Cassava, known as shimul alu in Bangladesh, is gaining popularity as a root vegetable globally due to its rich nutritional content, including healthy carbohydrates and vitamin C. Additionally, it serves as a source of resistant starch, essential for various food processing and garment industries. Recognizing its potential, farmers in Sylhet are now embracing commercial cassava cultivation, effectively utilizing the otherwise vacant hilly lands.
Under the Kandal Crop Development Project by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), cassava has been cultivated on 200 bighas of land in Kulaura upazila, Moulvibazar. The farmers report promising yields, thanks to the suitable soil and weather conditions in the region.
Cassava cultivation in Kulaura upazila began domestically, and it is now a vital economic activity, benefitting both farmers and the local community. The crop is harvested between December and February, about five to six months after planting.
Polit Bhar, a farmer in Joychondi village, Kulaura upazila, dedicates 30 bighas of his land to cassava cultivation under the DAE project. With each bigha yielding up to 20 kilograms of cassava, he can earn about Tk 6 lakh. The cultivation process requires minimal care after sowing, making it cost-effective.
Beyond its roots, the leaves of cassava plants have multiple uses—they can be consumed as vegetables, serve as organic fertilizers, or used as animal feed.
The positive impact of cassava cultivation extends beyond the farmers. Monwara Begum, a day laborer in the region, highlights that the expansion of cassava cultivation has opened up new employment opportunities for locals.
To meet the significant demand for cassava in the country, initiatives are underway to expand cultivation and reduce import dependence. Last year, 2,000 tonnes of cassava were grown on 675 acres of land in Sylhet. This year, the cultivation target is set at 900 acres.
PRAN-RFL Group, since 2014, has been actively encouraging cassava cultivation through contract farming and supporting subsistence farmers with training, financial incentives, agricultural inputs, and low-cost seeds. As a result, farmers in hilly areas are showing increasing interest in cassava cultivation.
This year, cassava has been cultivated in various districts with the assistance of PRAN-RFL Group, including Rangamati, Khagrachari, Sylhet, Habiganj, Moulvibazar, Tangail, Mymensingh, Jamalpur, Comilla, and Bramanbaria. PRAN aims to harvest at least 20,000 tonnes of cassava from 6,000 bighas of land this year, with plans to further increase cultivation for higher yields next year. Their overall cassava cultivation target is set at 8,000 bighas till March, with expected yields of at least 25,000 tonnes.
After harvesting, cassava starch is processed at the Habiganj Industrial Park. The starch finds wide application in various industries, including garment and pharmaceuticals. PRAN-RFL Group primarily utilizes 60 percent of the starch for its bakery, confectionary, noodles, and glucose units, while the remaining 40 percent is supplied to other industries.
Mokhlesur Rahman, the director of the Kandal Crop Development Project, emphasizes that adopting balanced and nutritionally rich eating habits can lead to increased income and better treatment of complex diseases. Currently, local production of starch powder meets only 2 percent of the demand, with the rest being imported, incurring an annual cost of about Tk 4,000 crore.