Demand for high-value crops tumbles | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 20, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:54 PM, December 20, 2020

Demand for high-value crops tumbles

Farmers who cultivate high-value crops such as broccoli, lettuce and avocado have seen their sales drop by about 50 per cent due to the Covid-19 fallout.

Winter is the main growing season for high-value crops, and a lot of produce has already arrived in the Dhaka and Chattogram markets.

However, these vegetables are being sold by street vendors and local kitchen markets at lower prices amid low demand.

According to vegetable traders in the capital, high-value crops mainly come from Savar, Gazipur, Munshiganj, Chattogram, Bhola and Bogura.

The produce is sold to high-end restaurants and hotels that cater mostly foreigners.

Kobbad Hossain Ovi, a 36-year-old farmer from Dokkhin Mitka village under Dhaka's Savar upazila, invested about Tk 70 lakh to Tk 80 lakh to cultivate various high-value vegetables on 200 bighas of land this season.

But when the outbreak began in March, sales dropped 90 per cent as the country's hotels and restaurants were closed.

"I used to register sales of Tk 20-25 lakh each month during the pre-pandemic period, but now, I sell just Tk 10 lakh per month," Ovi said.

His annual sales were Tk 1.80 crore in 2019, but if the situation worsens due to the Covid-19, he would have to count losses of over Tk 50 lakh this year, he added.

Ovi went on to say that he did not receive any form of incentive or support from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) to cope with the ongoing crisis.

When contacted, Rafiqul Islam Bhuiyan, deputy director of the DAE Dhaka office, said that the organisation does not provide any such incentives for farmers who cultivate foreign vegetables.

Similarly, Mostafizar Rahman, a farmer of Songkorpur village under Bogura's Shibganj upazila, has been cultivating foreign crops since 2003.

He used to make a profit of around Tk 10 lakh on his harvest, but this year, he has had to count losses of Tk 30,000-Tk 40,000 each month amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The demand for various spices and vegetables dropped about 40 to 50 per cent due to the pandemic.

"Therefore, I am left to count my losses, and if the situation continues for long, I will have to give up on growing foreign crops," Rahman said.

Abu Taher, a farmer of Khaskandi village under Munshiganj's Sirajdikhan upazila, said that he has more than 60 permanent workers that have been paid regularly even amid the current crisis.

"But I have already lost Tk 40 lakh due to the sharp decrease in demand," Taher said.

Ansar Ali, a renowned farmer of Bogura's Shibganj upazila, used to cultivate foreign crops on 30 bighas of land, including six varieties of capsicum, broccoli, Shimla chilli, asparagus and Iceberg lettuce.

But this year, he could cultivate foreign crops on just 15 bighas of land due to the low market demand. Besides, repeated flooding following inclement weather damaged a lot of his crops.

"Due to the wetland, I could not cultivate vegetables on time. Due to the coronavirus, rains and floods, I have had to count losses of Tk 10 lakh since the pandemic hit the country," Ali said.

He said if they had cold storage facilities in the area, they could have at least stored the vegetables until they got better prices.

Osman Ali, a foreign vegetable vendor of Dhaka's Karwan Bazar, said that foreigners are the primary consumers of the high-value crops.

But the number of foreign tourists in Bangladesh has fallen due to the pandemic and therefore, so has the sale of foreign vegetables, he said.

There are 28 foreign vegetable vendors in Karwan Bazar, and before the coronavirus arrived on the shores of Bangladesh, they had sold around Tk 20-25 lakh worth of vegetables each day. Now, sales have dwindled to around Tk 15 lakh although this is the peak time of harvesting, traders said.

"Before the coronavirus, I used to sell foreign vegetables worth Tk 4 lakh per month. Now, I make about Tk 2 lakh," Ali said.

Green capsicum was worth Tk 250 per kilogram while the red and yellow varieties were Tk 450 per kg before the outbreak. Currently, they retail at Tk 100 and Tk 250 respectably.

Another trader in the Riaz Uddin Market in Chattogram said that he used to sell 150 kg of foreign vegetables daily during the pre-pandemic period. The amount has since decreased to 50 kg.

"Before the outbreak, many top-class businessmen and foreign delegates would visit our hotel. Their presence has dropped by at least 70 per cent," said Sonjoy Bhowmick, a senior executive of sales at the Peninsula Chittagong.

"So, we do not purchase as many foreign vegetables as we did in the past since local guests usually don't eat them."



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