Khan Mohammad Sobuj grew an interest in trees during his childhood. In a nursery in Sylhet, in 1996, he saw bonsai trees for the first time. He bought some seedlings from there and started his journey towards the art of bonsai.
Currently, he has bonsais in his garden, the prices of which range from Tk1,000 to Tk5 lakh.
Organisations from Malaysia and India have already shown interest in his bonsais. He exports bonsais worth Tk20 lakh annually. Young people from across the country are coming to him to purchase these miniature trees and learn the art of bonsai.
Officials from the department of agriculture said the art of bonsai could help create jobs for many unemployed young people if the government supports this sector.
Khan Mohammad Sobuj, originally hailed from Char Pathalia of Gojaria, Munshiganj, created his bonsai garden on one bigha (33 decimals) of land in Ambag Poschimpara area of Gazipur City Corporation, where he lives now.
He has been making bonsais for more than two decades and millions of them are scattered across different parts of the country and abroad. There is huge demand for his work in Malaysia and India.
He started his project investing only Tk100. In 24 years, the total investment has increased to Tk1 crore. His garden has spread from his rooftop to cropland.
Now, some 12 people work in his bonsai garden. After being praised in several bonsai exhibitions he received the prime minister's award for tree preservation, invention and research last year.
In the beginning, there was passion
The first bonsai that Sabuj bought was a tamarind seedling from that Sylhet nursery. He got the money from his older brother. After that, he never stopped making bonsais. It was his prime focus alongside his academic studies. At that time his family was living in Dhaka.
He had to wait for a long time, around 10-12 years, to profit from his bonsai trees. At one point, his family members became annoyed by his obsession with bonsais which were producing nothing economically. Suddenly, he sold one of his bonsais at Tk40,000. That changed his luck.
After that, his family members understood the importance of his passion and he started producing bonsais on a larger scale. He also completed his MBA at a private university. He also took some training on the art of bonsai in: Malaysia, India, China, and Singapore.
"I started making bonsais as a hobby. But now I am producing them commercially–which has been profitable. Many young people have been showing interest in culturing bonsais," said Sobuj.
He said he has more than 20,000 bonsai trees of 450 species in his garden.
He sells bonsai worth Tk25 lakh on the local market per year. He also exports bonsais worth Tk20 lakh to India and Malaysia annually.
"Foreign buyers first take the bonsai trees to Chittagong port. There they are wrapped in coconut husks and put in a tub. Later the plants are offloaded from the ship and put back in the tub with hormones. In this process new leaves sprout from the bonsai there," said Sobuj.
Different organisations and individuals with a heart for beautification are his prime buyers.
"Bonsai trees are fit for any place in the home as they are very small in size. Different corporations are now more interested in bonsai trees," he said.
Sobuj said if anybody wants to learn the art of bonsai he or she has to learn some techniques. Many young people and entrepreneurs come to him for training.
"The government has no policy concerning bonsais. All the activities are running at private initiatives. But now as there is a growing demand for this, we need government patronage," he added.
A youth named Taslim, from Gazipur's Salna area, has already been trained by Sobuj on bonsais.
"I trained with him for one year. I have also learned the production of making bonsais from trees of the ficus species. Currently, I have more than 600 bonsais of 103 species. I have spent more than Tk3 lakh on my project," said Taslim.
People from different levels of society are regular buyers of Sobuj's bonsais. They said Sobuj helps them with instructions on how to take care of the bonsai trees at home.
Azmir Ahsan, a buyer of Sobuj's bonsai, said, "I love bonsais. I have already purchased three bonsai trees from him. The price of these bonsais range from Tk3,000-10,000. His bonsai trees are very fresh and healthy."