During the rainy season, when vast cropland in the low-lying areas go underwater, hundreds of underprivileged people in Sreenagar and Sirajdikhan upazilas of Munshiganj district make their living by plucking water lilies from Arial Beel.
Arial Beel, the third largest wetland in Bangladesh covering an area of 136 square km, provides livelihood to over 500 families in the area. For about two months during monsoon, the families make a living by selling water lilies that naturally grow around the water body.
The water lilies are sold wholesale at various points of Arial Beel in Sreenagar upazila including Gadighat, Alampur, Sholghar, Hansara, Baraikhali. Apart from this, they are also sold in Roshunia, Imamganj, Chormardan, Latabdi and other places on Sirajdikhan-Nimtala road.
Workers gather boats full of water lilies all morning and gather at these spots where wholesalers come and buy them. They are later exported to different parts of the country.
“Although this year the amount of water lily in the beel is less compared to the previous years. It did not rain much in the past few weeks. I assume more lilies will grow when it rains,” said water lily collector Noor Hossain of Alampur area.
Another water lily collector Sumon Khan said during monsoon, there is not much work in the area for day workers.
“The depth of water in the beel is now about six feet. Collecting water lilies does not require any capital. Hence, many people like me get involved in collecting and selling water lilies in monsoon,” he added.
Other workers Noor Hossain, Amir Hossain, Shajahan, Delwar Hossain and Balai Ram from the same area provided similar information.
According to them, each collector earns about Tk 600-1,000 per day by selling water lilies. Per bundle consisting of 80 water lilies is sold for Tk 18-20 wholesale rate.
Workers Moazzem, Md Mosharof and Md Hossain of Gadighat area said more than 50 families in the village make an additional income during monsoon by collecting and selling naturally grown water lilies alongside fishing in Arial Beel.
Depending on rain, water lilies start blooming around the Bengali month of Jyaistha and are available until Karthik.
Due to their huge demand as a vegetable, people from other upazilas of the district also collect and sell water lilies found in their nearest pond.
According to farmer Chan Mia of the area, wholesalers buy and take truckloads of water lilies to various vegetable wholesale markets including Karwan Bazar, Jatrabari, Shyambazar in Dhaka.
Mallik Babu, water lily collector of Charnimtala in Sirajdikhan upazila, said it is an additional income opportunity for marginal people in the area during monsoon.
“I can collect about 1,500-2,000 water lilies every morning. As wholesalers buy them directly from us, there is no additional transport cost,” he said adding that, this earns him about Tk 1,000 per day.
Over the past few years, this business has gained a lot of popularity in the district. Many are now becoming self-reliant with the extra money earned from this.
Sirajdikhan Upazila Agriculture Officer Md Abu Saeed Shuvro said water lily is in high demand as a vegetable during monsoon for its taste and affordable price.
“Water lily is a safe vegetable free from pesticides and chemical fertilisers. about Tk two crore worth of water lily is sold from Sirajdikhan upazila alone,” he added.