Vegetables worth $20 million are exported from Chattogram to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain every year
Salauddin, a farmer in Chattogram's Mirsarai area cultivates vegetables on an acre of land. His land is filled with kakrol (spiny gourd), borborti (long bean), jhinga (luffa), chichinga (snake gourd), and lau (bottle gourd), but sales of vegetables has almost halted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Salauddin invested Tk1 lakh in his farm and was expecting to sell the vegetables for Tk2.5 lakh. But his produce is rotting in the field as he cannot find any wholesale buyer right now.
He said, "I supplied vegetables to several wholesalers who sent the goods to different parts of the country and exported them abroad. When I contact the buyers now, they say that export of vegetables has stopped and they cannot send them to different districts as there is no means of transport."
Thousands of farmers in different upazilas across Chattogram district are facing the same problem.
Vegetables grown in Chattogram are usually sent to Middle Eastern countries through Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattagram. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, exports have been halted since the last week of March.
Forkan Rubel, general secretary of the Chattogram Vegetable Exporters Association, said, "Every year vegetables worth $20 million are exported from Chattogram to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain."
"The season starts from March, but vegetable export stopped this year just when the season started as there is no flight due to the coronavirus outbreak. So, we are totally cut off from a $20 million market."
He also said 15 companies in Chattogram export vegetables. At least 200 people work in these firms, all of whom are jobless now.
Rubel said there is a facility to export vegetables through chartered flights from Dhaka, and demanded to get a similar facility in Chattogram.
Shaibal Kanti Nandi, an official of the Shah Amanat International Airport, said around 3,000 tonnes of 59 types of vegetables are exported through the airport every year. Most of the goods are exported from March to September. This year the export stopped at the very beginning, and there will be no export of vegetables till flights resume again.
Md Akhtaruzzaman, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension in Chattogram, said that they targeted growing vegetables on 23,230 hectares of land in Chattogram in the 2019-20 financial year, and succeeded to do that in 27,076 hectares. Twenty tonnes of vegetables were grown on each hectare of land.
"Now the season for growing winter vegetable – from October to April – is almost over and the time of summer vegetables is starting," said Akhtaruzzaman.
He also said that they had targeted growing vegetables on 12,000 hectares land in summer, and have already produced vegetables on 7,000 hectares.
Some vegetable farmers in Northern Chattogram, said borboti was supposed to sell at Tk70 per kilogram, kakrol at Tk70 per kilogram, and jhinga at Tk80 per kilogram. But they could not sell them at even half the expected price at the local market as there was no wholesale buyer.
Md Yusuf, one of the farmers, said, "We produce vegetables with borrowed money. I don't know if we can repay the loans this year. We bear our family expenditure with the profit we make by selling these vegetables. We will be in trouble for the rest of the year because of the loss we suffered."
All the farmers across the district are having the same problem as there was a bumper growth of winter vegetables, which were supposed to be sold at the local markets and exported to Middle Eastern countries.
A big wholesale market has developed in Patiya upazila as the farms there usually yield a huge amount of vegetables. Most of these vegetables are brought to Chattogram markets through roads and waterways. Transactions worth Tk50 lakh is usually done in this market every day. In the wholesale markets in Southern Chattogram, sales of vegetables per day exceeded Tk1 crore. This year the yield was the same, but the amount of sales were different due to the novel coronavirus situation.
Vegetable farmers in the area said shim (bean), borboti, lau, missti kumra (pumpkin), tomato, lal shak(red spinach), kopi shak and other vegetables grew in large quantities. But, they were forced to sell them for a low price, as the vegetables were perishing in the farms and markets.
Abul Kashem, a wholesaler in Patiya, said that he has never faced such a situation and losses in the last 35 years.
Razzak, a farmer in Patiya, said he had to sell his produce at very low prices as there is a long government holiday, and there is no way of preserving the vegetables in the cold storage during this period of shutdown. More than 100 tonnes of vegetables were being sold in the Kamal Munshir Haat area, but the farmers there were not benefitting from it.