In February last year, when there was no sign of spread of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, I received a phone call from a farmer named Zahid Hasan from Mymensingh's Bhaluka. The caller in his local dialect said, "I am Zahid. I would be very happy if you could come and visit my lemon orchard one day." I learned more about Zahid's orchard and promised him to visit his orchard very soon. It is unfortunately for the world and Bangladesh, coronavirus started spreading and Bangladesh felt a heavy impact. Every plan was ruined. The country went through lockdown and so came the quarantine period. A whole year had gone by in uncertainty. At the end of February this year, Zahid came to my mind. I had promised him to visit his orchard but couldn't make it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I called Zahid and asked him whether he has lemons in his orchard. "What are you saying, my orchard has become even bigger; you just visit my orchard and see it with your own eyes," replied Zahid. Bhaluka isn't far from Dhaka. Generally, I go out to film early in the morning and in early March this year, I started for Zahid's lemon orchard.
Lemon cultivation has significantly expanded in our country in the last 15 years or so. In the past, there was not much demand for lemons. It was better to have one slice of lemon during the lunch or dinner time. However, when a guest used to visit any rural village, it was a tradition to greet him or her with a glass of lemonade (lemon juice) first. Now everything have changed and no one thinks of greeting guest with lemonade. Electricity is everywhere, practically in every village. The financial state of the people has also improved and now many have a refrigerator at their village homes. Many people are selling soft drinks at the rural market. So, whenever someone visits the village, she/he is welcomed with soft drinks instead of lemonade. So the question is how did the demand for lemons increase?
If we look at the 80s, we'll see people in our country started having tea at an increasing rate. But, the demand for lemon tea had increased a lot over the years, especially in the city. We can say lemon returned to life once again in the city areas. Due to the increased demand of lemon, its cultivation also started increasing gradually. Later, when people became health-conscious they started drinking lemonade even more than in the past. In this perspective, demand for lemon increased. However, even before last year, lemons were sometimes sold at a nominal price on the sidewalks of the capital as lemons would come in plenty at the market. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a substantial demand for lemons. It was known from the beginning of the spread of coronavirus that you need to take a lot of Vitamin C to protect yourself from this pandemic. Those who will be infected with the deadly virus must intake plenty of Vitamin C. As a result, the demand for lemons increased instantly. Speaking of now, the price of lemons in the country has gone up further after the second wave of COVID-19. Four lemons are being sold for Tk 40 to Tk 50 (USD 0.47 to USD 0.59). The price of lemon varies on the variety.
Let's share some milestones of lemon cultivation in our country. I remember Ibrahim Sarker established a lemon orchard at Char Raghurampur in Mymensingh in the 90s. At that time, no one could have imagined commercial lemon cultivation in the Mymensingh region. Ibrahim was a confident farmer. His success story was first captured in 2003 during the first filming of Hridoye Mati O Manush (Soil & People in Heart). Ibrahim passed away almost 15 years back. His dream of lemon cultivation had spread far and wide in the entire Mymensingh region. I also remember the story of the unimaginable success of farmer Mainuddin of Char Nilakshia village. Not only Mainuddin, but many people like him have also changed their fortunes by cultivating lemons. In my various news reports, I have highlighted the news of the expansion of lemon cultivation in different areas including Mymensingh's Fulbaria and Muktagachha upazilas. Lemon cultivation has also expanded in Tangail and Narsingdi.
Dear readers, you may remember, a few days back, I worked on the lemon orchard of Chasha (Farmer) Aziz at Shaliyaboho village in Tangail's Ghatail upazila. Aziz also mentioned some of his new plans for lemon cultivation. He told me that due to the coronavirus pandemic, he could make a huge profit from lemon and had increased its cultivation.
Shortly after the morning sun appeared, I reached Tamat village in Bhaluka. Zahid, the lemon entrepreneur, was eagerly waiting for me. A 30-year-old young man with a wide smile on his face, greeted me with a lemonade. Zahid's face was filled with rural simplicity. He was so excited to have me at his orchard. "Let's go to your lemon orchard Zahid; don't get busy as I am here; I came here to visit your great work, so let's go," I requested Zahid.
Looking at Zahid's lemon orchard, I could understand that the paddy fields have turned into lemon orchards. Many farmers are now leaning towards alternative crops as they are not getting profit from paddy cultivation. Zahid said all the lemons in his five acre orchard are seedless. The more I walked along the orchard path, the more I had to be amazed. Each tree, full of lemons. Even the bamboo poles couldn't carry the weight of the lemons, produced from a single tree. Zahid continued to tell me the story of his lemon orchard. Even a decade ago, Zahid fought with extreme poverty. "Due to lack of money, I returned empty-handed many times without buying anything at all from the market," shared Zahid. An episode of Hridoye Mati O Manush has changed Zahid's world and he decided to cultivate lemons. From then on, Zahid never looked back for a single time since then. Lemons gradually changed Zahid's fortune. Zahid was saying with tears in his eyes, "There was a time when there was no food at my house, but today I have everything."
"How much profit did you had last year?" I asked Zahid.
"It will be around Tk 30 lakh (USD 35408)," Zahid replied.
I was so amazed and happy to hear this. Even then I did not know that a bigger surprise was waiting for me. Zahid said, "About 20 to 40 people work in my garden throughout the year. I need to pay Tk 22,000 (USD 260) to the workers every day. I wanted to know, why so much money? He said he sold 600 thousand lemon saplings last year. And this year he is on a mission to make 20 lakh lemon saplings. That is why he has to pay them more as they are working on a larger scale. I realized that Zahid was getting more money by selling lemon saplings than lemons. Zahid said he sold saplings worth Tk 1.2 crore (USD 141635) last year. Although, there were production costs, the profit was way too large.
"Starting from zero, you have turned into a millionaire Zahid," I congratulated him.
Zahid bought more land in the meantime and now he has a total 10 acre orchard, 5 acre dedicated for malta and orange, and 5 acre for lemon.
Zahid is a symbol of change to many of Tamat village. He has inspired countless people to plant lemons. I talked to some local farmers. A farmer named Zahir has also built a lemon orchard and nursery at Tamat. After finishing his studies, he is no longer looking for a job. Not just Zahir, many others like Rafique and Masud have also succeeded in establishing lemon orchards and good profits out of those. Dear readers, I say prosperity lies in farming.
Evidence of this can be found in Zahid's lemon orchard. After seeing his orchard, I went to Zahid's home. He built a big house. As soon as I entered the house, I could see the signs of prosperity in Zahid's home, as well. He has a TV, refrigerator and other fancy stuff at his home. I had lunch with him where he gave me lemons from his orchard. It was so luscious and the smell was really good.
The success of an agro-entrepreneur lies in the initiative to meet the demands of the market and also the time. Zahid Hasan has not only ensured his success, but he has given birth to a revolution in lemon cultivation. I believe that many young entrepreneurs in the country will be inspired by his success. Similarly, amid the second wave of COVID-19 across the country, during this time of Holy Ramadan, initiatives are needed to be taken to make lemons easily available to the consumers. Happy Ramadan and Shubho Nababarsha to my passionate readers. Stay well and stay safe.