Mango farmers and orchard owners fear sales of the summer fruit will not gain momentum this year amid the coronavirus pandemic
Mango farmers in four north-western districts said they will incur a loss if the ongoing shutdown to curb virus spread is prolonged.
The lockdown has slashed people's income. If the restrictions on movement continue, mango farmers in Chapainawabganj, Naogaon, Natore and Rajshahi will find it very difficult to transport their products.
At present, mango farmers in the north-western districts are busy with last minute care of the fruits before the harvest.
A sizeable number of mangoes will start ripening from the second week of May. Since the fruit is quite perishable, it cannot be stored, and sales of different varieties usually conclude in one month.
Abdur Razzak, a seasoned mango farmer of Rajshahi, said he has taken lease of 1,200 trees this season. The yield looks good so far, and the total production is expected to surpass that of the previous year if the weather remains favourable until the last moment.
"We had dull sales last season, and we hope to recover this year. But the pandemic has jeopardised everything," said the farmer.
The main economic activities for farmers in Chapainawabganj, Naogaon, Natore and Rajshahi are mango production, marketing and sales. Several lakh people are involved in it and therefore Rajshahi is often called the "mango capital".
According to the Rajshahi office of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), greater Rajshahi has 2.59 lakh mango farmers and orchard owners, while another 1.31 lakh people are involved in mango trade, supply and marketing.
Rajshahi's Bagha upazila mango farmer Altaf Hosen said the restriction on movement will hamper mango harvesting and transportation to different regions.
The seasonal workers who harvest the mangoes will not be able to come.
"Who would dare do the mango business in Dhaka or Chattogram after collecting the fruits in bulk from Rajshahi in this pandemic? Customers will either be too scared of getting infected if they come out to buy the fruit, or they will not be able to afford it because their income has dropped drastically during the lockdown," Altaf added.
The DAE said 8.31 lakh tonnes of mango was produced last season in the four districts. This year the production target has been raised to 9.38 lakh tonnes as more land has been used for cultivation.
This year's mango business will surpass Tk4,000 crore if the production meets the target.
"This year we are uncertain whether the production will return our invest," Naogaon mango farmer Shahjahan Ali said. He has 2,000 trees and he has sprayed pesticide several times from budding to ripening of the fruit.
"A single spraying costs Tk15,000 to Tk20,000," said the mango farmer.
Shamsul Haque, the deputy director of the Rajshahi DAE said, "As the weather has been favourable so far, we expect a bumper yield this year."
He however agreed that the growers will be in trouble if the situation does not normalise.
Sudhendra Nath Roy, the additional director of the Rajshahi DAE, said there is no bar on transportation, sale and distribution of agro-products.
"But as there is a pandemic out there, farmers' fear of loss is not illogical," he noted cautiously. Roy said the government does not have any separate plan or stimulus package for mango growers.
Rajshahi Divisional Commissioner Md Humayun Kabir Khandaker told The Business Standard that they were working on a plan to cover mango growers.
"The DCs of the four districts have been instructed to support mango transportation, supply, distribution and marketing," he concluded.