farmer of Char Badam in Ramgati upazila, said soybean seeds are usually sown by January 15. "But, we could not sow the seeds by mid-February this year due to the rain," he said.
Ali Hossain, another farmer of Komol Naga's Char Martin village, said he had prepared to cultivate soybean on 20 acres of land. However, now, stagnant rainwater covers most of his land and the ideal season for sowing soybean seeds is over. So, if he cultivates soybean now, he will encounter rains before harvesting the crop.
Local farmers and traders of agro-products said several days before harvesting the soybean, the farmers faced Kalboishakhi (Nor'westers) and rains in: 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. Thousands of farmers incurred losses and were burdened with loans, they added.
During a recent visit to Lakshmipur, our correspondent found no soybean plant growing on Char Lawrence, Char Kalkini and Torabganj of Kamal Nagar upazila – areas renowned for soybean farming. The same situation was evident in Ramgati, Lakshmipur Sadar and Raipur upazila.
The target was to cultivate soybean on 53,238 hectares of land in the district this year. However, soybean plants were not growing on even 100 hectares of land there as of February 11.
According to the Lakshmipur DAE, the deadline to sow soybean seeds was January 15. So, farming soybeans on large areas of Lakshmipur has become totally uncertain.
Abdul Baten, soybean seed trader of Torabganj Bazar, said, "Farmers did not purchase soybean seeds this year, so I will face huge losses."
Kamal, farmer of Char Ababil union in Raipur, said he would cultivate onion instead of soybean this year.
Agricultural officials in the district also agreed with the farmers' decision to cultivate other rabi crops – instead of soybean – this year. Saleh Uddin, deputy assistant plant conservation official at the DAE in Ramgati, said if soybean seeds are sown after January, farmers must harvest it in June. By June, the rainy season will start. So, he recommended the farmers cultivate crops like onion, garlic, lentil and maize, which can rapidly be harvested.
Dr Muhammad Mohiuddin Chowdhury, principal scientific officer at Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, Noakhali, said, "Untimely rains and storms are happening as a consequence of climate change – negatively affecting soybean cultivation in Lakshmipur. Now, soybean farming is on the verge of extinction here." He urged the scientists to invent a new variety of soybean, which can be harvested within a very short period of time.
A total of 86,410 tonnes of soybean were produced on 48,545 hectares of land in Lakshmipur in 2019 – which was 59.80 percent of the country's total soybean production. It was 65 percent in 2018 and 60 percent in 2017, according to the DAE.
Until 2015, 75 to 80 percent of the country's total soybean production came from Lakshmipur.
The statistics show a gradually-declining trend of soybean production in the district.