Friday, 2 December, 2022

Dollar-saving Fruit Production

Dr. M. Jamal Uddin

Malta and dragon fruit were known as imported exotic fruits until now. That era is no more. It is being commercially produced in the country due to the revolutionary changes in agriculture. Due to various initiatives of the government and the right direction of Dr. Md. Abdur Razzak, MP, Honorable Minister of Agriculture, Bangladesh has entered the list of top 10 countries in the world in seasonal fruit production. Currently the total production of fruits in the country is about 1 crore 30 lakh tons.

Along with domestic fruits, the famous exotic fruits include Malta, dragon fruit, cashew nut, coffee berry, strawberry, rambutan, avocado longan and rockmelon have spread across the country. Since these fruits are import dependent, if the production is increased in the country, the import dependency will decrease. Dollars will be saved. Today’s discussion mainly focused on Malta and Dragon fruit as dollar-saving fruit.

Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has developed high yielding varieties of those fruits i.e. BARI Malta-1 & 2 and BARI Dragon Fol-1. The Bangladesh Agricultural University has also developed dragon fruits variety namely BAU Dragon Fol-1 &2. With the sincere effort of the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), it has spread widely at the field level as well.

BARI Malta-1 is better known in the market as Green Malta. Along with that, the red colored BARI Dragon Fol-1 has caught the attention of the consumers. Properly matured BARI Malta-1 is a very tasty, juicy and nutritious fruit. Malta is one of the fruits that are rich in vitamin C. Dragon fruit is also a nutritious fruit. The resulting color pigmentation is very important for body nutrition. Recently, many have questioned the sweetness of unripe BARI Malta-1 being marketed. It needs to be addressed.

Apple is the most imported foreign fruit. Next is Malta. Apart from these two fruits, oranges, pomegranates, grapes and pears are also imported. Malta accounts for two-thirds of the world's total production of citrus fruits. A lot of foreign exchange is spent every year on the imported fruits including Malta and Dragon fruits. A rise in import costs puts pressure on foreign exchange reserves. The current dollar crisis is ongoing. There is an urge to reduce import costs. This is needed in the current global crisis.

According to the information of the DAE, 8 lakh 241 metric tons of foreign fruits had to be imported in the financial year 2020-21, according to the sources of a national daily. 77 percent of the total imports are apples and Malta. Bangladesh is at the 14th position in the world in terms of Malta consumption. The size of the annual fruit market at the retail level in the country is estimated primarily to be around Tk. 10,000 crore. Five months of the year, i.e. from September to January, demand for exotic fruits is the highest in the country. General Secretary of Bangladesh Fresh Fruits Importers Association Sirajul Islam commented in a national daily that if the domestic production of these fruits is less than the demand, there is no alternative to import.

The domestic production and demand of Malta and Dragon fruit is increasing gradually. Many farmers also have success stories. Many educated agribusiness entrepreneurs and agricultural officials term these fruits as dollar saving ones. Hasanuzzaman, a smart agriculture officer of Fatikchari upazila, compares malta and dragon fruit to one dollar each. Supreme Court lawyer Mahmudul Hasan, the owner of Green Touch Agro Garden in Ramgarh, termed Malta and dragon fruit as dollar-saving fruits and said that in order to sustain these two fruits sustainably, it is important to fix the right time of harvest like mangoes in Rajshahi and there needs to be a concerted initiative of farmers so that this Malta can be sold at certain times and at certain prices.

In 2020, he earned around 6.5 lakh takas from 850 plants of BARI Malta-1 and 2. He has a lot of BARI Dragon Fol-1. He is happy to see the big sizes of fruits and sold them locally at Tk. 250-300 per kg. He opined that the local demand for this fruit is increasing day by day. Atiar Rahman, another successful agricultural entrepreneur of Hafchhari in Khagrachari, harvested 8 tons of BARI Malta-1 last year from 1,000 plants. They sell at 80-100 taka per kg. He thinks that if this green Malta is propagated and harvested at maturity stage, its demand will be more than foreign yellow Malta.

According to news sources published in daily national, Malta's production (excluding post-harvest losses) exceeded 10,000 tonnes in the fiscal year 2021-22 as primary estimated. As the average price of Malta per kg is Tk. 80, the current market of the fruit is about Tk. 80 crore. If we calculate the current dollar exchange rate of 100.09 taka, it will cost 79 lakh 95 thousand 161 dollars to import this amount to Malta! If the production of Malta increases in the country, a big amount of dollars will be saved. It will increase the reserve.

According to another national daily, the production of dragon fruit has increased by 31 times in the last six years in the country. In the financial year 2020-21, 8 thousand 659 tons of dragon fruit were produced on 695 hectares of land. As the average price of dragon fruit per kg is 280 taka, the current market of the fruit is 242 crore 45 lakh 20 thousand taka. If you calculate the current dollar exchange rate of 100.09 taka, it will cost 2 crore 42 lakh 30 thousand 536 dollars to import this amount of dragon fruit! So if the production of these fruits increases in the country, the pressure on the dollar will decrease. Dollars will be saved.

Many experts also advocate imposing tariffs on seasonal imported fruits to encourage domestic production. According to them, import duties are imposed during the production season all over the world to ensure fair prices for agricultural products. This should be implemented in our country as well. If farmers get better prices, production will increase. Hlaching Mong Chowdhury, a successful agricultural entrepreneur of Mohalachari in Khagrachari district, agreed and said that import should be controlled from mid-August to December in the case of Malta and from May to the first week of December in the case of dragon fruit when it is mostly available in market by the domestic production.

Hlaching Mong Chowdhury sold about 18 tons of Malta from 7,000 plants this year. Most of these are BARI Malta-1. If this Malta is harvested in a mature state, the taste-smell-sweetness of this malta pair is fair! He opined that it is loved by everyone from children. In addition to Malta in his garden, he harvested three and a half tons of dragon fruit from about 500 dragon fruit pillars this season. Apart from BARI Dragon Fol-1, there are 2/3 more varieties of dragon fruit in his garden. Most of the fruits were sold at the wholesale price in Kawran Bazar, Dhaka.

Provide effective training to farmers in collaboration with BARI scientists and agricultural officers on modern production technologies and post-harvest management on those fruits; Distribute quality seedlings/grafts as per the demand of the farmers; Establish demonstration plots; Implement good agricultural practices (GAP); Create awareness to maintain harvest index of both fruits; Carry out mass campaign in different media on properly matured signs and proper harvesting time of BARI Malta-1 and Dragon fruit; Monitor the market with the concerned departments to raise awareness and take action if immature Malta or dragons are found; Be careful about use of any kind of harmful chemicals after harvesting of dragon fruits; and above all, there is no doubt that if a healthy market system can be developed for getting fair price, the fruit will soon emerge as dollar saving fruit.


The writer is the Principal Scientific Officer, BARI; Former Consultant,

FAO & UNDP, United Nations.

Email: [email protected]