Published on 12:00 AM, September 13, 2018

Foreign vegetables boon for young farmer

Kobbad Hossain Ovi talks with Shykh Seraj at his broccoli field in Hemayetpur, Savar. Photo: Hridoye Mati O Manush

In 2012, I read a report about the production of vegetables in India in The Times of India. At that time, a government project for exporting vegetables to Europe was running in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Following the terms and conditions of the European Union, a list of farmers of the mentioned states was prepared and they were trained for producing quality vegetables. Perhaps, it left its reflection in India's vegetable cultivation. Revolution came. Because, according to statistics, India, which produced 33 million tonnes of fresh vegetables in 2016, is the world's second largest vegetable producer after China. At the same time, India has captured a lion's share of export at the Europe's market.

In Bangladesh, farmers with their own innovative power have added new dimensions to the country's agriculture sector. Dear readers, you may remember I had shown woman entrepreneur Sultana Razia's huge vegetable farm at Savar in an episode of 'Hridoye Mati O Manush'. She initiated a successful farm by taking a land on lease. She is cultivating varieties of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce.

In this era of scientific and technological excellence, more and more diversified crops are being grown in countries across the world. The added diversity in vegetable cultivation helps to meet up nutritional needs of population. There is no longer any obstacle to produce tropical crops in temperate regions. Once, the demand of foreign vegetables was only in the elite hotels and restaurants. Now, due to the diversified development of lifestyle and the increase of buying capacity, the demand of foreign vegetables has also grown in families who are much concerned about nutrition. In order to meet this demand, cultivation of foreign vegetables has started in many areas of the country. You probably would also remember Ansar Ali from Buzruk Shokra village in Shibganj, Bogra. He played the pioneering role in creating an enthusiasm for cultivating popular European (or you may read foreign) vegetables in Bangladesh.

In March 2018, I met Kobbad Hossain Ovi, a talented young agricultural entrepreneur from Dakkhinmetka Daktarbari area of Hemayetpur, Savar. His farm lies on about 20 bighas (6.6 acres) of land. He does not cultivate any local vegetables there. He cultivates a variety of foreign vegetables including capsicum, cherry tomato, cabbage, beetroot, celery, Chinese cabbage, baby corn, sweet corn, nira leaf, broccoli etc. He showed me his vast agricultural farm set on the banks of the Dhaleshwari river.

Ovi started his farm in 2004 with a focus and a challenge. He was worried about how to take care of his family after his father passed away. Once in Gulshan, he saw foreign vegetables were being sold. Those were very expensive. He thought he could also cultivate them. Without wasting any time, he started cultivating foreign vegetables on two bighas (0.66 acres) of land. No, the decision to become a farmer was not a whimsical one. In fourteen years, the extent of his foreign vegetable cultivation area has reached 200 bighas (66.11 acres) of land. Some 30 varieties of foreign vegetables are being grown there.

Twenty bighas (6.6 acres) of the cultivable land is Ovi's own and the rest is taken on lease. Salad items like curry leaves and lemon grass are being cultivated across a large tract. Ovi says, he cultivates vegetables seasonally considering the consumers' demand and he also considers how much profit he can make out of it.

I had noticed the avocado fruit garden in Ovi's farm. Five to six years back, Ovi planted 10 avocado trees. Flowers have started coming in all the trees. They look much like mango buds. Avocado is a popular fruit in Central America and Mexico. The production and sales of this highly nutritious fruit is in full swing worldwide. Many farmers in our country have made avocado orchards. A few days back, Dr Shamsul Bari (chairman, Research Initiatives, Bangladesh) said during a phone conversation that his avocado orchard has grown lots of fruit in Magura's Kajli village. He insisted that I visit his farm. He also asked for my assistance to know where to market them. I could not visit his avocado orchard. I remember, in 2006, I went to Dr Bari's farm to do a report on Kazli date juice. At that time, he used to make syrup from date juice and export it to the USA.

At Ovi's farm, workers are working with onion leaf in groups. We get to know that this onion leaf, dill leaf, celery leaf, iceberg lettuce leaves grow throughout the year. Thus, to ensure year-round supply, seedlings are also being produced.

All the vegetables of the field are stacked in the courtyard and surrounding open spaces. Then the job of sorting and packaging is done and afterwards they are sent to the market. The farm's leftover vegetables are being used as cattle feed. That's why Ovi has a future plan to raise cattle.

All the vegetables produced are regularly supplied to different parts of the country. Besides Dhaka, they have great demand in Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Sylhet, and Khulna. Every day vegetables worth Tk 60 to 70 thousand (USD 836) are marketed. Yearly, Kobbad Hossain Ovi markets vegetables worth Tk 2 to 2.5 crore (approximately USD 3 million). Covering all the expenses, 40%-50% profit remains. Ovi says, if new entrepreneurs work with sound knowledge and technological know-how along with effort and devotion, cultivating foreign vegetables can be a great area to explore. However, even in this case, the traditional crisis of intermediary share has been a big problem. On the other hand, imported vegetables from the neighbouring country make the market prospect very much uncertain. Therefore, even though the demand for new crops or vegetables grows across the country, the entrepreneurs are afraid to increase production. Ovi believes, in this case, it is necessary to bring more changes in government's import policy. He insists that the government opens the export door to the world for local farmers through formulating suitable rules and regulations alongside arranging training and providing facilities so that in the end, Bangladesh can earn a lot from this endeavour.

Although some of country's vegetables are now being exported abroad, foreign vegetables are yet to be exported from our country. But it is possible to export them by ensuring quality production and packaging. We only need pure and chemical-free vegetables which will follow the internationally recognised market policy.

Through new farming initiatives of young farmers like Ovi, Bangladesh's farming sector is having new trends, diverse markets are being created and new sectors of potential opportunities are now in front of us.

Dear readers, the instance of producing European crops in our country is really astonishing. It is very inspiring in terms of commercial agriculture. Similarly, it brings diversity in our regular diet and nutrition. Now it is no longer difficult to bring any vegetable to our plate. Moreover, we need to support the farmers so that they can grow these more and market it across the country and to different countries of the world with the right policy support from the government.