Farmers in Joypurhat were losing interest in sugarcane cultivation as it takes a long time from planting to harvesting the crop, but the technology of intercropping of sugarcane with onion made them change their minds.
Large onions are now peeping through the soil under the leaves of thin, sharp and green sugarcane plants. This is the first time that the farmers have cultivated the Bari-4 variety of onion with sugarcane on the same field.
The yield of onions is also quite good, farmers told The Business Standard as getting onions with sugarcane with no extra costs and efforts have brought smiles to their faces.
The country's lone spices research centre in Bogura is expecting about 50,000 tonnes of onions from 25,000 hectares of sugarcane field under different sugar mills across the country this season. The market price of the onions is at least Tk68 crore, according to The Spices Research Centre.
The research centre is implementing the project of intercropping of onion with sugarcane across the country with the funding of the project of strengthening the research of spice crops.
The harvesting of Bari-4, 5 and 6 varieties of onion invented by the research centre has started in three upazilas of Joypurhat. The production target of onion from 809.37 hectares of land in these three upazilas has been set at 16,000 tonnes.
If farmers are motivated to do this intercropping, it is possible to export onions after meeting the local demand, said officials at the research centre.
Sugarcane is cultivated in one lakh hectares of land in the country.
According to the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, the annual demand for onions in the country is 35 lakh tonnes. Of the amount, 30 lakh tonnes are produced in Bangladesh. The remaining five lakh tonnes of onion are now imported.
To reduce the import, the research institute is promoting onion as a companion crop in agricultural lands.
Shyamal Chandra Sarkar of Bhasda village in Joypurhat has cultivated onions along with sugarcane on his 16 decimals of land this season. According to this farmer, sugarcane requires 16 months from planting to harvesting. Earlier, no other crop was planted during this time in the sugarcane field, he said.
But now times have changed. After receiving the training from the research centre, he has cultivated the Bari-4 variety of onion, potato and kalai (pulses) on the sugarcane field. From the 16 decimals of land, he has got 20 maunds of onion as an additional crop worth Tk10,000.
In the case of intercropping of other crops, a small amount of fertiliser and additional labour was required, said Shyamal. But in intercropping with sugarcane nothing extra was needed, and this was good news for farmers, he added.
Delwar Hossain from the same village said he had been cultivating 26 varieties of spices and vegetables with sugarcane on the same fields for the last three years. This time he has also got success in onion cultivation.
He said cultivating only sugarcane was not profitable. For this reason, he had left sugarcane cultivation. But after receiving technical training from the research centre, he had now cultivated onions on sugarcane fields. He is expecting at least 40 maunds of onion per bigha of land.
Nur Alam Chowdhury, senior scientific officer of The Spices Research Centre, said, "We have done research on different varieties of onion and applied it at field level.
"Now we are cultivating Bari-4, 5 and 6 varieties of onion as companion crops. Among them, the Bari-5 variety of onion is cultivated during summer. Basically, we are working for improved varieties to meet the shortage of onions in the country. The yield of these varieties is about one and a half times more than the yield of native varieties."
Shailendra Nath Majumder, director of the project of strengthening the research of spice crops, said The Spices Research Centre was working to reduce the shortage of onions in the country.
In the last two years, the shortage of 10,000 tonnes of onions had been fulfilled, he said.
However, the market stability of onion was also very important, he continued. Otherwise, farmers would lose interest in onion cultivation again, he warned.
Dr Debashish Sarkar, director general of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, said, "It is not possible to increase land in Bangladesh. But onion production needs to be increased. At the same time, we need sugar. Keeping this fact in mind, scientists conducted research and introduced cultivating companion crops."