Amid a supply shortage of imported fruits -- that reportedly meets 60 percent of the country's demand, prices are rising in markets at the capital.
Importers say a large volume of fruits are stuck at the Chattogram Port as flight shutdowns have caused paperwork not reaching banks on time, that are required to release the consignments.
Until the beginning of this week, approximately 14,234 tonnes of apple, pears and orange and dates from South Africa, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE were stuck at the port, according to Bangladesh Fresh Fruit Importers' Association (BFFIA).
A similar amount of fruits was en route, and is supposed to reach the port by April 20, they added.
If these cannot be released soon, businessmen fear that the country will see a steep rise in fruit prices in Ramadan, when the fruit consumption usually goes up.
During last Ramadan, BFFIA statistics show about 7,000 tonnes of orange, 10,000 tonnes of apple and pears and 40,000 tonnes of date were imported.
About 35,000 tonnes of date are already in cold storage this year. BFFIA has ordered 5000 tonnes of orange, 8,000 tonnes of apple and pear and 6,000 tonnes of date targeting Ramadan this year.
Visiting local markets, this newspaper found the price of imported fruits already on the rise. In Jatrabari, one Kalim Uddin Ahmed was seen arguing with a fruit seller last week.
"Last week I bought orange at Tk 120 per kg. Now he is asking for Tk 160 for the same quality orange," he said.
Fruit seller Azimuddin said, "We're buying orange from wholesalers at high price. They tell us there is no orange in stock."
The price will increase further in the coming weeks, he added.
Visiting the capital's largest wholesale fruit market in Badamtali, the correspondents saw importers and businessmen passing relaxed time.
"Usually the road remains occupied with trucks from which labourers offload containers,"said Bijoy Mukherjee, owner of Tuktuk Enterprize.
He said the price of apple and oranges has already increased by Tk 40 to Tk 50 per kg.
The price was supposed to fall as the demand has decreased due to the virtual lockdown in the country, but it is increasing which is abnormal, said Sukumar Sarkar of SRS Group, a wholesaler.
SITUATION AT CTG PORT
Imported fruits and other perishables must be kept in reefer (refrigerated) containers that need electrical power.
Chattogram Port has a total capacity of reefer plugging for some 1,600 containers, port sources confirmed.
"The capacity is full with existing containers," said as official.
Contacted, BFFIA President Salimul Haque Essa said, "Now, about eight to 10 containers are released from the port every day, which is 60 to 70 usually."
DHL, the courier service used by suppliers, could not reach documents on time to banks here, and as a result the situation has worsened.
"The gridlock would be over if documents were delivered on time to banks and there was smooth clearance from the port," he said.
Claiming that imported fruit meets about 60 percent of total fruit consumption of the country, he further said truckers have increases the transportation fares, as the transport sector has also seen loss of business due to the shutdown.
Contacted, DHL customer service in Dhaka told the Daily Star that they could not reach the documents on time due to the closure of flights globally.
"In this context, we are not making any commitment to our customers too," a representative said, preferring not to be named.
Talking to the Daily Star, Director (Traffic) of Chittagong Port Authority Enamul Karim admitted the jam-packed situation in the port. Containers could not be released as importers failed to produce documents on time, he added.
IMPORTS FROM INDIA HALTED
On the other hand, a good amount of grapes, pomegranate and mandarin were supposed to reach consumers from India, but that is also uncertain due to border shutdown for novel coronavirus.
Md Rezaul Karim, assistant commissioner of Customs of Bhomra land port, told The Daily Star that they received a letter from the Indian C&F agents on March 25 that states that all kinds of goods import and export will remain suspended until further notice.
"We import five types of fruits through Beanpole port: lemon, pomegranate, grape, kinnow and orange. However, import has remained suspended after lockdown began in India, and we have no fruit truck reserved now," Mofizur Rahman Sazon, president of Benapole C&F Agent Association, told The Daily Star.