Kuddus Molla, a farmer in Zajira upazila of Shariatpur, cultivated a host of winter vegetables including brinjal, tomato, and bitter gourd on 110 decimals of land using the cluster farming method.
"I have invested Tk30,000 per bigha, using organic fertilisers and pheromone traps for pest control. Previously, we used to spray pesticides mixed with water to control insects. But the new eco-friendly insect control method – pheromone trap – reduced production costs while inducing safety in farming."
Kuddus Molla was not the only farmer who greatly benefited from the cluster-based safe farming, introduced by the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Thousands of farmers, especially poor and marginal ones, have achieved remarkable success in group vegetable farming over the past decade with the help of PKSF.
The organisation, in collaboration with 36 non-government organisations, provides loans and technical assistance to farmers who then form small groups in their respective localities to cultivate a variety of vegetables using mainly bio-fertilisers and eco-friendly methods.
The PKSF – a national platform for collaboration between government and non-government organisations – first introduced the safe vegetable production programme in Tala upazila of Satkhira under its Integrated Agriculture Unit a decade ago, said Dr Sharif Ahmed Chowdhury, general manager (Programme) of the organisation.
The programme has since become very popular among cultivators. Currently, around 14,630 farmers in 34 districts are benefiting from this cooperative farming method, which has reduced production costs while fetching more profits, he said.
The main objective of this programme is to create opportunities for safe vegetable production, collection, storage, processing and direct market linkage with producers at relatively low costs.
The Business Standard visited several safe vegetable production clusters in Zajira upazila of Shariatpur in the last week of December.
Some 10 farmers in Mirasha and Laukhola areas of Zajira have cultivated a host of vegetables including cauliflower, cabbage, gourd, bitter gourd, and spinach on 319 decimals of land, equipped with pheromone traps, an eco-friendly insect control method, set up at an interval of 20 feet.
Naria Unnayan Samity (Nusa), a cooperative organisation of the PKSF, is implementing these cultivation clusters with PKSF funding.
Matiur Rahman, one of the vegetable farmers, told TBS, "The demand for these vegetables is high in the market with prices slightly higher than regular vegetables. Prices can reach even higher with some more promotions."
"We mainly use organic manure made from cow dung and compost – a mixture of ingredients used as plant fertiliser – to improve the land fertility. Chemical fertilisers are also applied but in small amounts, thereby reducing our production cost by one-fourth," he added.
"I started selling cauliflowers at the beginning of December. Initially, the wholesale price was Tk32 per kg. The total cost of production was Tk50,900 and I expect to earn Tk1,80,000 just by selling cauliflower," Matiur Rahman added.
Dr Nomita Halder, managing director of PKSF, said, "We train farmers and encourage them to produce safe vegetables using vermicompost, manure, and Trico-compost."
"We lean towards organic farming but chemical fertilisers (about 10%) have to be applied in small amounts in order to boost production," she added.
According to the Naria Unnayan Samity (Nusa), this cultivation process keeps the environment safe. There is no need to use pesticides, so the farmer does not suffer from respiratory or other diseases.
Farmers in 92 upazilas have come under the programme so far by cultivating vegetables in 2,415 clusters. The PKSF has set up 27 sales centres to aid marketing.
Dr Sharif Ahmed Chowdhury, general manager of PKSF, told TBS, "Farmers often make their own sales centres but in some cases, we set up centres for them so that wholesalers can buy directly from there. We also have plans to set up cold storage to store vegetables."
"Aside from providing financial, technical and legal support to farmers, we have trained about 1147 farmers across the country. Growing safe vegetables is not ecologically safe but also saves farmers 10% of costs in production," he said.
"We are assisted by the Agriculture Extension Officers of the Department of Agricultural Extension. They inspect the field and certify the production process. They also determine the amount of fertiliser and organic contents that need to be used. We call it safe vegetable cultivation as the method is safe," Sharif Ahmed added.
Shariatpur Development Society (SDS) has long been encouraging farmers to grow safe vegetables in Zajira upazila with the funding of PKSF. Alongside Satkhira, this method was also introduced in this area in the fiscal year 2013-14 with only three farmers willing to participate.
At present, 85 farmers in the area are cultivating bitter gourd, gourd, brinjal, sponge gourd, and snake gourd on about 30 acres of land under the supervision of SDS.