Bodhkhana in Jessore’s Jhikargacha upazila looks like just another typical Bangladeshi village, where agriculture is a mainstay of the rural economy.
A closer look at some of the new farm practices being adopted will give one the idea of how shifting of simple agricultural technologies has made a big difference in the lives of Bodhkhana’s farming community.
Among these innovations, the uses of quality vegetable seedlings and advanced mulching techniques have emerged as game-changers.
Traditionally, vegetable farmers in the area had to dedicate significant time and effort to grow vegetables by sowing seeds or growing their own vegetable seedlings from home-saved seeds or seedlings purchased from the village market.
This process was laborious, time-consuming, and often yielded inconsistent results due to poor quality seeds, damage from heavy rains, and disease susceptibility.
However, many farmers have now turned to sourcing ready-to-plant seedlings from companies like Maxim Agro, an acclaimed seedling provider who produces vegetable seedlings in a controlled nursery environment.
The USAID-funded Feed the Future Bangladesh Horticulture, Fruits and Non-food Crops Activity supported Maxim Agro in improving nursery shed and seedling management including introduction of growing media (cocopeat), use of EC (electricity conductivity) meter for soil, improved greenhouse irrigation system, and market promotion for awareness raising.
All these contribute to Bangladesh’s food security objective by increasing the private sector capacity to increase productivity and production of quality horticulture, fruits, and non-food crops that meet domestic and international standards.
Md Ali Hossain, a national award-winning farmer for growing safe vegetables in 2016, who hails from this village, explained some of its many gains.
He said, when farmers grow seedlings from seed, it adds to the time between planting and harvest, while also requiring increased labour.
In addition, field planting of seeds leaves plants exposed to disease for longer periods.
“Now that we buy seedlings directly from Maxim Agro (a seedling-providing company), all the plants are uniform, of healthy quality, having better root systems allowing the vegetables to grow fast with the ability of proper food uptake from the soil. We’re getting increased productivity.”
By buying seedlings from Maxim Agro, he thought he was gainer in terms of getting a better cauliflower output last year and inspired many other farmers in the neighborhoods to go for it.
Aslam Hossain, who hails from nearby Barobakpur village holds a master’s degree in accounting from Jashore’s MM College and is pursuing farming as a career.
He is growing cauliflowers this season securing seedlings from Maxim Agro.
He said: “For me to grow my own seedlings means keeping the farmland occupied for a month and then there is no guarantee of getting 100% fully germinated healthy seedlings. But now I’m totally relaxed from one concern once I place the orders of my seedling requirements to Maxim Agro.”
According to Aslam, his current batches of seedlings are uniform in size and shape, disease-free, and have the capacity to withstand seasonal shocks of rain and heat.
What’s the magic
Jessore-based Maxim Agro’s Business Coordinator Amirul Khan explained: “We grow seedlings of many vegetables in special media with cocopeat in pots and trays under controlled environment of our net houses. These are healthy, resistant to many diseases, and fungi. The farmers who procure seedlings from us in one season, return to us placing orders for bigger consignments of seedlings.”
Cocopeat is the non-fibrous, spongy, lightweight, corky material that holds together the coir fiber in coconut husk.
It was in the early 1990’s that the horticultural use of cocopeat was discovered and the material demand has been on the rise ever since.
Amirul Khan showed this correspondent their production hub at Churamonkati in Jessore.
It was found that the Maxim staff were following a laborious and safe protocol to process cocopeat and other media (ingredients) and then grow seedlings of different vegetables in pots and trays under special sheds protecting those from heat, rain, and other natural shocks.
They also graft off tomatoes with eggplants, supplying farmers with better breeds resistant to diseases like wilting.
Tomato and eggplant are members of the same botanical family, Solanaceae, making them compatible with each other.
When farmers started sourcing seedlings from Maxim Agro, they no longer needed to worry about disease or damage, and they also did not need to keep lands occupied for seedling growing.
Depending on the varieties of different vegetables, it takes 15 days to 40 days to grow seedlings from seeds.
Nahid Hasan Chand, a farmer from Madnadanga in Meherpur district, said: “You never can harvest cauliflowers thrice a year and then grow potato too from the same land in one calendar year by managing to grow your seedlings too. But now as we’ve no headache of seedlings, we can do it and that makes our earnings increase.”
Farmers’ increased demand for Maxim Agro’s seedlings is now testing the capacity of its Meherpur seedling production facility.
Ashraful Islam, who looks after the facility, told Dhaka Tribune: “Here we can grow 300,000 seedlings at a time, but demands are there for more.”
Use of mulching films
Farmers in this southwest region are also gaining from the use of mulching films in their vegetable fields.
Mulching is the technique of covering the soil surface around the plants with an organic or synthetic mulch to create favorable conditions for the plant growth and proficient crop production.
Mulching gives higher yields and earlier crops. It is one of the most widespread agricultural techniques practiced worldwide in recent years.
It is no novelty for many Bangladeshi farmers who used to use organic mulches like compost, tree bark, wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, pine needles, straw, aged sawdust.
But with the changes of overall farming practices, rural lifestyle patterns etc., the practice of organic mulching is in the waning. More advanced farmers are now applying synthetic mulching films — that saves their crops from weeds, rain, heat, and other natural vulnerabilities.
Farmer Abdul Alim of Jessore’s Abdulpur village uses mulching films, sourced from Maxim Agro, to protect his vegetable field from weed infestation.
Asked about the cost effectiveness, he said using films for mulching is beneficial as once purchased the mulching films can be used up to three seasons and it saves lots of money, spent otherwise on spraying weedicides and on labour payments.
The introduction of these innovative agricultural practices, supported by the USAID-funded Feed the Future Bangladesh Horticulture, Fruits, and Non-food Crops Activity, has led to significant improvements in farm productivity and resilience to climate and weather changes.
As demand for quality seedlings, grafting plants, and mulching films continues to grow in Jessore and surrounding districts, companies like Maxim Agro are rising to the challenge, providing essential services to vegetable and fruit farmers.
These transformative advancements in greenhouse management and seedling production have resulted in the sale of over 6 million vegetable and fruit seedlings.
As Maxim Agro continues to flourish, it not only contributes to the bottom line but also plays a crucial role in supporting farmers and enhancing food security in Bangladesh.
The success of Bodhkhana’s vegetable growers, along with the growing demand for these modern agricultural services, underscores the potential for further expansion and the emergence of new service providers in the sector.
With continued support and innovation, Bangladesh’s farming community can look forward to even greater prosperity in the future.
The ability of Maxim Agro to generate and sell millions of properly hardened vegetable seedlings added to the company’s bottom line while providing an essential service to vegetable and fruit farmers.