The litchi farmers of Dinajpur and adjacent districts are worried about how to transport the sweet summer fruit to the rest of the country during this coronavirus pandemic-driven ongoing shutdown.
The loss would be unbearable to farmers, as they work with a short harvest season -- lasting between 40 days and 2 months -- as well as to litchi-lovers, who wait year-round for this brief time.
Though litchi is grown in 30 of out 64 districts in the country, Dinajpur litchis are renowned for being tastier and the northern district is the prime source of litchis for discerning buyers.
Growers are saying transporting the highly perishable litchi will prove challenging this season.
Litchi is usually transported across the country by trucks, buses, trains, and even by air. This year, however, farmers say all this will be difficult due to the shutdown-- despite the fact that goods-laden vehicles are out of purview of the public transport suspension.
Farmers will likely start to pluck the fruit in Dinajpur in the end of May -- following the Eid.
Talking with The Daily Star, orchard owners said they got a healthy flowering in litchi trees at the end of February and the weather has been favourable.
"We expect a good production this year," said Md Monsur Ali of Mashimpur village in Dinajpur Sadar.
However, litchi farmers have been facing heavy losses for two years in a row now as the yearly harvest has coincided with the month of Ramadan. Traders said litchi is consumed less during the month of fasting.
This year, in addition, the ongoing shutdown has caused panic among litchi farmers that the same losses will be repeated, if not more. Many farmers and traders stand to lose the capital they invested.
"Litchi will rot in the orchards if this situation continues," said Moyez Uddin of Khansama upazila.
Due to the shutdown and fear of infection, traders from other districts are reluctant to travel to Dinajpur, he added.
There is high demand of litchi in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet, but traders of these districts could not come to Dinajpur to book the orchards, said orchard owners.
So, farmers will have to cope with yet another year of heavy losses, said Osman Gani of Khansama. He faces a loss of Tk 1 lakh, if 25 percent of litchi from his orchard goes unsold.
"This year, coronavirus will ruin our business. May God help us," said Osman.
Litchi farmers urged the government to give them some way out of yet another year of losses. They also emphasised setting up facilities where litchi can be stored for at least six months.
Mahmudul Alam, the deputy commissioner of Dinajpur, said the situation is being monitored. If everything is well, his office will take steps to facilitate the transport of litchi across the country, he added.
On Saturday, the agriculture ministry announced a ten-point initiative and recommendations to improve the transportation and marketing of seasonal fruits in an attempt to reduce food waste and losses of farmers at this time.
The recommendations include reduction of the toll on Bangabandhu bridge for the empty trucks returning after delivering food items, assurance of smooth movement of traders from other districts to the fruit-growing areas, and extension of banking hours in those areas.
FAMOUS LITCHI OF DINAJPUR
Litchi of Dinajpur Sadar and Biral upazila, in particular, have a distinctive taste.
Bombai, Madrasi, China-1, 2 and 3 and Bedana varieties are grown in Dinajpur. Of these, Bedana is reportedly the best-tasting and hence, most expensive variety.
Litchi is being grown on 5,200 hectares of land in all 13 upazilas of Dinajpur this year, with production slated to be around 35,000 metric tonnes.
Officials of the horticulture department in Dinajpur said there are 4,000 large and small-scale litchi orchards in the district.