Abdul Gafur Sheikh from Sultanpur village of Palashbari in Gaibandha had no idea that growing weed would one day change his life.
But that’s what happened when, witnessing a high demand for good quality grass to feed livestock, he started Napier cultivation on his five decimal places of land in 2007 after training with from a local NGO. Immediate success led him to lease more land to expand cultivation.
Now, in over a decade, he has become a millionaire from a poor farmer. He also built a medium-sized beef farm with his profits.
In 2017, he received the President’s Award for his contribution to agricultural development.
Inspired by him, many people in the region are now involved in growing weed and changing their economic fortunes.
“I am now making between 2000 and 3000 Tk every day selling only Napier weed. There is already a demand for good weed in the area as there are many breeding farms nearby” , Abdul Gafur told Business Standard.
Aminul Islam Rintu, President of Palashbari upazila said, “Napier grass is grown on about 300 acres of land in different villages including Sultanpur, Baripara, Kishoregari, Prajapara, Bara Shimultala, Dighalkandi, Kashiabari of Palashbari upazila.
Not only in Gaibandha, farmers in other parts of the country are also growing these high-yielding grass varieties, including Napier, Pakchong, Red Pakchong, Para and Jumbo, developed by the Bangladesh Livestock Research Institute ( BLRI).
The Department of Livestock Services (DLS) is working to expand the cultivation of these grasses at the field level.
According to BLRI, Napier grass was first imported from India to Bangladesh in 1996. At first, it was given to Milk Vita for cultivation. The company has started growing this herb on its lands across the country. From then on, the cultivation of this grass gradually spread to Bangladesh.
Nathu Ram Sarkar, former managing director of BLRI, told The Business Standard: “BLRI gives different varieties of grass to farmers. The research of this institution has made a significant contribution to the cultivation of improved varieties of grass across the country. “
According to BLRI and DLS sources, the number of cattle ranching entrepreneurs in the country has increased in recent years. On the other hand, the production of natural grass has also decreased due to the gradual reduction of cultivable land. As a result, the market for these high yielding grass varieties has been created.
They said that many people have also been involved in the processing of these herbs besides cultivation. So far, about 200 companies across the country have been established in this regard.
However, the DLS does not have data on the total area of land on which these grasses are grown and the amount of grass that is processed.
Many farmers in Fakirhat upazila of Bagerhat have cultivated various improved varieties of grass.
According to the local livestock bureau, in the first five months of the current fiscal year, 105 farmers cultivated grasses such as Napier, Pakchang, Red Pakchang, Para and Jumbo on 10 acres of land in the upazila.
However, the actual amount of grass cultivation in the upazila is greater as many farmers cultivate it on their own initiative.
According to farmers, the cost of growing grass on one bigha of land is Tk 15,000-20,000. However, the grass grown on these lands could be sold for between 50,000 and 55,000 Tk. The grass becomes fit for mowing every six weeks.
Tanjir Hasan owns the largest commercial weed farm in Fakirhat. He grows Jumbo, Red Pakchang, Pakchang-1 and Napier grass on approximately five and a half acres of land.
“The weed is packed in a special process and stored in the warehouse due to high demand during the monsoon. The price of weed is relatively high in July and August,” Tanjir said.
Upazila Animal Resources Officer Puspen Kumar Sikder said, “There is no alternative to growing improved varieties of grass to meet farmers’ demand, as the number of pastures is decreasing by day by day. For this, we provide free improved grass cuttings to farmers. .”
“Aware of the commercial value of the grass, we sent a proposal to the authorities to create a marketing center. If the proposal is approved, the marketing hub will soon be set up,” he added.
According to BLRI, the institute has developed different varieties of grass suitable for local production, including Napier 1, Napier 2, Napier 3, Napier 4, Red Napier, Zara Napier, Pakchang.
According to the Livestock Department, in 2008-2009 the number of cows, goats, buffaloes and sheep in the country was 4.95 crore. In 2020-2021, the number increased to 5.63 crores of which 2.45 crores are cows.
Concerned people say that at one time, almost all rural families raised cattle and goats. But the number has declined in recent years. Most people now raise cattle and goats for commercial purposes.
Former BLRI Managing Director Nathu Ram Sarkar said, “Many people in the country are now engaged in commercial farming. On the other hand, natural grass production is low. That is why farmers are increasingly interested in growing grass.