Bangladesh is now playing a part in Qatar's initiative of turning deserts into greenery, thanks to local firm which is exporting saplings.
A consignment of 3,747 saplings of eight different plants reached a private inland container depot on Wednesday.
After customs and quarantine tests, they were packed in a 40-feet refrigerated container. Loaded on vessel Maersk Xiamen yesterday, the container may leave the port Saturday.
Sending plants over the sea to the Middle East is a landmark in Bangladesh's trade. Local exporters see it as a huge prospect in widening the export basket.
Of the plants that Cumilla-based Bizra Enterprise is exporting, 1,280 are neem, 950 lemon, 795 malta, 320 sapodilla (locally called sofeda), 152 water apple (locally called jamrul), 170 almond, 40 banyan and 40 gum acacia (locally known as babla).
The firm's Qatar based parent organisation Al Naimi Landscaping WLL is the importer.
The sea-route shipment has been long-sought by entrepreneur Mohammad Shamsul Alam, who has been engaged in exporting gardening products made of bamboo and jute to a few Qatar based firms since 2013 through his firm Plant and Craft based in Kandirpur, Cumilla.
"I was inspired by a speech of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who at a programme in 2018 urged the exporters to find new and non-traditional products for export," said Alam.
In the same year he got connected with Al Naimi Landscaping, owned by Abdul Mamin, a Bangladeshi expatriate in Qatar hailing from Bizra in Laksam, Cumilla, who has been engaged in nursery business in Qatar for the last 25 years.
Alam started exporting his old products to AL Naimi in 2018.
He then joined Bizra Enterprise, a local nursery firm and also the sister concern of Al Naimi Landscaping, as chief executive officer.
"In 2019 through Bizra Enterprise we started exporting saplings to Al Naimi in Qatar through air shipment," he said.
In the past three years, Al Naimi Landscape imported around 45,000 saplings of different fruits like mango, lemon, guava and some flower plants from Bizra Enterprise.
"As a small quantity can be exported through the highly expensive air-shipments, we were trying for exporting through sea route and it became possible at last," Alam said.
Bizra Enterprise developed a nursery on two acres of land in Bizra, Cumilla and on one acre of land in Jibonnagar, Chuadanga. Currently it has three greenhouses, two in Cumilla and one in Chuadanga.
Alam said there are huge prospects of exporting saplings to Qatar and other Middle East countries as they were making the import every year from across the world for their greening programmes.
Md Nasir Uddin, deputy director of Plant Quarantine Station at the Chattogram port, said they tested all the saplings to fulfil requirements for export.
Saplings cannot be exported if those have soil in the roots, since soil export is banned while there could be insects in them too, said Uddin.
Therefore, saplings need to be grown in coconut peat in greenhouses for export, he added.
Abu Sufian Maruf, managing director of AL Naimi Landscaping WLL, said every year they import 150 to 200 containers of saplings of flower, fruit and other trees from countries such as China, Thailand, India, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Egypt.
The firm has developed four nurseries in around 400,000 square metres of rented land in Doha.
There is growing demand of plantations and farming in Qatar as the country for many years has been trying to turn its deserts into greeneries, said Maruf, who along with his younger brother is now running his father's business in Qatar.
His father Mamin returned to the country recently.
"Besides the country took on a robust plantation programme targeting World Cup Football to be held next year," he said.
Many new constructions are ongoing targeting the event and it is mandatory to have gardens in new constructions as a part of its beautification, he informed.
The Ministry of Municipality and Environment of Qatar in 2019 launched a "Plant Million Tree" initiative.
Under the initiative, trees are being planted at highways, industrial areas, sewerage plants, treatment units and storage, rainwater harvesting sites, cities and municipal strips, public parks, schools and residential complexes.
According to Maruf, at least 20 to 25 big and small firms are currently engaged in nursery farming and gardening in Doha.
Alam said Al Naimi can only import saplings worth $1 crore per year from Bangladesh.