Farmer Sirajul Islam from Taraganj upazila's Ikarchali area in Rangpur has cultivated cotton on 15 bighas of land this year. Three years ago, he used to cultivate tobacco on the same land.
Two other farmers from Kaunia upazila's Haragachh area Rafiqul Islam and Azizul Islam also cultivated cotton on six bighas and 5.5 bighas of land respectively.
Inspired by one another, Rangpur farmers are leaving tobacco – which is hazardous for health – cultivation and turning to eco-friendly cotton farming.
The farmers are losing interest in tobacco cultivation because of excessive labour and low profits.
Also, as they can cultivate potato and paddy after harvesting cotton and other vegetables on the same lands, they are more interested in cotton cultivation.
There is a good prospect of cotton farming in Rangpur as the loamy soil and the environment of the region are favourable for the cultivation of this crop.
This is the reason why farmers are turning away from tobacco cultivation gradually, local people said.
They also said the lion's share of the demand for cotton could be met locally if the government assists in motivating the farmers and recruiting required manpower.
Deputy Director of the Department of Agricultural Extension Dr Sarwarul Haque said, "Tobacco cultivation has declined compared to the last five years. Farmers are turning to cotton cultivation and are leaving tobacco."
He said the farmers are now satisfied with cotton cultivation after being inspired by various types of programmes such as agriculture day, field day, and other personal campaigns.
Farmers consider cotton cultivation profitable as they can cultivate winter vegetables alongside cotton.
Tobacco cultivation in the district has declined from 1,540 hectares of land to 1,010 hectares in a year.
Chief Scientific Officer of Cotton Development Board of Rangpur, Zillur Rahman said, "When only tobacco was cultivated in the char areas of Rangpur before, cotton cultivation saw a huge success."
"The eco-friendly cotton cultivation is profitable and risk-free. The leaves of cotton tree increase the fertility of the soil. Farmers are turning away from tobacco cultivation after realising the risks in tobacco cultivation and processing."
Deputy Director of the Board Abu Ilias Mia said, "The target was to cultivate cotton on 2,600 hectares of land in the current fiscal year. But it was cultivated on 2,535 hectares."
Besides, display cultivation was done on 253 bighas of land in 270 plots by the initiative of the board. The target for harvesting seeds is set at 6,370 tonnes. The board will buy the seeds from the farmers.
Ilias said there is an annual demand for 70 lakh bales (1 bale=480 pounds) of cotton and the demand is rising day by day.
Only four to five percent of the demand can be met by the locally-produced cotton. Cotton cultivation can be increased by motivating the farmers.
Ilias said, "Our work is hindered due to a shortage of manpower in the office. Cotton cultivation saw a good yield in Haragachh area of Kaunia upazila and Taraganj upazila."
Though July to December is the season for cotton cultivation, the process of cotton cultivation of advanced varieties begins in May and June so that the farmers get more facilities.
Civil Surgeon of Rangpur Dr Hiranm Kumar Roy said, "Besides direct consumption of tobacco, taking care of tobacco, tobacco cutting and processing it also involve health hazards. Tobacco powder directly enters lungs through the windpipe.
"Handling tobacco powder involves the same risk of developing lung cancer and other lung-related diseases like tobacco consumers."
Cotton farmers said they need to spend around Tk17,000 for cultivating the local variety of cotton on a one-bigha land. They make profits of Tk26,000-Tk27,000 from the cultivation.
On the other hand, the cultivation of the imported hybrid variety of cotton from China costs Tk19,000-20,000 and yields profits of Tk36,000-37,000.
Thus, the hybrid variety brings more profits when compared to the local one.
Cotton farmer Nurul Amin from Haragachh area said he produced 18 maunds of cotton from hybrid cotton cultivation on one bigha of land.
He made a net profit of Tk25,000 selling each maund of cotton at Tk2,500.
He earned an additional Tk7,000 after cultivating red spinach along with cotton on the same land.