Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat

Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat
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Floating guava market in Vimrul, Jhalakathi, a southern region district of Bangladesh, attracts fruit traders and tourists from across the country every day during monsoon season. (Photo by Shehab Sumon)
Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat
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Floating guava market in Vimrul, Jhalakathi, a southern region district of Bangladesh, attracts fruit traders and tourists from across the country every day during monsoon season. (Photo by Shehab Sumon)
Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat
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Floating guava market in Vimrul, Jhalakathi, a southern region district of Bangladesh, attracts fruit traders and tourists from across the country every day during monsoon season. (Photo by Shehab Sumon)
Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat
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Floating guava market in Vimrul, Jhalakathi, a southern region district of Bangladesh, attracts fruit traders and tourists from across the country every day during monsoon season. (Photo by Shehab Sumon)
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Updated 13 September 2020

Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat

Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat
  • Country’s largest floating market is the main source of livelihood for thousands of traders

DHAKA: “Watch your step!” the signboard says in Bangla as guava traders lure customers to their boats, stacked neatly next to one another in several rows at a 150-year-old floating market in the Vimrul village of Bangladesh’s Jhalakathi District.

Here, more than 1,000 traders sell delicious varieties of the “goia” or guavas that are “plucked fresh from the trees” and sold at a fraction of the market price elsewhere.

“Growing guavas is one of our main sources of income as we can’t grow other crops due to the soil conditions. Also, customers know the guavas are organic and just plucked from the trees,” Kalipod Roy, a 57-year-old guava farmer from the nearby Shotodosh Kathi village, told Arab News.

And while there are other markets located in the Baukathi and Kuriana areas nearby, they are smaller in size and not as famous as the one in Vimrul, which is located 271 km from the capital Dhaka and is the largest source of guavas in the country. 

Roy said that selling the guavas at the market was “highly convenient” for most traders as transportation was “easy and always cheaper.”

Located in the southern part of Bangladesh where water vessels are the only means of transportation, the Vimrul market operates on a river connecting three canals, providing easy access to buyers from surrounding areas.

The Vimrul village has a population of about 1,500 people, 80 percent of whom are dependent on the cultivation of guava and hog pump, a sour-tasting fruit, for a livelihood.

According to Jhalakathi district’s agricultural department, about 1,600 farmers cultivate the fruit on 8,000 hectares of land in the villages of Shotodosh Kathi, Dumuria, Mira Kathi, Jogodishpur and Kapor Kathi, which are famous for guava cultivation due to the soil conditions.

It takes four months for the fruit to mature before it is ready for sale during the monsoon season from July to September.

“This floating guava market is part and parcel of the lives of people in this locality,” Gautam Roy, general secretary of the market, told Arab News. “Usually, they buy new clothes in this season as people have money in their hands. Most of the marriages and other ceremonies also take place in this season mainly due to sales at the floating guava market.”

During the three months of operation, traders work with clockwork precision to load the produce on to the wooden boats, check stock and compare the market rate before quoting the final price to the customer on board.

Time is of the essence as they are allowed to operate for only five hours every day, from 7 a.m. to noon, and buyers are short in supply — mainly due to the coronavirus and the size of the vessel, which allows for only two people to be on board at a time.  

The transactions are always in cash, with traders taking home in total nearly $13,000 at the end of each day.

Once they are done for the day, the leftover fruit is never discarded or taken back but sold at a throwaway price so as not to waste the produce.

However, neither the short trading hours nor the mode of selling act as a deterrent for the thousands of farmers at the floating market, several of whom are third-generation traders.

“I came to this floating market for the very first time as a child with my grandfather, who used to cultivate and sell guavas for a livelihood. After him, my father took over the business. Now both of them are no more, and I am at the helm of this family business,” Sirajul Islam, 49, said, adding that his family has been growing guavas for at least 80 years. 

The decades of experience have helped Islam to stay afloat despite the pandemic, he said.

After a nationwide lockdown was imposed in March to limit the spread of the outbreak, several businesses were forced to shut down.

But the high-quality and taste of his fruits ensured that “customers always came back for more.”

“I don’t use any artificial fertilizers for guava cultivation, only natural compost made of hyacinths. Artificial fertilizer may help me to grow more guavas, but it impacts the taste of the fruit. If my guavas have a good taste, I can sell them at a better price eventually,” he said. 

On an average, he produces about five tons of guavas every year. He said that the government could do more to support local farmers by providing financial assistance and training in the use of fertilizers and pesticides. 

“Currently, farmers are growing 9-10 tons of guava on each hectare of land,” Mohammad Fazlul Huq, deputy director of the district agriculture department, told Arab News. “We have deployed expert field officers at the grass-root level so that the farmers can avail themselves of instant support whenever needed. In some cases, experts from the agriculture department help the farmers control the pest attack and minimize the losses.” 

Another reason for the floating market’s popularity is the price of the guavas — cheaper than those sold across the country.

“I come here twice in a week to buy the fruits at a wholesale rate. Here the guavas are cheap and the best in quality,” Mohammad Zakir Hossain, a buyer from the capital who travels 271 km to shop at the market, told Arab News.

To ensure the prices stay competitive, traders at Vimrul market have access to free wifi for updates on the market prices in the adjoining districts and to be able to “connect with them buyers around the country,” Huq said.

He added that work was underway to grant bank loans at a low-interest rate to guava farmers “to help them continue production.”

The floating market is also a huge source of attraction for tourists from across the country, some of whom drive for several kilometers to “get their dose of green.”

“It’s amazing! It’s nothing but green all around. From all directions, boats are coming laden with guava . . . it is a beautiful scenario to watch the boats floating on the water with colorful fresh fruits,” Saiful Mahmud, a university student from Dhaka, told Arab News.


Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the north central railway hospital in Allahabad on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2021

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • Only half of the government’s target has been inoculated

NEW DELHI: The world’s biggest vaccination drive to inoculate 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus is slowing down in India as concerns over safety fuel vaccine hesitancy, especially among health workers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the campaign on Jan. 16, with 30 million frontline health care workers the first to get the jab. A week into the drive, however, Health Ministry data suggest that on average only 150,000 people have been inoculated a day — half of the government’s target.
“There is a general hesitancy among healthcare workers, particularly doctors, about the efficacy of the vaccines,” Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors Association of the premier Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told Arab News on Friday.
Two coronavirus vaccines have been approved for emergency use in India: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced domestically as Covishield by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, and a locally developed vaccine called Covaxin, produced by Indian company Bharat Biotech, which is still in its trial stage and has no final data on its efficacy.
“Lack of transparency is at the core of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Nirmalya Mohapatra of Delhi-based Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, told Arab News.
“We doctors should have jointly taken up the issue and asked the government to demonstrate more transparency in introducing the vaccine,” he said.
Mohapatra was one of the doctors who on Jan. 16 refused to take a Covaxin shot at his hospital.
Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF) president, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhattialso, says that the absence of data is fueling “fear about the vaccination” among members of the medical community.
 Concerns also exist about the Covishield vaccine.

FASTFACT

Instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.

“Even there is hesitancy about Covishied. There is no enthusiasm for it. However, people will prefer Covishied over Covaxin,” Bhatti said.
In response to vaccine hesitancy, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Thursday launched an information campaign to address what he said were “rumors and misinformation.”
“We have launched a digital media package with impactful messages from key technical experts from the country who have taken COVID-19 vaccine,” Vardhan told reporters.
The messages, he said, are that “vaccines are safe and efficacious,” and cover the “critical role of vaccines in controlling the pandemic.”
But instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.
“If the Indian PM Narendra Modi and other political high-ups take the vaccine then it will have a huge impact,” Singh said. “There is a lack of political consensus on vaccines. To inspire confidence all the state chief ministers should also take the shot.”
According to media reports, Modi may get vaccinated in the second phase of the campaign, in March or April, when 270 million people above the age of 50 will be inoculated.
Other health experts argue, however, that vaccinating leaders is not a substitute for scientific processes.
“Leadership taking the vaccine is more of a tokenism than coming out clean on the efficacy and the actual and effective profile of the vaccine,” said Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based health expert and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.
“What is tragic is that our PM might be ready to take the risk of vaccination (but) he is not ready to offend the companies, which are sitting on the data. Why can’t they make the data public? This is what the doctors are asking for,” he told Arab News.
In the absence of scientific data, he argued, people with underlying health problems would be hesitant to get vaccinated when the immunization campaign reaches the general public.
“When you are not transparent today, then tomorrow comorbid people will be hesitant and then the general population will be reluctant,” he said.