A Touch of Sunshine

A Touch of Sunshine

Hundreds of farmers have found new hope in sunflower cultivation after salinity ruined their lands which lay fallow for years in the wake of cyclone Sidr

Yasmin Reema

Khorakata, Tafolbari and Gabtola are villages in the Shoronkhola upazilla of Bagerhat district under the Khulna division. These villages have vast fields, which are now adorned with beautiful bright yellow sunflowers. The scenery seems to be picturesque as if painted by an expert artist on his canvas. When the sun reflects on the face of these flowers it creates a magical yellow hue. A traveler passing through this road is bound to turn back at this eye-pleasing view. Some of the travelers who are admirers of great beauty stand beside these fields for a while and appreciate the breath-taking, sweeping scenery. However, incredible beauty is not the only special feature of sunflowers.  Production of sunflowers has given new hope to the devastated people of the coastal areas as it has helped them to improve their financial status. Due to climate change, farmers  of the northern areas including Bagerhat were very adversely affected as they incurred huge losses in rice cultivation. At that stressful time sunflower cultivation gave new hope to them. Vast areas of land in Bagerhat remained unused as they were unsuitable for crop cultivation due to being too salty. However, those unwanted fields are now very valuable to the farmers as they provide the ideal soil for sunflower cultivation. Bagerhat’s Shoronkhola and Morelganj upazillas were hit by the disastrous cyclone Sidr on November 15, 2007. Around 2011 commercial cultivation of sunflowers began in these areas. Initially, farmers along with the help of BRAC planted sunflower seeds on 58 acres of land on a test basis. The test results were encouraging and farmers enjoyed handsome profits. After this experiment more and more farmers became interested in sunflower cultivation as it promised them a decent living.  Over the years, sunflower production increased rapidly as women also started actively participating in sunflower cultivation since it requires very little time and money. So a number of villages including Khorakata, Tafalbari and Gabtola have committed vast areas to sunflower cultivation. These areas are now adorned with dazzling yellow sunflowers. These flowers have bright green leaves on their stems. Male and female farmers are taking constant care of these plants. Other upazillas such as Morelganj, Kachua and Chitolmari have started to engage their land in sunflower cultivation. In the current year, altogether 500 acres of land in Shoronkhola, Morelganj, Kachua and Chitolmari have been used for sunflower cultivation. An estimated number of 1,500 farmers are involved in this huge operation. Several farmers named Zamir Hossain, Akhter Mia, Shahidullah, Banu Bibi, Romhila Begum and many others informed that after the devastating Sidr hit all their landswith salinity, crops could not be cultivated, which is why these lands remained useless for years. Thus sunflower production on these lands came to them as a blessing. The previously useless lands are now worth a fortune to the farmers.  The farmers also informed that with three-and-a-half months of planting seeds, the sunflower plants are ready for extraction of new seeds. The farmers incur an expense of 20,000 taka to 22,000 taka for every acre. Every acre  produces 25 tons of seeds and each ton can be sold for 2000 taka. Thus 25 tons fetch the farmers 50,000 taka. On average a farmer can earn a profit of 25,000 taka to 27,000 taka profit from one acre. The farmers are planning to use more lands for sunflower cultivation on a larger scale next year. Regarding sunflower cultivation, Bagerhat’s agro-product expert Humayun Kabir Kislu said, “Small fruits bearing oil seeds grow from sunflowers. After going through several procedures, edible oil is extracted from these seeds. However the bad news is that till today the market for selling sunflower seeds in this area has not expanded. Moreover, there is no mill which can extract oil from sunflowers. As a result demand for this oil is yet to match production.”  If sunflower cultivation is carried out in a planned manner and mills are built to extract oil from the seeds and finally if this oil can be marketed countrywide then sunflowers alone will change the fortune of people in these villages, he added.  He spoke on behalf of the farmers when he urged the government to take necessary steps in this regard. Bagerhat Agriculture Extension Headquarters’ deputy-director Mr Hirendronath Howlader informed, “The soil of this coastal area is extremely suitable for sunflower plantation.  If the farmers can be provided with the right guidance and support, the rate of production will increase exponentially. The government should also take necessary steps to build permanent shops and mills which will extract the edible oil for mass marketing. Currently the farmers manually extract oil from sunflower seeds.” Maruf Parvez, who works for BRAC in the Bagerhat division, informed, “We have carried out several tests which suggest that the soil of this area is suitable for sunflower ultivation. We have taken up this project so that people who have lost everything to the disastrous Sidr can rise again on their feet.  This year in Shoronkhola, Morelganj, Kachua and Chitolmari altogether 848 male farmers and 66 female farmers have planted sunflowers in 500 acres of land. BRAC has partnered with them giving 7,500 taka for  every acre of sunflower cultivation”. On the other hand, large areas  of Shatkhira and Aila have also been used for sunflower cultivation. Abdul Malek, a farmer from Mahmudpur village in Shamnagar Upazilla, took financial support from BRAC and cultivated sunflowers on 1.5 acres of land. He purchased one kilogram of the best quality sunflower seeds from the local market for 1400 taka and planted them on his land.  His total cost of cultivating 1.5 acres was 10,000 taka and he sold his produce for 32,000 taka. Salam added, “In sunflower production income is much higher than expenditure. Moreover, pest attacks are also less. The local markets have high demand for sunflower seeds and oil. Every kilogram of sunflower oil is currently sold for 180 taka to 200 taka.” Another farmer named Nazibullah Sardar claimed that with proper guidance and support, his area could enjoy a boom in sunflower production. ¦


Published-01 December-2013 Weekly First News ,Dhaka


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