Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj supply most of the tomatoes produced in Rajshahi division; in just three months, from November to January, the two districts produce tomatoes worth more than Tk500 crore.
Since tomato cultivation is profitable and a major source of employment during this time of the year, tomato farming is gaining more popularity amongst farmers of the division.
Wholesalers from different parts of the country, including Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet, Mymensingh buy tomatoes directly from Rajshahi's farmers.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), in the last seven years, tomatoes have been cultivated on 15,988 hectares of land in Rajshahi district. The total tomato production has been 351,956 tonnes.
Tomato cultivation has increased in Rajshahi this year, compared to figures seven years ago. This year, tomatoes have been cultivated on 3,660 hectares of land, and the production target has been set at 76,250 tonnes. 66,362 tonnes of tomatoes were produced on 2,925 hectares of land last year.
According to the DAE, 33,940 tonnes of tomatoes were produced last year on 1,715 hectares of land in Chapainawabganj. Tomatoes have been cultivated on 2,010 hectares of land this year and the production target has been set at 50,250 tonnes.
Shamsul Haque, deputy director of Department of Agricultural Extension, Rajshahi, said, "Rajshahi is well ahead of the other regions of the country in producing early tomatoes. Farmers in this region also get better prices as tomato is sold at Tk60 to 70 per kg at the start of the season. By the end of the season, the price is reduced to Tk20 to 25 per kg."
"Taking both the early and late prices in account, we can calculate the average price of tomato at Tk40 per kg throughout the season. Considering this price, we can say that tomatoes worth more than Tk500 crore are traded in Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj," he added.
Muhammad Nazrul Islam, deputy director of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Chapainawabganj, said, "Farmers in Chapainawabganj are also benefiting by cultivating tomatoes. Tomato cultivation is the best option if you want more profits."
Abdus Sobhan Mandal, a farmer from Char Kholabana village in Paba upazila of Rajshahi, has cultivated tomatoes on five bighas of land.
"I am cultivating tomatoes without applying any kind of pesticides. Other farmers apply pesticides and other chemicals, which is why their tomato prices are lower is less. I get a higher price as my tomatoes are ripe and large," he said.
"On Monday, I sold 18 maunds of tomatoes at Kharkhari Bypass Market in Rajshahi for Tk1,000-1,200 per maund. However, my production cost is higher since I use the scaffolding method to cultivate my tomatoes. It costs Tk60,000 per bigha of land," he added.
This season, tomatoes are being sold at Tk30 to Tk60 per kg in different retail markets of Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj.
Didarul Alam Selim, a farmer from Bara Pukuria village of Chapainawabganj, has cultivated tomatoes on eight bighas of land. He has been selling tomatoes in the market for the last three months. He is now getting a price of Tk30 per kg.
He said, "There is still a demand for ripe tomatoes. I sell tomatoes wholesale for Tk20 per kg. If I take them to the market, I sell them for Tk30 per kg."
Touhidul Islam, a farmer from Saramangla village, cultivated tomatoes on two bighas of land. He said that a bacterial outbreak had caused low production levels and economic losses for many tomato farmers.
He said a lot of tomatoes have been produced in Godagari, Rajshahi since 1990. Three months of tomato cultivation followed by two months of marketing require a lot of labor.
"A lot of people are employed in tomato cultivation, so agro industries, with a focus on tomatoes, should be developed. However, those with agro industries can also buy tomatoes here at a good price," he said.
But, he complained that agro industries buy tomatoes when the prices are the lowest.
One of the major industrial buyers of tomatoes produced in Rajshahi is Pran Agro Business Limited. This season, they started buying tomatoes from 19 January.
Sarwar Hossain, deputy general manager of Pran Agro Business Limited, Rajshahi, said, "Last year we purchased 30,000 tonnes of ripe tomatoes from Rajshahi. We have a target to buy more tomatoes this year. Now, on an average, 400 tonnes of ripe tomatoes are being bought from 50 farmers on a daily basis. Tomatoes will be bought for two months and use them to produce sauce and ketchup."
AB Hamid Babu, a tomato supplier from Godagari said, "I have a three-day contract with Pran Agro to supply six tonnes of tomatoes every day. They have fixed the price at Tk6.5 per kg. I buy tomatoes from farmers at a little less than that."
"I have to make my own profit; I enter into a new contract with them if the price matches after three days," he added.
Shafiqul Islam, upazila agriculture officer of Godagari, said there was a time when other companies would buy ripe tomatoes. But now only Pran Agro seems to be the key player.