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Tobacco processing gobbles up forests in Cox’s Bazar hills

Zainul Abedin , a fisherman at Chakaria in Cox’s Bazar, worries when the hills erode and come crashing down to fill up the Matamuhuri River.





It adversely affects his income.

But why the hills eroding and chunks of it come crashing down ever so often!

“That happens when you hack down trees on the hills for processing tobacco” Zainul replies to a question.

“That’s why we don’t get fish near tobacco fields,” he added.

The fisherman said he often fail to catch fish worth even Tk 30 on some days.

Other locals agreed with Zainul and blamed tobacco processing on relentless cutting of trees.

Tobacco and deforestation

A Tobacco Atlas report has blamed tobacco cultivation for 31 percent deforestation in Bangladesh.

Half the forests in south-eastern districts of Bangladesh have been lost to tobacco cultivation in the past century, according to Centre for International Forestry Research.

Chakaria resident ‘Mahbub’ said tobacco cultivation has destroyed the forests on the sides of the rivers Matamuhuri and Sangu.

Mahbub had once been known as ‘Pata Mahbub’ (the word ‘Pata’ denotes tobacco leaf in the area) for introducing tobacco cultivation in the area in the early 1980s.

He said he left tobacco cultivation after experiencing its negative impact on the forests.

“We had countless foxes, deer, monkeys, boars in the forests. Now there is nothing,” Mahbub said.

According to non-government organisation Ubinig, tobacco was cultivated on 4,000 acres of land in Chakaria in 2012.

Tobacco output from two acres of land need 10 tonnes of wood to burn for processing the tobacco leaves.

So around 20,000 tonnes of wood was needed for burning to process the tobacco cultivated that year.

A total of 3,838 acre was used for tobacco cultivation in Cox’s Bazar in 2014-15 fiscal, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics says.

The tobacco planters have not left the hilly forests next to Chakaria.

The Department of Agricultural Expansion reports tobacco cultivation was introduced in the hilly districts after 1960s.

Anti-tobacco organisation Progga says around 6,000 furnaces to dry up tobacco leaves were set up in Bandarban in 2014.

The organisation, referring to the Export Promotion Bureau, says Bangladesh exported tobacco worth $7 million in 2005-06 fiscal.

The earnings from exporting tobacco rose to $ 47 million in 2013-14 fiscal year, indicating a huge rise in cultivation.

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