When bumper yields don’t bring happiness to farmers

Mushfique Wadud | Update:

Tomatoes  were wasted in the fields as farmers did not harvest them. The photo was taken from Bogra. Photo : Prothom AloBumper yields should bring happiness to farmers, but the case is not true in Bangladesh. Farmers in Bangladesh become anxious when there is a bumper yield because they know this is the time when prices will fall to such a low that they will incur huge losses.

This year the price of tomatoes fell so low that many farmers did not even harvest their crops from their fields and the crops were wasted. The farmer level price of potato also went down this year.

“If I harvested the crops and took them to the market, the post harvesting cost would have been higher than the price I would get from the wholesaler and so I did not harvest tomatoes from the field, and let animals eat them”, a farmer of Bagerhat, Nazmul Hossain, told Prothom Alo over phone.

In late February, the wholesale price of one mound of tomatoes was equal to one kilogram of coarse rice in Bagerhat. Farmers said that thousands of mounds of tomatoes wasted in the field in this district because of the fall of wholesale price. The wholesale price of tomatoes fell in late February and early March in many parts of the country. The retail price of one kilogram tomato fell to Tk 5 from Tk 150 in the early harvest season in July-August last year.

The price of potatoes also went down very low this year. The farmer level selling price of one kilogram potatoes went down to as low as Tk 5 in late February.

“The price went down in late February and early March. I fear that I will incur loss,” Abu Ansary, a potato grower in Munshiganj told Prothom Alo over phone.

This year is not anything unique. Every year, tonnes of vegetables and fruits go to waste in Bangladesh for lack of proper post-harvest handling.

A 2015 research article titled Post-harvest Losses of Vegetables in South Asia by Indonesia based Centre for Alleviation of Poverty through Sustainable Agriculture (CAPSA) said that in Bangladesh, post-harvest losses of vegetables were reported to range from 18-44 per cent, equivalent to an average yearly loss of over 2 million tons of produce worth about 3,392 million Bangladeshi taka (45 million USD).

Many farmers did not harvest tomatoes from the field, and let animals eat them. The photo was taken from Bogra Photo : Prothom AloMohammad Ismail Hossain, a professor at the agribusiness and marketing department at Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, told Prothom Alo that Bangladeshi farmers lack proper producing and marketing planning.

“Timing of the harvest is very crucial. Farmers often harvest their products at a time when supply is huge and so price falls. If farmers have proper planning about harvesting and marketing, this problem can be solved,” he said.

He also said he thinks there is some over-production of crops compared to the demands and farmers do not have adequate information about the market system.

“There should be a controlling mechanism about how much amount of a certain crop farmers will produce and farmers should be given training about marketing of their crops,” he added.

Hossain said the problem of abnormal fall of price in case of mango could have been managed by proper planning of production and harvest, thanks to various government and non-government initiatives.

“Same techniques can be applied to vegetables and other fruits,” he said.

Noor Mohammad Rahmatullah, a professor of agribusiness management at Sher-E-Bangla Agricultural University, told Prothom Alo that proper processing and export of crops can solve the problem of the crop waste.

“When tomato is being sold at Tk 5 per kg in Bangladesh, the price is higher in many developed countries. So farmers can get very good price if the vegetable item is exported to the developed countries. There should be proper government planning of crop export,” said the university professor.

He also said the country’s agro economy can be transformed just through establishing some food processing industries.

“We can process the crops when the availability is high. Both the private and public sector should work together to work out ways of processing crops,” he said.

Syed AB Siddiqui, an agriculturist and former chief of party of USAID funded Cold Chain Bangladesh Alliance, told Prothom Alo that preserving them in cold storage is another option but this is not viable for tomato.

“The most cost effective way of preserving tomato is semi-processing at the home level and supplying to any processing factory. You can store tomato in normal condition for 4-5 days and green tomatoes could be stored in cold storage for thirty days. These are not cost effective. We can store bananas and potatoes in cold storages for longer times and is profitable,” he said.

Siddiqui also said that sometimes farmers are not interested in preserving their crops in cold storage.

“We have over 300 cold storages mainly for potatoes. For other commodities, particularly, vegetables, there are several unutilized cold storages and farmers are not interested to store vegetables even at a subsidized price. The reasons are: farmers do not like to store vegetables for longer time and traders do not find it profitable since there are inadequate number of  specialized reefer vans, carrying is costly and we don't have centralized temperature controlled wholesale market,” he said.

Department of Agricultural Extension Crop wing director Hanif Mohammad told Prothom Alo that a team of the department is working on the ground to examine why the tomato price went down so low this year.

“They will speak to farmers on the crop field and will report to the department. We’ll take necessary measures as per the recommendations,” he said.

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