Tobacco farming poses threat to food security, public health in Bandarban

Tobacco farming poses threat to food security, public health in Bandarban

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Tobacco cultivation has started posing a serious threat to the food security and public health besides the environment in Chittagong Hill Tracts including Bandarban.In addition to motivating the farmers openly by offering incentives in cash and kind to cultivate tobacco the tobacco companies are doing a brisk business in this regard, said Khiating Soye, chairman of Rajbila Union Parishad under Sadar Upazila of Bandarban district.The farmers get money by selling dried leaves and the company purchases leaves from them and adjust the loans that they provide.
He was sharing views with a 22-member visiting team of senior journalists at Jamchhari village on Wednesday last.During the visit, the journalists’ team found massive tobacco farming in Jamchhari, Ruma, Lama, Alikadam, Thanchi, Nikhyangchhari, Rowangchhari and Sadar upazilas in Bandarban.Tobacco is also largely produced at Kaptai, Barkal, Rajasthali, Baghaichhari, Jurachhari, Longudu and Bilaichhari areas in Rangamati and at Dighinala, Mainee valley, Panchhari and Ramgarh in hagrachhari, the UP chairman added.
He said at least 60 to 70 thousand metric tonnes of firewood are being burnt in 2,000 tobacco processing kilns every year, causing depletion of reserve and natural forests, threatening environment and ecology in the hills, environmentalists said.Tobacco cultivation leaves a bad impact on the soil fertility and once tobacco is cultivated it’s difficult to grow other crops on the same land.Besides, the maternal reproductive health and health of the children are under severe threat for tobacco cultivation in the district Quoting the sources of Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), UP Chairman Soye said around 6500 farmers are involved with the tobacco farming in the CHT.Most of the farmers in the hilly districts have been losing their interests in cultivating indigenous crops like paddy, banana, maize, sesame, cotton, potato, pumpkin etc as they became defaulters of loans provided by tobacco companies, Nazrul Islam Titu, local correspondent of an electronic media, said.Farmers and labourers said staffs of tobacco companies offer lucrative amount of money as loans to trap them. Sometimes the companies provide them with bank loans for agriculture along with tobacco seeds, fertiliser, polythene bags and high-powered pesticides like Diaconal, fertilisers of BSP, BAP, FMC and SOB and DDT powder.
Meanwhile, farmers, experts and local leaders admitted that deforestation has been taking place in the hilly areas as huge woods are being used to make fire for processing the tobacco leaves. “Tobacco cultivation has increased in the last couple of years. For tobacco processing, huge amount of woods are burnt causing deforestation,” said Kamal Uddin, chairman of Bamo Bilchori Union Parishad in Lama upazila of the district.He said tobacco is cultivated on some 2,000-3,000 acres of land under his union every year and of the total inhabitants, over 80 percent are involved in cultivating tobacco.Kamal Uddin said: “When the tobacco is burnt, our kids cannot stay in classes due to illness.”It has been alleged that a group of illegal traders are active in the region supplying firewood to the burners operated by tobacco traders, right under the nose of the forest department.“There is no DAE’s farmers level cash and kinds incentives for tobacco cultivation in the CHT districts,” said Abul Kalam Azad, Additional Director of Chittagong DAE Zone.Taking part in different working sessions titled ‘Tobacco Control Workshop for Senior Journalists’ held in Bandarban Hillside Resort from May 6 to 8, the visiting journalists took a unanimous decision that they will stand besides the organizations who are engaged in anti-tobacco campaign.PROGGA and Anti Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) organized the trip in association with Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids and Bloomberg Philanthropies.BSS, Bandarban

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