Cassava, a tuber native to South America, is turning into a cash crop for Cumilla farmers, changing their lives by adding profits and decreasing the country’s dependence on imports.
The cultivation of Cassava, a root vegetable resembling much like sweet potato, is commonly eaten across Africa, and used for making glucose, barley, semolina, bread, noodles, cakes, bread, biscuits, papad, chips and many other foods.
Farming of the crop has estimated to have doubled in the country for last few years, thanks to the growing demand for its starch from the industrial sector.
Locally known as Kath Alu or Thenga Alu in Cumilla, Cassava is full of nutritional and medicinal properties and has a great demand in the bakery industry of the country.
The growing interest in its cultivation has prompted local garments, pharmaceutical and food processing industries to import less from Thailand, India and Vietnam.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Cassava takes around a year to grow after being planted between February and November. The variety available in Bangladesh can be harvested once.
An average of six to seven tonnes of Cassava can be harvested from an acre of land when planted in the fallow lands and hilly areas of Salmanpur, Courtbari, Hazir Khamar, Jammura, Lalmai areas adjacent to the Lalmai Hills of Cumilla requiring little cost and labour, the DAE sources said.
Each plant can produce over 15 to 16 kilogrammes of Cassava. About 25 to 30 tonnes can be harvested from a hectare of land, which can be increased up to 50 to 60 tonnes depending on the variety, farmers of the region said.
The DAE sources said that the overall demand for the crop is around 3.5 lakh tonnes in the country against an annual production of 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes, citing that the locals can meet just 2 per cent of the demand at home.
“We have fixed a target of harvesting 2000 tonnes of Cassava from the Lalmai Hills this year,” said Cumilla Sadar Upazila Agriculture Officer Habibul Bashar Chowdhury.
Abu Hanif, a Cassava farmer of the region, told The Business Post that he harvested 30 tonnes of the crop on his five-acre land.
“If I can sell a kilogramme of the vegetable at Tk 8, I expect to earn over one lakh this season,” said Hanif.
Moksed Ali, a farmer of Jammura village of Sadar upazila, Cumilla, said that he has been cultivating the vegetable for the last 13 years.
“My ancestors picked up cultivating Cassava decades ago, and following their footsteps, I came into the business. I am cultivating the vegetable on my 51 acres of land. I get Tk 30,000 from one acre of land,” added Moksed.
Bablu Miah and Mohammad Ali, two farmers of the area, told The Business Post that they used to cultivate seasonal vegetables. However, after facing losses, they opted for Cassava cultivation as it requires less capital and produces good profit.
Habibul told The Business Post that they regularly inspect the croplands and provide assistance to the farmers.
Cumilla DAE Deputy Director Md Mizanur Rahman told The Business Post that the farmers mostly work on contract-based arrangements with large food processing companies and make a good profit from it.
“It requires less labour and investment, that is why more and more farmers are getting interested in Cassava cultivation. However, I personally do not encourage the matter as this type of cultivation can ruin the natural soil balance of the hills,” said the DAE officials.