A few days back, on a sunny November morning, I went to Tingaon village in Habiganj's Madhabpur upazila. The rural areas of the country have changed a lot, while some are in process. For example, farmers used to come to the field in early morning as farm work usually starts in the morning. But now farmers arrive the field around 10:00am. Agricultural technology has made their life more comfortable and easy. However, it is a popular belief that there are plenty of fallow lands in Sylhet region. In other words, the people of this area are perhaps less attracted to farming. Nowadays, farming is going through a change there with increasing investment. Moreover, young farmers are becoming more interested in farming sector.
Today, we'll see how tomatoes can transform a village. Bodu Mia, a farm entrepreneur, was also with me during my visit to Tingaon village. I know Bodu for quite a long time. This man has a deep affection for farming and farmers. As I walked along the village road from the upazila headquarters, I saw fields with bamboo poles on both sides. Reaching a little closer, I saw tomatoes being cultivated here. Bamboo poles have been used to facilitate vertical farming of tomatoes. This method of farming seems to have changed the look of the farm. Those who regularly watch 'Hridoye Mati O Manush' (Soil & People in Heart) may remember that I have presented detailed documentaries on tomato farming and marketing in Sylhet region several times. Farmers were happy to see the bumper yield of tomatoes when its production increased. When they went to the market, they faced the inevitable crisis: lots of tomatoes without any price at all. I can still remember a vivid event where many farmers wasted their tomatoes out of fury as they could not sell per maund (40 kgs) of tomatoes at even Tk 20 (USD 0.24). One morning I came across another event with a difficult scene at Nimsa Bazaar in Cumilla. When summer tomato cultivation started in the Barind region of Rajshahi, there was a rush to ripen tomatoes using hormones across the country. It affected the markets all around the nation. I remember a few years back, I saw the administration's strict drive in Shariatpur. I have seen farmers being severely affected. But they know how to turn around. Farmers are now selling these tomatoes directly from the field at Tk 70 per KG (USD 0.83). They have wholeheartedly welcomed technology to their farming method. By adding it to their cultivation, farmers now expect to make more profit.
When I went to the field of Dulal Mia, a farmer from Tingaon village, the scorching heat of the sun was right on our heads. The silver mulching paper on the field was so shiny. I came to learn that tomatoes are being produced here all year round. Farmers are grafting tomato seedlings from the base of the Tit begun plant (Turkey berry). As a result, tomatoes are becoming more sustainable on one hand, and on the other, farmers are getting higher yields. In the last few years, the grafting method has changed the fortunes of hundreds of farmers in the area. According to the Department of Agriculture, tomatoes are grown on 4,500 bighas (1803 acre) of land in Habiganj, of which Madhabpur alone has 1,875 bighas (751 acre). Of these, the grafting method is being used in about 200 bighas (80 acre). Let me tell you one thing, the grafting method of vegetable cultivation started in the 1920s. It is very common, especially in the agricultural scenario in Japan and Korea, 71 percent and 54 percent respectively. Grafting methods became very popular in tomato cultivation in France and Italy in the 2000s. I remember going to the then Institute of Post Graduate Studies in Agriculture (IPSA) in Gazipur in the late 80s, now established as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University (BSMRAU), to cover their research on tomato grafting with Tit begun. Since both belong to the Solanaceae family, the grafting goes well in between them. Dulal, the farmer from Tingaon village, says grafted plants face fewer diseases, gives a high yield. Earlier, an ordinary tomato plant where 5 to 10 kg of tomatoes could be harvested now that very plant gives 25 kgs of tomatoes. Grafted tomato plants are water tolerant and do not rot even during heavy rainfall. Due to huge demand for seedlings, farmer Dulal has adopted the grafting technique himself.
Farmers are practising grafting method, keeping in mind the year-round demand for tomatoes. Earlier, tomato seedlings were usually planted in the Bangla month of Agrahayan and Poush. Chaitra was the production month. Now farmer prepares seedlings with the target of getting the vegetable for nine months, apart from the regular season of three months in a year. And in this method, you are getting double or more yield. Talking to another farmer Belal Hossain, I came to know that his life has changed by cultivating tomatoes. This would not have been possible without technology. Talking to another tomato farmer Syed Mia, I learned that he earns around Tk 3 lakh (USD 3540) a year from tomatoes. Previously, he used to earn only Tk 60,000 (USD 708) in a year. Sometimes the losses have to be counted. Yusuf Ali was in a state of complete deprivation. He got the mantra to become successful from tomato cultivation. Now he is doing much better than before. All the farmers say that one farmer has made a great contribution to the diversification and development of agriculture in this whole area. He is Bodu, a farmer and also a great organizer. He is a hundred percent passionate farmer. Bodu has a great inclination towards new crops and technology. He has played the role of an extension worker in motivating tomato growers through local grafting technology. The humble Bodu said, he learnt about organic farming from one of my Krishi Budget Krishoker Budget (Farmers' Voices in Budget) open-field sessions in Sylhet. Since then, he devoted himself to the field of organic farming. He understands that sustainable agriculture means organic farming. Fortunately, the farmers here are not only focused on crop production and profit, but they also have in mind the idea of producing safe food.
Tomatoes have changed the economy of Tingaon village and the days of the farmers. Farmers can buy five trucks of bricks by selling one truck of tomatoes today. I saw farmers no more live in the mud-house, they now have concrete buildings. This is real prosperity, this is development. As I said before, our farmers are now much more interested and aware in using technology, understanding the benefits of commercial farming and this is how they are moving onward to higher yields. Apart from Habiganj, this grafting technology of tomato has also spread in the surrounding districts. I would humbly request the agricultural research authority of Bangladesh to do in-depth research in developing tomato varieties and new technologies. As far as I know, BARI-8 variety of tomato is very popular among the farmers. If the seedlings that the farmer is making by grafting with BARI-8 and Tit begun could be developed by the research authority, then farmers would be able to save both time and extra land for making it. Farmers could benefit by producing other crops on the same land if they get the seedlings. I earnestly hope that agricultural research institutes will look into the matter and soon would be able to provide rain- and disease-resistant new tomato varieties to the farmers.