Profits from these crops are much higher than that earned from traditional farm products

Dr Md Mehdi Masood

02 February, 2023, 11:20 am

Last modified: 02 February, 2023, 11:23 am

Sketch: TBS


Sketch: TBS

Bangladesh’s agriculture has been in a process of transformation to commercial farming through modernisation. The key theme behind this transformation is making agriculture profitable, which will enable farmers to improve their standards of living. High-value crops are at the centre of commercial farming, where educated youths are now building their futures.

High-value crops are of two categories: fruits like dragon fruit and strawberry and vegetables such as capsicum, broccoli, and carrot.

Profits from these crops are much higher than that earned from traditional farm products. For example, a farmer can earn Tk2-3 lakh from dragon fruits grown on a bigha of land, which is not possible from traditional rice or vegetable farming.

As a new fruit, dragon fruit farming is expanding widely as it is considered among the most profitable of fruits. Within five to six years of introduction, the dragon fruit is now like a local fruit. Previously it was an imported fruit. Now import of this fruit has remained closed for nine months due to local production.

If we look at our local fruit basket, 60-65% of fruits are available for three to four months of the year. Only 30-35% of local fruits are available during the rest of the year. We are working to fill this gap. Research is going on to develop early and late varieties of mango. Usually, we get mango harvest in the May-July period, but to expand the mango season, early varieties like Baishakhi, Chaiti, Golapkhas, and Gopalvog are being promoted, while Bari-4, Gourmoti, and Jaduvog belong to late varieties.

Both varieties have helped us extend the mango season to six months from the previous three months. We have brought a Katimon variety from Thailand, which is locally named Amrito, whose several hundreds of thousands of saplings have already been planted. One farmer, Rafiq sold mangoes worth Tk1.5 crore in November, while orchard owner Golam Maola earned Tk12 lakh, and Mamun of Bogura earned Tk47 lakh from winter mango sales.

Mango being harvested in winter is a new dimension. Soon, maybe in five years, mango will be available throughout the year. Now, mangoes are on sale in winter. This is also a high-value transformation because earnings from winter mangoes are much higher.

Infographic: TBS

Infographic: TBS

Infographic: TBS

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

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