Turmeric cultivation in Rajshahi is decreasing by the day as farmers are turning away from the spice after incurring repeated losses.
Turmeric farmers in the district blamed the tendency to import the spice, instead of incentivizing the local producers.
Turmeric farmers recalled a time when an entire field of turmeric was farmed, resulting in bumper production. Prices were good as well. But now, most farmers cultivate turmeric as a companion crop in mango gardens. As a result, volume of turmeric production in the district has significantly decreased.
Complaining that wholesale prices do not cover production costs, farmers spoke about incurring losses as the lion's share of locally used turmeric is imported from India and Myanmar.
Where 100 maunds of raw turmeric was produced per bigha of land, this has now decreased to 60-70 maunds. Most farmers cultivate turmeric as a companion crop on highlands, fallow lands and backyards.
According to sources, around 15,000 to 16,000 farmers are currently involved in turmeric cultivation in Rajshahi, producing Tk80 crore in turmeric annually.
Ekramul Huq Sanat, from Arani Bazar area under Bagha upazila in the district, has been engaged in turmeric farming for over four decades.
He said, "Turmeric farmers of the country are currently incurring losses due to imported turmeric. The government is now importing 60% of locally consumed turmeric from India and Myanmar. As a result, farmers are not being able to recoup their production costs; ironically, the quality of our homegrown turmeric is far superior to the imported varieties."
"Turmeric cultivation is no longer as profitable as it was before. I couldn't shift to other crops as I've been involved in turmeric farming for so long," he added.
Shabul Huq Zahangir, a turmeric farmer from Kaluhati village under Charghat upazila, said, "I used to farm turmeric on five bighas of land 10 years ago, but now, I cultivate on two bighas of land as a companion crop in my mango garden.
Milton Mandal from the same village said that turmeric trees are being attacked by rotten disease this year. The leaves of the trees have been dying, leading to a drop in production. Pesticides have failed to prevent the disease. It costs around Tk10,000 to cultivate turmeric on one bigha of land.
Mokhlesur Rahman, a farmer from Arani village under Bagha upazila, recalled a time when people in his village depended entirely on turmeric cultivation. There was not a single family in the village that was not involved in turmeric cultivation. But now most of the farmers have left turmeric cultivation, lured by mango farming.
"Some are cultivating vegetables on their fields as this is less time consuming and involves less effort," he added.
Mokhles said, "This year, I made a profit of Tk61,000 from eggplant cultivation on four kathas of land. It is more profitable than turmeric. Despite the reduced profits, I have been farming turmeric on 15 kathas of land.
In Rajshahi, turmeric markets are organised twice a week at Arani Bazar, with 10-15 wholesale turmeric traders. Around 500-1000 maunds of turmeric are sold on each day of the market.
Nur Mohammad Molla, proprietor of Molla Traders, said that they buy 8,000-10,000 maunds of turmeric every year from the farmers. After packaging, they sell the turmeric to traders in other districts.
However, Md Shamsul Huq, Deputy Director of Rajshahi Department of Agricultural Extension claimed that turmeric production per hectare of land had increased, despite the drop in cultivation in the district.
"Farmers did not take proper care of the field after sowing the turmeric seeds. But now, they are provided with fertilizer, irrigation, and pesticides, leading to a surge in turmeric production, and an increase in profits."
"On behalf of the DAE, we have been providing all kinds of assistance and support to turmeric farmers. We are encouraging them to cultivate DAE-developed turmeric species, rather than the local species," he added.