A group of farmers in Cox’s Bazar have reportedly gone broke after cultivating tobacco. The farmers now say they will never cultivate the crop again even if they were offered a huge amount of money. Agro-economist Dr Asaduzzaman says this finding in a bdnews24.com investigation in the coastal district’s Chakaria has added to the harms tobacco causes. Abbas Ahmed, a farmer in the area, once led a solvent life farming his own lands.
Now he has lost his arable lands to the ‘trap’ of tobacco cultivation. Abbas told bdnews24.com he and another farmer cultivated 880-decimal land of British American Tobacco (BAT) at Lama in Bandarban.
The firm gave them Tk 40 per leaf, but Abbas says the price should have been at least Tk 70. He said he had to sell a piece of land at Tk 70,000 to repay loans after counting losses. The estimated price of the land was Tk 200,000, he said. He had to sell the rest of his arable land after cultivating tobacco in another 560-decimal land of BAT near Dulahazra Safari Park the following year.
Abbas said he had worked as ‘card-holding farmer’ of BAT for two years, Dhaka Tobacco for four years, and Abul Khair Tobacco Company for three years. “I won’t cultivate tobacco anymore even if someone gives me sacks of money,” he said. Habibur Rahman’s story is similar to Abbas’ but Shamsul Alam’s is a bit different.
Alam was a car driver in profession. He had also saved Tk 400,000 to 500,000 from the earnings. Hearing about high profit margins, he invested the money and his time in tobacco cultivation. Now he is sinking in debt after suffering loss in tobacco cultivation. Facing pressure from the creditors, he fled his house last year.
He has started driving again and been repaying the loans. Habibur said the tobacco firms give loans for cultivation first. Former tobacco farmer Kazi Ali Ahmad said the firms provide money and materials for cultivation in most cases and adjust that money with the price given for tobacco leaf. “A big fraud takes place while grading the tobacco. The best quality is considered the first grade. Most of the firms buy best quality tobacco under second grade or even third grade if the target for first grade tobacco is fulfilled,” he said.
“Then the farmers incur big losses,” he added. Alam alleged the ‘fraud’ in expenditure is ‘bigger’. “They prioritise the families that have people to work and own source of wood (used to process tobacco). It’s impossible to calculate the profit if you consider the labour and wood,” he said.
A research by Dhaka University teachers Ferdousi Nahar and AMR Chowdhury found Alam’s claim to be true. The report said the farmers do not calculate the labour they and the members of their families give for tobacco cultivation, and the firms downsize the expenses by using the women and children of the farmers’ families. BAT Corporate Affairs Manager Anwarul Amin refuted the allegation that tobacco cultivation bankrupted the farmers, expressing doubts about their contract with the company.
bdnews24.com in an email asked BAT to provide a list of farmers in Chakaria who signed contracts with the company in past five years, but the firm has not responded. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, addressing a conference of parliamentary speakers of the Southeast Asian countries in January, announced to eliminate the use of tobacco in Bangladesh by 2040.
As there is no visible initiative by the government following the announcement, agro-economist Dr Asaduzzaman has recommended a ‘quick action plan’. “We will have to intervene into tobacco trading if we want to control the sector,” he said. Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said, “We (government) don’t have any programme to cultivate tobacco. We haven’t asked anyone to cultivate tobacco.” -