The southern region of Bangladesh is famous for guavas, more popularly known in Bangladesh as 'Bengal's Apple'. Specially in Jhalokathi Sadar Upazila and at Swarupkathi and Banaripara Upazila in Pirozpur, farmers heavily rely on guava farming. Such diversity of life is hardly to be found in other places of the country. Loss in guava farming in one season usually leads to extreme distress for the farmers throughout the year. The current year is one of those.
Very recently I went to visit these canals of Barisal and wondered whether I am actually roaming around Venice or not. The floating guava market at Bhimruli over Kirtipasha canal was simply majestic. I spoke with farmer Amal Bishwas who purchased a 1.5 bigha (measurement of land) guava orchard few months back for Tk. 25,000. Six to seven maunds (unit of weight) of guava are collected every day from his orchard. The methods of collecting guava from the tree are very tricky. Farmers are now finding it really tough because of the low market price. The price of guava per KG is Tk. 2 or 3. According to the farmers, the prices get even lower than this, going down to 10 taka per maund! In this circumstance, it's getting difficult for Amal to work really hard from dawn to dusk along with his wife Anjali to acquire his desired profit.
“It takes 10,000 taka to 15,000 taka of labour cost and our family members are working to save that cost”, says Anjali.
All the guavas become ripened due to the constant heavy rain just few days ago, and it's now a challenge to sell these guavas in the market. Amal's hope of getting a market price of Tk. 200 per maund is just a dream now.
The eye-soothing guava orchards on canals over Jhalokathi's Sugandha, Bishkhali, Gabkhan and Sandhya river are Southern region's main places of guava farming. Every day, thousand of tons of guavas are supplied all across the country. Boats are the main transportation for supplying. Farmers carry the guavas onto the boats from the river-adjacent orchards. There are hundreds of boats filled with guava and all the trades occur on boats.
The floating market appears as the centre of Barisal's (aka The Venice of Bengal) beauty. Nobody knows when the idea of this floating market began, but it's a hundred-year old tradition. Development and modernization are taking over the country but it's surprising to see them not reaching to this river-oriented life yet. For more than 100 years, the local farmers have been experiencing the ups and downs of life along with the ebb and flow of the river. Many farmers and wholesalers gather here every day.
The problems that farmers have here are common- they don't have proper communication, cold
storage facility which results in only poor market price. We don't see or hear any development programmes or even discussions about the natural beauties and the stories of profit and losses of the south which could well be an ideal spot for agro-tourism. I spoke to Tapash Majumder, a hapless farmer at the Bhimruli bazaar who says many farmers have drowned their boats full of guavas because they didn't get the fair price and he himself is one of them.
The same guavas are sold for Tk. 50 to Tk. 100 per KG in Dhaka. But here the farmers don't get to sell a maund for Tk. 10. The nutritious fruit seems to have become a curse on these farmers' lives.
Mihir Haldar was heading to the market by a boat full of guavas through the Kirtipasha canal. Farmers like him are aware of their salvation and how they can make profit. They've been waiting for years for the government and private initiatives. They want a guava processing factory.
Last but not the least, a number of shrewd intermediaries is taking advantage of the cold storage and communication crisis. Farmers are suffering with their families. There's hardly any land for rice farming, and so guava is the only hope of the farming families.
Dear readers, this huge mine of guava could become a significant aspect of our national economy. But it didn't happen. It's so unfortunate that farmers are going through such terrible situation even in this modern time. I really do hope that the government's 10-year programme to develop the agriculture sector and the lives of the southern region will include these guava farmers of the south, and they'll be free from this uncertain and cursed life.