Shawkat Ali had been doing good business selling fresh plum, widely known as aloo Bukhara, grown in his nursery in Muktagachha upazila since 2013.
But this year, when people have been compelled to limit their movement due to the coronavirus pandemic, he is watching ripe plums in his orchard, consisting of 15 trees, falling off or getting spoiled.
Dried plum or prune, mostly imported, is popular among chefs, especially in Dhaka, who use it to prepare various sweet or savoury dishes including biriyani. But this home-grown fruit is going unsold since buyers from Dhaka had been unable to visit Shawkat's orchard amid the virus scare.
Owner of Banolata Nursery, Shawkat said while his expected total harvest of plums this year would be around 120 kilograms, he so far has sold only 11 kg of the fruit to local buyers, at Tk 400 per kg.
"If the fruits could be dried, each kg would've been sold for Tk 1,000 to 1,200. But I haven't been able to find out about the process of drying the fruit."
His lack of knowledge in fruit preservation techniques will cost him at least Tk 50 thousand in losses this year, he also speculated.
Shawkat said he was the one who first introduced cultivation of the exotic fruit to Mymensingh. He first collected a sapling from Germplasm Centre of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) in 2009 and in 2013 he started small-scale cultivation of plums in his nursery.
A plum tree usually starts bearing fruits from May to July and demand for its saplings has been on the rise in recent years, he said, adding that interested buyers from different nurseries from various districts including Dhaka, Bogura, Jashore, Gazipur and Mymensingh used to contact him for saplings, but this year none of them contacted him.
He now has a stock of 100 saplings, with prices ranging from Tk 400 to Tk 500, and a few matured plants that he used to sell for Tk 4,000 to Tk 5,000.
BAU's Germplasm Centre Director Prof Dr Mohammad Abdur Rahim said the drying technique of plum is quite difficult and it would not be easy to introduce the process at farmers' level.
Plum is a nutritious fruit as it is rich in vitamins, potassium, magnesium, and iron. It is used to add taste in various gourmet recipes as well as in drinks such as burhani.
Farmers could easily have an additional source of income by growing plum trees around their houses and there is even export potential for the fruit, Prof Rahim also said.
After this correspondent reached Saidul Islam, agriculture officer in Muktagachha upazila, to draw his attention on plum grower Shawkat's predicament, he said under current circumstances, Shawkat or any other farmer should take advantage of the government's online marketplace at https://foodfornation.gov.bd, where the farmers can sell their produce to buyers without any charge.
Though plum is a relatively unknown fruit in the country, his office would also try to find its buyers for Shawkat, he also said.