Bandarban – popular travel destination for Bangladeshis – has also become an epicentre of tobacco farming. The poison of tobacco has swept away arable lands of the hill tracts. A total of 2154 hectare lands are used for tobacco plating, with 1404 hectares in Bandarban alone.
Alikadam and Lama, two upazilas of Bandarban, has produced monumental tobacco harvest.
Farmers are gravitating towards tobacco farming because of easy loans and quick money. Thoi Shing Mong, a local farmer, vouched for tobacco over paddy.
"Earlier, I used to plant paddy in my lands. I didn't earn as much, so I switched to tobacco planting," said Mong.
Contrary to Mong's comment, many other farmers are exiting tobacco plantation as it harms the arable lands.
In Bangladesh, three tobacco companies control the tobacco plantation business. British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, and Japan Tobacco International are the big players in the tobacco business. These companies fix price for tobacco leaves. Farmers are bound to sell the tobacco at a fixed rate set by these companies.
"Tobacco companies only prefer the best quality tobacco, it's hard to sell low grade tobacco," said Reng Cheng Mrong, another local farmer. "If you plant tobacco, you can't grow other grains in that very land. Besides, tobacco planting requires burning of sizable woods."
The momentary gain for profit has made tobacco lucrative, while the environment is at stake.
"What else will I do if I don't plant tobacco?" Buddha Devi said sentimentally. "I get Tk250 every day. It's not sufficient to support my family."
"We want the government to raise our pay," she demanded.
Lucky, a 12-year-old labourer, was harvesting tobacco leaves. She was sweating under the scorching sun. Many children her age are going to school, but she is deprived of education. "My mother is ill, that is why I have to work to support my family," Lucky said. She earns only Tk200 after a tiring workday.
Just like Lucky, many other girls her age are bound to work, instead of going to school.
Mishuk Chakma, deputy assistant agricultural officer at Bandarban, claimed, "Compared to last four years, tobacco plantation has decreased in Bandarban."