Bangladesh: where fruit varieties meet elegance
This season, the country produced a lot of mangoes. I have offered mangoes to my relatives, friends, and office colleagues as gifts. In the last four decades of my journey in agricultural journalism, I have seen hundreds of agricultural entrepreneurs from home and abroad, reaching the top of success. I also have a rooftop farming initiative, managed by my wife Shahana Seraj. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we had the opportunity to eat fresh vegetables from our very own rooftop farm. There are also a couple of mango trees on the roof; a small mango orchard you could say. This year, farmers from different districts have sent me mangoes from their orchards as a token of love and I got absolute satisfaction by distributing it among my near and dear ones.
Mango production in our country is increasing day by day. We are one of the top 10 mango producing countries in the world. Of all the fruits, mango is the most produced fruit in Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the country has produced about 12 lakh (1.2 million) tonnes of mango in the 2019-20 fiscal year. There are mango orchards in about 235 thousand acres of land. As a result, each tree produces an average of 77 kilograms of mango.
I remember, even a decade ago, mango was the only fruit of the northern region of the country. In Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, the country's farmers were dependent on Himsagar, Gopalbhog, Lengra and Fazli varieties of mangoes. Amrapali has broken down the geographical barriers of mango cultivation in the country. At present, mango is being cultivated commercially in 30 districts. Amrapali accounts for about half of the total mangoes produced in the country. Mango is no longer a seasonal fruit. The Baromashi (Year-long) mango variety, katimon is being cultivated. Probably you would recall Major Solaiman of Feni's Sonagazi, who is producing 80 varieties of mangoes across the wide banks of his 33-acre aquaculture farm. He gets about 20 to 25 tonnes of mango a year. Major Solaiman has 70 mango trees of Bari-11 variety. His trees are only five years old. He said at least 100kg of mango could be harvested from each of these trees.
Many farmers have proved that the farmers of our country are capable of showing a unique and strong will. Even only two decades ago, mango and jackfruit were the main fruits of this country. Usually the additional fruits grown in the trees of the farmer's yard were available in the market. Fruits have come from the yard to the field. According to the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), 72 different fruits are now being cultivated around Bangladesh. At present, over 50 lakh (5.07 million) tonnes of fruits are produced in about 157 thousand hectares of land in the country. Of which, mango, banana and jackfruit account for about 63 percent of the total fruits produced (BBS-2018). Farmers have increased the cultivation of new fruits. There are dragon fruit, rambutan, avocado, strawberry, baukul, applekul, fig and many more. Even apples are being grown on the soil of our country. The growth of production of various varieties of fruits is increasing every day.
By producing fruits, the farmers have also added their names to the fruits. Such as Pepe (Papaya) Badsha, Peyara (Guava) Atique, Kul (Plum) Sirajul, Aam (Mango) Kashem, Malta Babul, Khejur (Date plum) Motaleb, Lichu (Litchi) Kitab, Kola (Banana) Kader. Almost all the fruit growers of the country are familiar with these names. In the 80s, at Ishwardi's Salimpur village in Pabna, the son of a lower-middle-class family, Shahjahan Ali Badshah chose agriculture as a way to eliminate unemployment. He started an integrated farm of modern fruits on only 85 decimals (0.85 acres) of land. Badshah became very famous through his papaya production. He is now the owner of a huge agricultural farm with an area of 67 acres. Atique, who couldn't get any job even after getting a diploma in agriculture, started his guava orchard with a lease of only 2 acres of land 10 years back. Guava cultivation has changed his fortune. Now his orchard size is about 87 acres. Seeing his success, many young people in the area have joined guava cultivation. As a result, Thai guava has become one of the most lucrative cash-crops in the Natore-Rajshahi belt. Such is the story of Kashem, Babul or Kader. Fruit farming has changed the story of their lives. The number of such farmers is growing all over the country. They have built their empires by brain and labour. Following their footsteps, Bangladesh has become an example of success in fruit production. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), fruit production in Bangladesh has been growing at a rate of 11.5 percent for the last 18 years. Along with the fruit growers, various initiatives of the government have played an important role in achieving the success.
Various fruits are being cultivated on the roofs of city houses. Remember, in the 80s, when I was doing Mati O Manush (Soil & People) on Bangladesh Television, the cultivation of Kazi Peyara on the roof of the house became quite popular. Now the rooftop entrepreneurs are cultivating not only guava but also sugarcane, jamrul (star apple), dragon fruit, papaya, olive, tamarind and teen (fig) among foreign fruits; they're also doing bananas on rooftop. The role of nurseries in the country behind this expansion of fruit cultivation is significantly immense. According to the Agriculture Information Service (AIS), the number of registered nurseries in the country is 18 thousand. The number of unregistered nurseries is even higher. The amount of investment is more than USD 236 million. More than 500 thousand people are involved in this sector. In these nurseries, besides domestic fruits, seedlings or saplings of different varieties of foreign fruits are available. Nurseries are also playing a role in variety development. However, many are bringing scion, saplings and seedlings from outside the country without following the quarantine system, but the certification has to be ensured first, otherwise harmful germs might spread through the seedlings.
In Barishal, a lot of guavas are cultivated, but the farmers do not get fair price for guava during the season as they can't preserve it. There is no factory to make jam-jelly from guava. As a result, the farmer gets into trouble with the fruits they produce. This problem is not only in the case of guava but also in the case of pineapple or mango. Mango yields in the Philippines were very well last year. It has improved so much that more than 20 lakh (2 million) kilograms of mango have been produced. As a result, farmers were not getting the price of mango. This can happen in a market economy. The country's agriculture department stood by the mango farmers. They undertook various activities very quickly. One of their activities was 'Metro Mango'. They had set up numerous stalls for selling mangoes in different cities. The department also arranged mango export for the farmers. They convinced Walmart and they allocated free stalls for selling mangoes on behalf of the farmers. Everyone stood by the side of the farmer. They knew if the farmer loses, it will have a detrimental effect on the entire farming sector.
In our country, although lockdown has not had any effect on fruit transportation, it definitely had an impact on customers. The customer reduced the purchase of fruits due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, a lot of mangoes remained unsold. And lots of mangoes had rotten. We comprehend the importance of fruit processing where developed countries are way ahead. I think industries should come forward for fruit processing. From different fruits, jam jelly can be manufactured and other foods as well. Pineapple juice is a great option. In addition, different foods can be produced from malta, watermelon, melons and other fruits. Our potential with fruit is huge. There is a big market for fruits all over the world. With that in mind, we have to think about fruit cultivation. Fruit preservation facilities and modern market structures need to be built immediately. Along with the government, the industrialists have to come forward to create a field for trade-in fruits. Fruit exports can play a vital role in creating a fantastic market. If fruits can be produced and marketed in compliance with exports, it will optimistically turn into the golden sector of agriculture.