Shahadat Hossain of Dantatali village in Rajshahi has been cultivating tomatoes for five years, but he has seldom seen profits.
Shahadat knows the lack of proper conservation, processing, and marketing facilities have held his business back.
Now, though, the farmer from Godagari upazila of Rajshahi looks forward to a better future.
He has signed a deal with Pran-RFL Group to produce tomatoes under a contractual farming initiative of the company.
"The situation has changed with the introduction of contract farming. I am getting good profits now," he told this correspondent during a visit to his tomato field.
Like Shahadat, tomato growers in Godagari are delighted as they are getting good prices for their produce.
Under the contractual farming initiative, Pran-RFL is working with 8,000 farmers of Godagari, helping them change their fate.
The company gave farmers assurance of the purchase of 100% of their produce, which has brought smiles to the faces of the tomato growers in the area.
Iftekhar Ahmed Munna from Dantatali village said 30-40% of his produce would remain unsold or become rotten earlier as he did not get good prices due to the lack of preservation and marketing facilities.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension's Rajshahi office, Godagari sees the highest tomato production in the country. Earlier, a large portion of the tomatoes produced there would be wasted.
At present, the socio-economic condition of the farmers in the area has changed due to the timely marketing of their produce at a good price.
The crop is widely grown in Rajshahi Sadar and chars of the River Padma. Besides, tomatoes are cultivated in some other parts of the country.
Sources said at present, the annual market for tomato paste, sauce, and ketchup in the country is around Tk250 crore, which is growing at a rate of 10% per annum.
To make tomato food products, Pran-RFL has signed agreements with 10,000 farmers to produce tomato in Rajshahi, Chapainawabganj, Natore, Pabna, and Dinajpur this year. With this, tomato has been cultivated on 867 bighas of land.
This year, the company has a target to collect 12,000 tonnes of tomato.
Pran-RFL, the country's largest agro-processing company which started contract farming of tomato in 2010, has been producing a variety of food products from tomato since 2002. It has the capacity to produce 18,000 tonnes of tomato sauce a year.
According to data of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 30-35% of fruits and vegetables is wasted every year in Bangladesh due to the lack of proper storage and processing facilities.
Even the lack of marketing facilities deprives farmers of fair prices for their produce, causing them to incur huge losses. Tomato is one of the most widely grown crops in Bangladesh, but it is prone to damage due to the lack of proper preservation and processing.
Shafiqul Islam, agriculture officer of the upazila, told The Business Standard tomato is cultivated on more than 2,500 hectares of land in Godagari every year.
"As a result of the contract farming initiative of Pran-RFL, farmers are now cultivating tomato on a large scale in the hope of earning good profits.
"Earlier, farmers in the area used to consider mango cultivation as their main cash crop. Alongside mango, they area are now financially benefiting from cultivating tomatoes," he added.
Sources said farmers in the area usually use hybrid seeds of VL-642 variety. As a result, they get 10-20% better yield than ordinary varieties.
Under the contract, Pran-RFL provides farmers with high-yield seeds, training, and timely application of pesticides.
The company, in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation, has provided training to 2,000 tomato growers under the "Pran Assured Scheme".
Kamruzzaman Kamal, Pran-RFL Group director (marketing), told The Business Standard as farmers are guaranteed that 100% of their produce will be purchased under the contract, marginal farmers have no risk of financial loss.
Earlier, farmers would be forced to throw away tomatoes because they could not sell it at a fair price or their crop became rotten, he added.
Another official of the company told The Business Standard since the beginning of this season, tomato collection and pulping activities started in two factories in Barindra Industrial Park.
Five hundred local workers are directly engaged in this work in the two factories. Additionally, 1,500 people are indirectly employed at various stages – from cultivating to supplying.
The company is currently exporting its ketchup to 60 countries, including Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, the US, Italy, and Sweden.