Lockdown shocks vegetable farmers
Hoping to turn a handsome profit, Jasim Uddin took a Tk 50,000 loan from a local non-governmental organisation to grow pointed and bottle gourds on 40 decimals of land in Rahamatpur village in Jashore.
But the countrywide lockdown since July 23 has shattered all his hopes -- prices are too low for him to even be able to pay the labourers' wages and the transport cost.
At Boro Bazar and Satmail Bazar in the district, a kilogramme of pointed gourd is selling for Tk 3 to Tk 5 and a single bottle gourd for Tk 10 to Tk 12.
Before the lockdown kicked in, the 45-year-old farmer sold the pointed gourd for Tk 20 to Tk 25 per kg and bottle gourd Tk 30 to Tk 40 per piece.
In contrast, the two varieties of vegetables are selling at Tk 40 per kg and Tk 50 to Tk 60 per piece respectively at various kitchen markets in the capital.
Despite a good yield this year, Jasim and several lakh vegetable farmers across the country are bearing the brunt of the lockdown imposed to curb the second wave of coronavirus cases sweeping the nation.
This summer, about 59.6 lakh tonnes of vegetables were produced, up 10.7 percent from last year on the back of improved seed varieties and the absence of natural calamities, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
"We are devastated by the lockdown," said Amzad Hossain, a farmer in Bogura, a district in Northern Bangladesh.
Amzad cultivated brinjals and okra on 45 decimals of land and might have to incur a loss of Tk 1 lakh this season.
The prices of almost all vegetables dropped by at least 50 percent in the region, according to Manik Mia, a vegetable wholesaler in Dinajpur, another district up north.
"How will I make up the production cost?" asked a tearful Hashem Ali, another farmer in Bogura, who is staring at losses of at least Tk 30,000.
Before the lockdown, he was selling the courgettes he grew on his 25 decimals of land at Tk 20 a kilogramme. Now, he gets at best Tk 7.
But the farmers' woes do not just end with the big hole in their wallets. Many might not be able to cultivate vegetables in the winter season.
One such farmer is Kishmat Ali, who grew green peppers on 26 decimals of land in Jamalpur.
He fears a loss of Tk 70,000 as the price of the crop has plummeted by half.
"How would I be able to cultivate next season?" a downcast Kishmat asked.
And yet, given the supply constraint because of the countrywide movement control order, the prices of vegetables are high in the kitchen markets, putting middle-class consumers and the poor, already hit hard by the pandemic, in a tight corner.
This week, most of the common vegetables are selling between Tk 30 and Tk 40 per kg at different kitchen markets in Dhaka.
Mubarak Ali, a wholesale trader of Karwan Bazar wholesale market, bought pointed gourds at only Tk 3 per kg from the Boro Bazar vegetable market in Jashore last week.
But he had to spend Tk 9 for each kg as transport and other costs to bring the vegetable to Karwan Bazar.
Normally, about 50 trucks loaded with vegetables from the Boro Bazar come to Dhaka daily, according to Mubarak, also the president of South Bengal Vegetable Traders Cooperative Society.
Amid the lockdown, the number of trucks has come down to 10-12, meaning the fares have hit the roof.
The government should have thought about the farmers when planning for the lockdown, said Mohammad Jahangir Alam, a professor of the department of agribusiness and marketing at Bangladesh Agricultural University.
There are about 80 lakh vegetable farmers all over the country, according to the DAE's estimates.
Their losses would have been minimised had the government taken steps to avoid disruptions in the supply chain during the lockdown, he said.
Then, Jasim from Jashore would not have let the fruits of his labour rot out in the fields.
Out of sheer anger and frustration, he stopped plucking the gourds.
"This is an unmitigated disaster," said a frustrated Jasim, who is fearing a loss of at least Tk 40,000 this season.