British American Tobacco Bangladesh’s promotion of technologies and practices, such as integrated farm management, is bringing benefits to farmers, the country and the environment.
Productivity in Bangladesh’s agriculture has increased dramatically in just a few decades
and the sector has been transformed. While much of this development has been driven by the government and farmers, many of the changes in agriculture are the result of excellent work done by private-sector entities like British American Tobacco (BAT) Bangladesh — a company that has been focusing on improving overall farming productivity, whilst also protecting the environment.
BAT Bangladesh has been operating in the country since 1910 and believes it has a key role to play in helping the farming community to develop practices that achieve economic, social and environmental benefits. It is committed to promoting integrated farm management — a system that delivers sustainable agriculture through technologies and practices — which the company aims to achieve through its long-standing relationship with around 35,000 Bangladeshi farmers.
The company also strives to educate farmers on proper farm safety and compliant labour practices, including equal pay and zero tolerance of child labour. By working with BAT Bangladesh, the agricultural sector benefits from a $85-million annual spend on agricultural research and development by its parent company, British American Tobacco plc.
Its innovations start with the seed variety. BAT uses state-of-the-art breeding technology for the development of hybrid varieties with higher yields, better qualities and other attributes, such as disease resistance. In 2015-16, Bangladeshi farmers harvested the same amount as in 2012-13, whilst using 25% less land, through the cultivation of hybrid varieties.
In terms of growing crops, the increased use of bio-fungicides (Trichoderma) in seedbeds and popularising the use of pheromone traps for insect control in the main field has helped minimise the use of agrochemicals, reducing cost and protecting the environment. Zero tillage technology deployed for the cultivation of tobacco as a relay crop with paddy has provided a breakthrough in improving the farm productivity, soil conservation and decreased the tobacco cultivation duration as well. Whilst the introduction of fuel-efficient curing technologies that use alternative fuels like jute sticks, briquettes and other agricultural waste has reduced dependency on wood fuel by 80%. Another benchmark initiative from BAT Bangladesh is to support farmers in green manuring and the composting of household waste to conserve soil health and minimise the impact of climate change on soil fertility. Tobacco is a cash crop through which a farmer can attain the highest possible income due to the guaranteed market. This is because the price is predetermined by the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, after detailed discussions with the farmers, relevant government representatives and industry.
Along with its profitability, farmers prefer to cultivate tobacco because the crop rotation involved boosts soil productivity; it requires a significantly lower dose of fertilisers than other crops such as rice, maize and potato; and the cultivation season does not overlap or conflict with the production of other major food grains. In 2018, Bangladeshi farmers experienced bumper yields of food and vegetables all over the country, including in the tobacco-growing areas — confirmation that tobacco cultivation does not impact soil quality. It is also worth noting that, at $60 million, tobacco is Bangladesh’s third-largest agricultural export commodity.
BAT Bangladesh has set up 75 integrated pest management (IPM) clubs, in collaboration with the government’s Department of Agricultural Extension. Through these clubs, farmers receive advanced knowledge and skills training for using bio-fungicides and environmentally friendly pest control methods, such as pheromone traps and bird perching, along with many other things, which they can use for their entire crop portfolio. To date, 34,000 farmers have been trained through the IPM Clubs and 93% of them have adopted these approaches.
“I have received training not only for tobacco cultivation but also in many other important aspects of farming for all other crops, for example, IPM, integrated crop management, integrated farm management components, farm labour compliance and safety. This sets me apart from other farmers. If all the farmers get such training, it will have a greater positive impact on our communities,” says a progressive tobacco farmer from Manikganj.4
BAT Bangladesh has also reduced the amount of water its farmers use, by ensuring polytube irrigation systems that control the volume of water and prevent wastage. To promote awareness amongst the farming communities about the importance of diversity, the company has established 75 biodiversity corners around the country and additionally distributes four million tree saplings free of cost every year, which are a mixture of fruit, timber and medicinal plants.
BAT Bangladesh encourages farmers to increase their production of other agricultural products, including horticulture crops, poultry and livestock. This enables its farmers to get the most from their lands, increase the income they can generate and diversifies any risk across seasons and crops. The company employs a team of trained field technicians who visit farms and farmers at every stage of the growing cycle. The field technicians provide support, advice and training, and gain unique insights into the challenges at the grassroot level. These insights are used by the company to help develop better solutions for the future. Such actions from the company not only helps the community but also supports the government in attaining its national goals. These approaches directly compliment the United Nations’ sustainable development goals numbers 11 and 12. It is evident from these activities that BAT Bangladesh is constantly striving towards new and innovative ways to implement and adapt sustainable agricultural approaches.