Profits from these crops are much higher than that earned from traditional farm products
Litchi is usually available for hardly one month. We have extended the litchi season to four months now. Fruits of similar groups like rambutan, and longan will appear in the market just after the end of the litchi season. We aim to expand the season so that we can have the taste of litchis and similar fruits at least for six months of the year.
The Year-Round Fruit Production for Nutrition Improvement Project started in 2014-15, with a focus on promoting fruit plantations in fallow land or backyards to increase earnings. Other than bananas and papaya, there were not many fruits in Bangladesh that grow throughout the year. Only three months of the year — known as Modhumas — see local fruits in abundance. Fruits become scarce during the rest of the year.
Now, we are getting guava for 12 months, which is gradually replacing apples. In the future, guavas might enter the export market. Now it is possible to earn Tk1 lakh from one bigha of land by growing guava.
We are now third in the world in vegetable production. Fruit production is also growing fast, at an 11% annual rate — the highest in the world. Our fruit output was 10 million tonnes in 2013-14, which has risen to 14 million tonnes now.
Like fruits, many are now turning to new high-value crops. Broccoli, coloured capsicums are a few of them, which are gaining ground in Bangladesh now.
However, strawberry, which boomed over the years as a high-value product, has lost some steam now, because it has to be consumed within four hours of harvest. Our supply chain has not become so efficient to deliver such products from farms to the market within such a short period. We have problems maintaining the quality of strawberries after transportation and post-harvest. Also, we could not yet develop a processing system in case of excess production. But tomatoes and strawberries almost have the same price in foreign countries because of an efficient supply chain and processing systems.
Still, strawberries are a high-value product with a good price and a niche market. It should be grown for target people only, which calls for a survey. Otherwise, strawberry farming may become a losing concern.
The future of high-value crops is very promising. These crops will continue to get priority in commercial farming initiatives. Educated youths, who entered the domain of commercial farming, were in high-value crop production even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We had an event for a selected group of fruit growers, where we met around 300 high-value crop entrepreneurs in one workshop alone. They are doing good business. Seeing bright prospects, they have become high-value entrepreneurs. The more these youths come forward, the faster will be agricultural commercialisation in Bangladesh. This will play a big role in employment. For example, 30-40 people work daily in the dragon orchard of Ruhul Amin.
The author is the project director of Year-Round Fruit Production for Nutrition Improvement Project