Orange growers see better earnings as stronger dollar cuts imports
Orange and malta growers in Bangladesh are enjoying higher prices for their produce as the ongoing US dollar crunch has reduced the availability of imported alternatives, according to industry people.
Enamul Haque, an orange and malta farmer in Haribhanga of Lalmonirhat sadar upazila, said he is now selling the fruits for about Tk 100 per kilogramme (kg) while they were priced at Tk 70-80 previously.
The forex crunch has led to restrictions on opening letters of credit for non-essential items while also pushing up import costs through devaluation of the local currency.
"So, the demand for locally grown oranges and malta has risen as importers are buying less foreign fruit," he added.
Haque's eight-acre farm houses about 2,800 malta and orange trees that each provide an average yield of around 40 kgs.
And although he spends as much as Tk 42 lakh on cultivation, including labour costs, Haque gets an annual return of more than Tk 1 crore from his produce.
"I also grow ginger to make extra profit," he said, adding that other farmers encouraged by his success would come to consult him on orange and malta cultivation.
Shamim Ahmed Khan, a fruit importer based at the Burimari land port in Patgram upazila, said they were importing 60 percent less fruit compared to last year.
This is because importers are not able to order shipments as per their demand amid shortages of the greenback. So, the prices of imported fruit have risen in local markets amid lower supply.
"As such, the demand for comparatively cheaper local oranges and malta has increased," Khan added.
Oranges and malta have been cultivated across Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Rangpur and Nilphamari for the past 5-6 years, with local varieties only differing in size compared to imported ones.
Across those five districts, there are 108 orange and malta orchards on about 400 acres of land, according to sources at the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in Rangpur.
Collectively producing about 4,500 tonnes of these fruits each year, the farmers keep a profit margin of about 60 percent after expenses, such as labour, fertiliser, pesticides and other inputs.
Arshadul Islam, a fruit trader based in Lalmonirhat town, said he has been retailing oranges and malta purchased from local orchards for about Tk 140-150 per kg.
He also informed there is huge demand for local oranges and malta considering their comparatively lower price, but imports are necessary in face of inadequate domestic supply.
"I am selling 200-250 kgs of local oranges and malta every day," he added.
Sunil Chandra Saha, a wholesale fruit trader based in Rangpur city, said he makes a profit of about Tk 7 from each kg of malta or orange sold to retailers, who then profit as much as Tk 35 per kg of the fruit.
Ashraful Islam, a fruit retailer of the same area, said he buys local oranges and malta for between Tk 130 and Tk 150 per kg while imported varieties cost Tk 250 to Tk 300.
"So, we could make more profit if we were able to buy the fruits at a cheaper price through increased local cultivation," he added.
Hamidur Rahman, deputy director of the Lalmonirhat DAE, said that orange and malta cultivation is increasing day by day thanks to growing interest among farmers.
However, many farmers ultimately lose their interest due to the significant investment required.
"But the soil and climate conditions in our region are suitable for orange and malta cultivation. So, farmers would get their expected returns if they just took proper care of their trees," he added.
Aftab Hossain, director of the Rangpur DAE, said orange and malta cultivation was unheard of in the region some 8 to 10 years ago.
Initially, cultivation of the two citrus fruits took off when some people started planting two to four trees in their homesteads and started getting yields.
Seeing their success, others were inspired to produce orange and malta commercially.
"Nowadays, many farmers are successfully producing oranges and malta. So, commercially, cultivation will only increase in the future," he added.