Khulna’s vegetable growers frown over low prices
Vegetable farmers in Khulna are being unable to secure fair prices for their produce as the ongoing coronavirus crisis has disrupted the supply of these crops to different parts of the country, including Dhaka.
Besides, considering the restrictions on public movement and other measures in place to stem the spread of Covid-19, truck operators are demanding "unreasonably high" fares.
Sales plummeted as a result and although farmers are offering low rates in a bid to make ends meet, crops are being left to rot on many occasions.
"I am in a dire situation now as prices of all kinds of vegetables are so low that it does not even cover my production cost," said Hanif Morol of Kharnia village under Dumuria upazila.
"Now, local wholesalers are not buying vegetables as they are not coming due to the Covid-19 fallout and lockdowns in different places," he added.
Morol went on to say that vegetables were rotting in the croplands as most farmers refrained from harvesting large quantities at a time.
"Many local farmers are being forced to sell their vegetables at low prices as the demand has declined for the strict lockdown," said Aminul Islam of Golna village in the same upazila.
Like Moral and Islam, many vegetable growers in the region are facing similar hardships.
Wholesalers from different parts of the country are unable to travel to the region as transportation services have been halted as a part of measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
"So, vegetable growers are not getting fair prices. With the lack of sales, vegetables are going to waste now.
In some places, one kilogramme (kg) of cucumber is being sold for as low as Tk 5," Islam added.
Visiting at least 10 villages of Dumuria upazila yesterday, this correspondent found many farmers continuing to nurse their fields, albeit with pale faces.
Hundreds of them said they were reluctant to harvest their cucumber as its price was extremely low at the moment. Similarly, bitter gourd is being sold for around Tk 8-Tk 10 per kg.
Meanwhile, the gourds were seen being sold for about Tk 20 per kg in wholesale markets but it was retailing at Tk 35 per kg in Gallamary of Khulna city.
The same amount of the crop is being sold for half the price at Chuknagar, Atharomile and Kharnia bazar of Dumuria.
Pumpkin was being sold at Tk 15 per kg, eggplant at Tk 20 per kg, lady's finger at Tk 10 per kg, papaya at Tk 15 per kg, and long beans at Tk 25 per kg.
However, the prices of all these crops were almost fourfold higher in city markets across Khulna.
Almost all of the vegetable growers in nine upazilas of the district, including Dumuria, Rupsha, and Phultala, are at risk of losing their capital.
The farmers said cultivation of vegetables for the next season has become uncertain due to the shortage of revenue this season.
Dumuria upazila of Khulna has a nationwide reputation for producing seasonal vegetables. Beans, gourds, pumpkins and other vegetables are cultivated in 200 villages across the region.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Dumuria alone produces vegetables worth Tk 600 crore a year.
Around 64,000 families of the upazila are involved in agriculture. Farmers produce vegetables in 30,860 hectares of agricultural land in three seasons.
"Farmers in the southwestern region of the country have faced losses for two consecutive years now for a lack of buyers and transportation," said Pabitra Roy, a farmer of Khalashibunia of Batiaghata upazila.
Last year, when the government enforced a countrywide shutdown in the April-May period, many growers in the locality incurred losses for similar reasons.
"Seasonal vegetables such as eggplants, cucumbers, pumpkins, and many other crops are being wasted. Due to the lockdown, farmers are not being able to send their vegetables to various local markets," he added.
However, the situation has created a scope to make a good profit for middlemen, who buy vegetables at very low prices from local farmers and carry those to big cities and urban centers to sell those at high prices, according to Mosaddek Hossain, the agriculture officer of Dumuria.
"Many farmers are facing a difficult situation as they took loans from various NGOs," he added.
According to the DAE office in Khulna, different vegetables are being produced on 7,055 hectares of land in the district this year while 6,225 hectares in Bagerhat, 6,820 hectares in Satkhira, 2,415 hectares in Narail, and 32,000 hectares in Jashore have been brought under vegetable cultivation this season.
Farmers produced about 2.12 lakh tonnes of vegetables as of Sunday in four out of 10 districts in Khulna division this year, as per the DAE data.
"Farmers have already harvested about 49 per cent of their crops," said GMA Gafur, additional director of the DAE office in Khulna.
"The government needs to list the names of the affected farmers to encourage them to cultivate vegetables," he added.