Md Aiyub Khan, a farmer of Kollanpur char in Pabna’s Bera upazila, cultivated 10 bighas of land to produce 100 maunds of peanut, the only crop that can be grown on sandbanks.
“The land is not fertile enough to cultivate other crops. So, I cultivated peanuts expecting bumper production. I have already harvested five bighas but the Jamuna river is swelling up now and I am worried about whether I will be able to harvest the rest,” he said.
Md Manik Miah, a peanut farmer and trader based in the Nagarbari wholesale market, said farmers of the sandbar areas cultivate peanuts on the barren soil to earn a profit.
“Spending about Tk 4,500, farmers can easily earn Tk 15,000 to Tk 20,000 from one bigha, so peanut cultivation has brought smiles among the shoal farmers,” he told The Daily Star.
Manik cultivated peanuts on two bighas of land in the upazila’s Roghunathpur village last year.
This year though, he cultivated five bighas expecting to get a bumper production but he is worried about his harvest getting washed away with sudden floods.
Agriculture officials of Pabna and Sirajganj say farmers in the areas cultivate peanut on the vast sandbanks as their main money-earning crop.
A total of 2,100 hectares of unused shoals in Pabna was brought under cultivation this season with a production target of 4,500 tonnes of peanut, said Md Abdul Kader, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) office in Pabna.
Md Abu Hanif, deputy director of the DAE office in Sirajganj, said 5,160 hectares of sandbar was brought under peanut cultivation in the district to produce 12,000 tonnes of the crop, of which 77 per cent has already been harvested.
The shoals on the Jamuna river contain the appropriate portion of sand for peanut cultivation.
“As such, farmers have rushed to cultivate peanuts over the past few years due to the bumper profit. So the area used for peanut cultivation has also increased,” Hanif said.
At least 20 peanut processing factories have been established across the Nakalia, Nagarbari and Bandherhat points of Bera upazila.
They collectively process about 80,000 to one lakh maunds of raw peanuts every year due to the bumper output in Pabna and Sirajganj, according to Pabna DAE Deputy Director Kader.
“We buy peanut from farmers for processing at our factories to supply peanuts to big companies and the local market,” said Md Imdadul Haque, the owner of a peanut processing factory.
“We buy each maund for around Tk 2,200 and after processing, sell it for about Tk 2,800 per maund,” he added.
These peanut processing factories provide job opportunities for around 1,000 ultra-poor women in the region.
“Over 50 to 60 workers, most of whom are ultra-poor women, are working in my processing factory. They process 25 to 30 maunds of raw peanuts per day to earn Tk 180-Tk 200,” said Md Labu Miah, also a wholesale trader.
“We use to supply peanuts across the country from the Nagarbari wholesale market but the recurring lockdowns across the country over the past year has led to poor demand that worries traders,” he added.
“Due to the lockdown and alarming Covid situation, we are unable to sell last year’s stock while the new crop is coming into the market. So, we are worried about getting our cash back,” said Md Azizul Haque, a wholesale trader.
In 2020, Haque gathered a stock of over 500 maunds of peanuts buying each maund at Tk 2,800. Half of the stock has remained unsold.
However, at least five to eight trucks loaded with processed peanuts are being sent across the country every week, Haque added.