Tomato farmers face peak season plight

Prices plummet as supply soars
Tomato farmers in Bangladesh
Although these tomatoes seem ripe for picking, the fruits have been left hanging from their vines as farmers are unable to get adequate prices due to oversupply amid the ongoing peak season. The picture was taken from Rupsha upazila of Khulna recently. PHOTO: Habibur Rahman

Tomato farmers, particularly those in the southwest division of Khulna, are facing steep losses as prices for the fruit have come down drastically due to oversupply, as is the case around this time each year.

As a result, many growers are being forced to sell their tomatoes for less than Tk 2 per kilogramme (kg) at the field level while the crop is going for up to Tk 30 per kg at retail in Dhaka.

The returns are so low in fact that the transport cost outweighs any potential gains for some farmers, leaving them to either dump the fruit or distribute it for free for use as cattle feed.

Omar Md Imrul Mohsin, director general of the Department of Agricultural Marketing in Khulna, said they cooperate with farmers to help ensure good prices for their crops through proper marketing.

But as most farmers lack a good business plan and also do not follow the diversified crops system, they end up cultivating abundant amounts of the same crop and prices come down as a result, he added.

Mohammad Jahangir Alam, a professor of the agribusiness and marketing department at Bangladesh Agriculture University, said tomato farmers get better prices when they harvest the fruit early in the season.

"But there is oversupply against demand during the peak season, leading to lower prices," he added.

Citing his research on tomato cultivation, he said a total of 4.48 lakh tonnes of the fruit was produced across the country in 2021 while consumption was only 4.26 tonnes that year.

In the past few years, farmers in the region started growing tomatoes on a commercial basis in the "ghers" or enclosures of fish farms, even in the saline prone areas of Bagerhat, Satkhira and Khulna.

At the beginning of the season, tomatoes were sold at Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per maund (37 kgs). Now, the price has come down to Tk 170-200 per maund.

Md Kuddusur Rahman, a farmer of Tilak village under Rupsha upazila of Khulna, said he cultivated tomatoes on 22 decimals of land this season.

According to him, tomatoes are now selling for Tk 1.5 to Tk 2 per kg while it was Tk 30 to Tk 40 per kg just one month ago.

"During the last four days, no buyer came to my field to buy the crop, which is now rotting," he added.

Like Rahman, growers in other villages of the same upazila are facing similar losses.

Sheikh Ali Imam, a farmer of Mulghar union in Bagerhat, said he sold the tomatoes he grew on two bighas of land for Tk 70,000, which was quite a loss for him.

Many farmers are unable to even meet their labour costs by selling the crop at this rate, he added.

Hasanul Banna, who owns a retail outlet at the truck terminal wholesale market in Khulna city, said traders like him are unable to offer better prices to farmers as there is low demand in the market.

Md Rafiqul Islam, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension in Bagerhat, said 1,850 hectares of land were brought under tomato cultivation this year with a production target of 40,700 tonnes.

However, the total acreage was exceeded by more than 100 hectares while some 58,500 tonnes of the fruit were produced.

Local agro-processors such as Pran, Square Food and Beverage Limited, BD Foods Limited and Ahmed Food Products (Pvt.) Ltd procure tomatoes from farmers to make ketchup, tomato paste and other food items.

Of them, Pran, the leading agro-processor in the country, set a target to procure 20,000 tonnes of tomato this year.

The company has already started collecting tomatoes at its Barind Industrial Park in Rajshahi. Pran also collects the fruit at its other factory in Natore.

Sarowar Hossain, general manager of the Barind Industrial Park, said they are collecting tomatoes from the Rajshahi, Natore, Chapainawabganj, Dinajpur, Pabna and Naogaon districts.

Some 10,000 contracted farmers of Pran have cultivated tomatoes on 2,200 bighas of land in these areas, he added.

Kamruzzaman Kamal, marketing director of Pran-RFL Group, said sauces are very popular in Bangladesh and many other countries.

"Pran is the market leader in this sector, and we have capacity to produce 18,000 tonnes of sauces every year," he added.

Officials of Pran say they are collecting tomatoes from farmers at the going market rate.


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