Ever since Bangladesh came into being 42 years ago, a huge contributor to its economy has been the industrious, hard-working farmers of the country spending hours in the open fields, under sun and rain, toiling away to enjoy the meagre earnings they get once their efforts bear fruit. Although Bangladesh has come a long way, employing thousands in the secondary and tertiary sectors now, this primary sector still has the majority of the country's population dependent on it for their livelihood. While most farmers still grow traditionally available fruits, vegetables, flowers, rice and pulse, a number of farmers have been turning to the production of unconventional produce and keeping up with the increasing demand both at home and abroad.
With the food industry in the city growing exponentially and accommodating various foreign cuisines, the demand for vegetables and fruits not commonly known as local is increasing. Moreover, countries in colder regions -- in which growing certain vegetables, fruits and flowers is not a very viable option given the snow, chilly air and scarce sunshine -- turn towards countries in warmer zones with more ideal climactic conditions, thus, creating the opportunity for export and better earning.
Grown in various parts of the country these vegetables, fruits and flowers make their way to Dhaka via wholesale sellers given their demand in restaurants, hotels and by urbanites while the rest are exported. They are available in selective kitchen markets around the city and in most supermarket outlets. A trip to the Gulshan 1 kitchen market will shows that most vendors there carry a huge collection of these foreign vegetables along with the usual local ones. “I have Chinese cabbage, iceberg cabbage, celery, beetroot and broccoli. These are produced mostly in Savar and Gazipur and I get these through wholesale sellers. Mostly hotels and restaurants take these in huge quantities everyday; foreigners living here also frequently purchase these vegetables. Since, at the moment these vegetables are in-season a kilogram comes for around Tk40-50. However, when out of season these come for Tk140 a kilogram as they are imported then. These vegetables are quite profitable for me to sell” says Razzak a vegetable vendor at the market.
Many farmers throughout the country are prospering by engaging in growing foreign vegetables. For instance, Ansar Ali, a farmer belonging to a remote village in Bogra, made a success out of himself, eventually winning the Best Agro Entrepreneur of the year at the Citi Micro Entrepreneurship Award 2010, by growing asparagus, baby corn, sweet corn, broccoli, capsicum, cherry tomato, beetroot, red lettuce and Thai basil.
Strawberries are harvested abundantly in Rajshahi and Golden Seed Farm is a commercial producer of strawberries in Rangpur. It is also grown in Barisal. These strawberries can be harvested within two and a half months of plantation and can earn farmers around Tk.4 lakh as opposed to a cost of a mere Tk.20,000 on a 14,400 square foot land. Since, strawberries are a major ingredient in many biscuits, cakes, ice-cream, jam and chocolate, a lot of farmers from these areas have contracts with well-known companies and department stores and at the end of the season reap quite profitable returns. This constitutes as a win-win situation for both local companies and farmers as imported strawberries come at considerably higher prices.
Mushrooms which have come to be favourites of many are used in many a dish due to their taste and nutritional properties. A huge number of households in Mymensingh grow button and oyster mushrooms which merely require a clean, semi-dark and well-ventilated room lined with shelves. Each bag of spores produces approximately one and a half kilos of mushrooms behind which only Tk.20-30 is spent and in return around Tk.150 to Tk.200 is received. Apart from Mymensingh mushrooms are grown in Dhaka and Savar as well.
Other than these edible produce Bangladesh has found success in the production and export of foreign flowers again thanks to its favourable climate, topography and other conditions like labour cost and relatively low capital investment in contrast with high value addition which makes the country suitable for cut flower and foliage production. Jessore accounts for the highest volume of flower cultivation. Tuberoses, orchids and marigolds are major export commodities. Most of the tuberoses come from Jhikargachha of Jessore and Savar, marigolds from Chuadanga and orchids from Mymensingh and Manikganj. “Orchids are of very high demand in the city especially during the wedding season. These are some of the most expensive flowers that we carry at our store and are of export quality” says Iqbal, a sales person at one of the many flower stores at Banani.
With many NGOs and development organisations taking the initiative of introducing newer farming alternatives to farmers and rural households and training them in better farming techniques through the last decade many farmers throughout the country have been able to achieve success and do better in life. Here is to hoping that such initiatives and progress continues and brings better livelihoods to the thousands of people in the country living off their lands.
By Karishma Ameen
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed