Win-win for vegetable growers, consumers as farmers’ market gains traction
It has become a regular task for Mohammad Monir Hossain.
Every Thursday evening, the small farmer from Savar, located on the outskirts of Dhaka, loads his harvested vegetables onto a refrigerated van of the Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM) along with some of his peers.
The van arrives at the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) in the Manik Mia Avenue of the capital before the dawn breaks.
Hossain and his fellow farmers reach the same place later in the morning to unload and display their fresh produce to customers.
This is the Farmers' Market where Hossain has been coming with his fresh vegetables since the agriculture ministry opened it in December 2019.
The idea was to create a place for growers who produce vegetables and seasonal fruits following integrated pest management (IPM) approach, a method of crop production and protection that combines various management strategies and practices to grow healthy crops and minimise the use of pesticides.
Managed by the DAM, farmers who produce vegetables by following IPM techniques, including bio-pesticides, bring their crops to the market.
The field offices of the DAE certify the vegetables as safe for human consumption.
The initiative was taken at a time when concerns about the safety of farm produce are high owing to the use of chemical pesticides by farmers to protect crops from the losses resulting from pest attacks.
"We don't use pesticides harmful for human health, and the good thing is that many customers believe in us," said Hossain, who produces vegetables on 12 bigha land. He owns 1.5 bigha of land, and the rest is rented.
He said customer traffic was gradually increasing in the market, where they sit for two days – Fridays and Saturdays— every week.
During the rest of the week, he sells vegetables to wholesalers in Karwan Bazar and Rayerbazar of Dhaka. But nobody there cares whether he follows IPM to grow crops.
The only difference at the Farmers' Market is growers can sell directly to retail customers which give them better prices.
Touhid Md Rashed Khan, an assistant director of the DAM, said farmers received fair prices for their produce as there were no middlemen. Customers benefit as they get safe vegetables and seasonal fruits.
Farmers from the surrounding areas of the capital city—Savar, Dhamrai, Manikganj, Munshiganj, and Narsingdi – mainly come to the market with their produce.
In the initial days after the opening of the market, customer's presence had been thin. The turnout had tumbled in the early months of the coronavirus outbreak in the country as well.
Sales have begun picking up from November. On Friday, farmers sold produce worth Tk 3.47 lakh.
"We are really happy. The beauty of the market is we can sell our farm produce directly to buyers," said Razia Sultana, who has been selling vegetables in the market since October last year.
She said the market allowed farmers to get better prices compared with what they could get by selling them at the wholesale markets.
"Farmers' market exists in Europe and even in India. The good thing is that we have got one here," said Sultana, who grows diversified vegetables, including capsicum and rock melon, on the 40-bigha area.
She managed to sell vegetables worth Tk 5,000 on her first day in the market. Her sales average Tk 40,000 during the two-day week now.
"Customers' traffic and our sales will increase once there will be a permanent market for farmers," she said.
Despite the increasing turnout of customers at the market, the volume of sales was not enough for Hossain to clear all his vegetables. So, he has to sell some of his produce to wholesalers.
"We register good sales on Fridays. But the presence of buyers declines the next day. The general public is aware of the market," he said.
The DAM plans to establish 64 farmers' markets across the country and has submitted a project proposal to the agriculture ministry to this effect, said DAM Director-General Mohammad Yousuf.
As a temporary solution, the agency is going to set up makeshifts markets in 20 districts.
In Dhaka, it is in the process of constructing a permanent structure at Manik Mia Avenue so that 20 to 25 farmers can display their produce all over the week.