'Camellia Khola Akash School' (Camellia Open Sky School), an innovative initiative of the Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB), is eying to create expert tea farmers, develop the skills of small-scale tea farmers and flourish tea cultivation in five northern districts including Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Nilphamary, Lalmonirhat and Dinajpur.
The school is a practical training programme beside most tea gardens, in open fields, for the marginalised tea farmers of different places.
With an aim to provide training facilities on tea cultivation process at the doorsteps of small growers, the Bangladesh Tea Board (BTB) is conducting training at different villages of these districts considering prospect of tea cultivation in northern region.
Through the school the growers can easily know the process of tea cultivation both in theory and practice, such as----selection of tea variety, setting up tea nursery, techniques of planting tea saplings, irrigation, drainage, applying fertiliser, pest management, pruning and plucking of tea leaves.
Dr Shamim Al Mamun, project director of 'Development of Small Holding Tea Cultivation in Northern Bangladesh', said that earlier BTB imparted training to small-scale growers at their Panchagarh office.
To expedite the training facilities, BTB started training on tea cultivation at different villages in the districts through 'Camellia Khola Akash School' from October 25 last year with the directive of BTB's Chairman Maj Gen Johirul Islam.
The name of the school is inspired by two factors, firstly, the scientific name of tea – Camellia sinensis and the training being conducted under open sky, Dr Shamim Al Mamun said.
'At least 32 workshops have been conducted at different unions in five Northern districts from October 25 to till today. On an average 60 growers took training in each class', he added.
The training is being conducted in union-level in each week. Following the surge of Covid-19 infection, the training is imparted using virtual platform.
About 1,510 registered and 5,800 unregistered growers will be provided training within the current year.
Golam Mostafa, 48, of Mujabarni village in Thakurgaon sadar upazila said, "Earlier we the people of northern region had no knowledge on tea cultivation. "The Camellia Khola Akash School is playing an important role for us as we are being able gather knowledge on the whole process of tea cultivation thanks to the school", Mostafa added.
He has cultivated tea on 12-acre of land gradually taking lesson from tea board officials and now he can nurture the tea field himself.
Matiar Rahman, 55, a large-scale tea grower of Sonapatila village of Atwary upazila of Panchagarh said he started cultivating tea on 5-acre in 2001 which now stands at 60 acres, said the tea growers of their locality can take care tea field properly after taking lesson from the school.
Previously, they could not understand what steps should be taken in case of pest attacks on the tea plants, now they easily manage pest attack and nourish the plants properly resulting in a good yield.
About 50,000 acres of land is suitable for tea cultivation in five northern districts -- Panchagarh, Thakurgaon, Lalmonirhat, Dinajpur and Nilphamari -- of which, 10,170 acres have been brought under cultivation by this season.
Tea plantation has expanded to 8,642 acres of land in Panchagarh, 1,293 acres in Thakurgaon, 112.96 acres in Lalmonirhat, 71.09 acres in Nilphamari, and 61.50 acres in Dinajpur.
Cultivation grew by 15 per cent per annum on average in the last five years in the northern part of Bangladesh.
Apart from 26 large gardens, there are 7,310 small-scale farmers who produce tea on their own.
Large gardens and small growers in the five districts have a target to produce 12 million kilogrammes of tea, worth Tk 180 crore, in the current season by processing 60 million kgs of raw tea leaves.
In 2020, tea was cultivated on 8,060 acres of land in the districts, and the target was to produce 9.5 million kg of tea.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the target was exceeded as 18 factories produced 10.3 million kg of tea by processing 50.12 million kg of raw leaves last year. The northern region accounted for about 12 per cent of national tea production in 2020.
"As the land in the northern districts is more fertile than that of Chattogram and Sylhet, growers can pluck leaves after a year of planting the saplings," said Mohammad Shamim Al Mamun, senior scientific officer of the regional office of the BTB in Panchagarh.