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Black pepper takes root on Sylhet soil

Rezaul Haque . Sylhet
29 Mar 2023 00:00:00 | Update: 28 Mar 2023 22:50:28
Black pepper takes root on Sylhet soil
The farmers in Sylhet’s Jaintiapur starts black pepper farming commercially – Rezaul Haque

Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has found immense potential for farming the perennial creeping plant -black peppers- in the hilly areas of Sylhet.

According to researchers, commercial cultivation of black peppers can improve the life and livelihood of the people of this region, as well as boost the agroeconomy.

Several farmers in Sylhet’s Jaintiapur upazila have started black pepper cultivation being encouraged by the DAE. Expanding black pepper cultivation will reduce our import dependency on the high-value spice crop.

The researchers of Jaintiapur’s Spice Research Sub-Centre, of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Sylhet Agricultural University (SAU) are expectant about the bright potential of black pepper cultivation in the region. Alongside Sylhet, black pepper is also cultivated on a small scale in the Chattogram hill tracts.

According to the report of Bangladesh Bank for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the country imported spices worth USD 363 million, a significant amount of which was black pepper.

Professor Dr Md Masudur Rahman of SAU’s Department of Crop Botany and Tea Production Technology and Professor Dr Md Samiul Ahsan Talukder of the Department of Agroforestry and Environmental Science are jointly researching black pepper cultivation under a project titled ‘Increase production of pepper in Sylhet region’ with the financial support of Bangladesh Science Academy and US Department of Agriculture (BAS-USDA).

According to the researchers, black pepper plants grow in many areas of the region, however, the yield is low due to a lack of proper care. Apart from this, misuse of fertiliser and improper irrigation also cause the plants to yield less harvest than their potential.

Agriculturist Dr Borhan Uddin of Jaintiapur’s Spice Research Sub-Centre said that black pepper cultivation first started in Bangladesh in the sixties in some kitchen gardens of Sylhet. The Jaintia BARI pepper-1 variety was released in 1987 by the institute.

Well-drained, highly humus-rich fertile loam and clay soils are best suited for pepper cultivation. Hot and humid climates and high rainfall of about 2500-3000 ml and water vapour areas are good for chillies. A temperature of 35 to 25 degrees Celsius is optimal for black pepper cultivation.

Some 15-20 farmers of Jaintiapur’s Mokam area cultivate black pepper for their personal use. One such farmer, Purina Manar said, “The black pepper plant grew on its own, I only use a little bit from it for my family’s use. However, I recently found out from researchers that with a little effort, it is possible to get a better yield and earn money from it.”

Black pepper plants start bearing fruit about three-four years after planting and fully mature at seven-eight years. The optimal time for harvest is the Bengali months of Paush and Magh. A fully grown pepper plant can yield about three-five kg of black pepper per season.

According to the 2015-16 data of the DAE, pepper is grown on a total of five hectares of land in the Sylhet, Habiganj and Bogura districts. The total production of which are six tonnes.

Currently, there are 200-250 pepper plants in Jaintiapur’s Spice Research Sub-Centre, 40-50 plants in Moulvibazar, 30-40 plants in Khagrachari’s Ramgarh upazila and 200-250 plants in Chattogram’s Hathazari upazila.

Pepper grower Apin Patra of Jaintiapur said, “Earlier we used to grow black pepper for personal use, I was unaware that it was possible to grow it commercially. Agricultural officials have contacted us regarding expanding our pepper cultivation.” He added that he is planning on cultivating black pepper alongside betel leaves.

According to the researchers of SAU black pepper is a perennial creeping plant. It is widely cultivated in tropical countries including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Thailand.

Besides, pepper is being cultivated on a small scale in various hilly areas of Bangladesh. As part of expanding spice crop cultivation in various regions of the country, agriculturists are also researching black pepper cultivation.

Professor Masudur Rahman believes that water management in the dry season is the biggest challenge for pepper cultivation in hilly areas.

“Pepper plants fruit for about seven to eight months and during this time it needs a significant amount of care. Providing proper care and nutrients is mandatory during that time,” he said.

Professor Samiul Ahsan Talukder said, “Pepper is a profitable crop. Farmers can benefit from it due to its high prices. The crop has bright potential if commercially cultivated. That opportunity can be harnessed by encouraging farmers.”

Jaintiapur upazila Agriculture Officer Shamima Akhter said, “Several spice crop exhibitions farms were held for farmers in FY2019-20. Due to this, some farmers have become interested in black pepper cultivation.”

She added that training is being provided to them in consultancy and management. The researchers of SAU are supporting the farmers in various ways as part of their research.

President of Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tahmin Ahmad said, “Alongside pepper, Sylhet has the potential to grow many important plant-based agricultural products including coffee. Providing necessary training to farmers will prove beneficial in this regard.”