- 7,000 litre of attar worth Tk420 crore was exported in 2019
- 10,000 kg of agarwood, worth Tk200 crore are exported a year
- 40,000 people of Moulvibazar are directly associated with the agar attar industry
- There are 300 factories including 176 registered factories
- Traders are reluctant to export officially as the cost of LC for 1 or 10 litre is the same
- initiatives are being taken to create new markets for agar attar, especially in Europe
- Agarwood is called the wood of God, used as a sacrificial offering in East Asia and Japan
With many agar attar (attar) factories, Sujanagar union under Baralekha upazila in Moulvibazar is famous for the production of agar attar. Every year, attar worth hundreds of crores of taka is produced here and exported to different countries of the world including those in the Middle East.
The government of Bangladesh, even the Export Promotion Bureau does not have any exact statistics on the amount of attar exported abroad every year. The attar is mostly sent by luggage through expatriates.
The Bangladesh Agar and Attar Manufacturers and Importers Association said although agar attar production goes on throughout the year, its export season starts from January. However, the export of agar attar stopped this year as flights were stopped since March due to coronavirus.
According to the association, 7,000 litres of attar was exported from the district through legal and luggage routes in 2019. With an average price of Tk6 lakh per litre, the total market value is around Tk420 crore. Moreover, 10,000 kilogrammes of agarwood, worth Tk200 crore are exported a year.
At least 40,000 people of Moulvibazar are directly associated with the agar attar industry. According to the Forest Department, there are 176 registered factories, but the total number is not less than 300.
Ansarul Haque, president of the association, said agar sales will increase if flights are normalised with all countries, especially with those to the Middle East. However, even if flights become normal, he expressed doubt about the extent to which people will be interested in buying this luxury product in the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Last year he exported about 2,500 litres of agar attar, but this year he exported only 10% of that amount.
Agar attar trader Kabir Ahmad Chowdhury said exports are closed because there is no demand. All previous orders have been cancelled. Since the old product is stuck, He cannot produce new ones.
Furthermore, as small traders cannot export, they are selling their products at low prices to big traders to mitigate the financial crisis. They are seeking government assistance and loans on easy terms.
Babul Ahmed, director of MM Agar Attar Trading in Sujanagar, said, "Last year, I exported 700 tolas (one tola = 11.6 grams) of attar but this year I could not send anything. I still have 400 tolas in the house. I am in extreme financial trouble."
Adib Majid, director of Amena and Fatema Agarood and Perfume, said last year we exported 600 tolas of attar and 40 kg of wood. Although the sale has stopped almost completely for the last five months, some attar was sold recently.
Local moneylenders are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis and buying attars from small traders at low prices. If flights become normal, we will send it abroad in the luggage system
"Local moneylenders are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis and buying attars from small traders at low prices. If flights become normal, we will send it abroad in the luggage system," he added.
Reluctance to export legally
Seeking anonymity, some traders said the cost of opening a letter of credit for one litre of attar extract is the same as that for 10 litres. Small traders are unable to bear this cost, so they send attar through luggage to different countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai.
If the government simplifies the export process as well as the issue of debentures, then the export of agar attar in a legal manner will increase and the revenue collection will also escalate.
Meanwhile, traders are seeking easy loans and government assistance. The Bangladesh Agar and Attar Manufacturers and Importers Association said the government had taken a list of affected traders who need easy loans and government assistance.
Moulvibazar deputy commissioner Mir Nahid Ahsan said they had taken an initiative to create new markets for agar attar, especially in Europe. Also, they are working to solve all the obstacles that traders have.
We have come a long way in meeting the demand for bank loans on easy terms of traders. I hope all the problems will be solved soon
"We have seriously informed the industries ministry about the problems. Later, a team from the ministry came and inspected the site. We have come a long way in meeting the demand for bank loans on easy terms of traders. I hope all the problems will be solved soon," he added.
Use of agar
According to information provided on the website of the Agricultural Information Service (AIS), agarwood is called the wood of God, and is used as a sacrificial offering in East Asia and Japan. Agarwood trade and popularity in the Middle East is thousands of years old. The aroma of agar is soothing; many people use it to increase the strength of the body.
Besides, agar oil is used in the preparation of various medicines, perfume, soaps and shampoos. Irrespective of caste or creed, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims all use agar attar and agarwood powder. Attar has become known as liquid gold in Bangladesh.
Agarwood can be planted in the yard, on the side of the road, on fallow land, on the slope of a hill, on a hill or even in an abandoned place. Agar trees grow well on hilly land. However, it grows more or less on all land.