Pineapple traders in the Chattogram hill tracts district of Khagrachhari are going to face at least a Tk50 crore loss this summer due to the coronavirus-led lockdown.
Traders say the stay-at-home order seriously impedes the supply and marketing of the juicy fruit which remains unreaped from orchards, with pineapples rotting in the fields.
Scaled down and limited sales amid travel and movement restrictions have led to throwaway pineapple prices. Under these circumstances, the local Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) office called for immediately introducing alternative marketing measures for seasonal fruits grown in the hilly district.
All the nine upazilas of Khagrachhari produce pineapples in abundance and local traders buy the pineapple orchards from the farmers in advance. Besides that, small farmers go to markets at upazila and zila headquarters directly with their produce.
After meeting local demand, pineapples grown in Khagrachhari go to other parts of the country.
With wholesale buyers sitting far from Khagrachhari markets due to pandemic-led movement restrictions, the supply chain shows a gloomy picture this year.
According to the district DAE office, farmers planted pineapple on 1,218 hectares of hilly land and production has exceeded 26,000 tons this year. Though pineapples have been planted on a larger area than in previous seasons, production was below expectation due to lesser than usual rainfall.
On top of a relatively poor crop, the Covid-19 pandemic and its restrictions are further affecting small farmers.
Local fruit traders say the pineapple market collapsed soon after the lockdown announcement. Wholesale pineapple prices dropped to Tk5-10 per piece from the previous rate of Tk20-30.
Khagrachhari's Guimara upazila pineapple trader Tofayel Hosen bought four orchards in advance for Tk25 lakh this year. Of 2 lakh pineapples grown at the orchards, he has so far sold only around one lakh pineapples.
He says pineapples are rotting in the fields as demand has nosedived. "There are tiny sales now, but at rock-bottom rates," added the trader.
Ruhul Amin, another trader from Manikchari upazila of the district, said he purchased 8 lakh pineapples in advance at Tk96 lakh.
"I have sold only 3 lakh pineapples so far and had to incur a loss of Tk8 lakh so far. My total loss this season may reach Tk40 lakh," Ruhul Amin added.
Ramgarh pineapple trader Suruj Mia said he purchased pineapple orchards on bank loans and has already incurred losses and will have great trouble to repay the loans if the situation continues.
Md Martuz Ali, deputy director of Khagrachhari DAE, concurred that summer fruits in hill tracts orchards are rotting due to movement restrictions.
He said if the situation continues much longer, both farmers and traders will shy away from fruit production and marketing. He said alternative measures should be taken immediately for the marketing and distribution of summer fruits.