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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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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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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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

  • 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.


Shock after rare killing of British police officer

Updated 27 September 2020

Shock after rare killing of British police officer

  • The suspect, who had been arrested for possession of drugs with intent to supply

LONDON: Police across Britain on Saturday paid silent tribute and flags were flown at half mast after a long-serving officer became the first to be shot dead in the line of duty in more than eight years.

Sergeant Matiu Ratana, 54, was shot by a 23-year-old man at Croydon Custody Center in south London at about 2:15 a.m (0115 GMT), and died in hospital.

The suspect, who had been arrested for possession of drugs with intent to supply and possession of ammunition, turned the gun on himself, and was said to be in critical but stable condition.

Ratana’s death is being treated as murder.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Ratana, who came to Britain from New Zealand and was known as Matt, was “senselessly killed.”

Originally from Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, he joined the Met in 1991 after university and had nearly 30 years as a uniformed officer in the British capital.

He played for London Irish and the force rugby union team, before going into coaching at East Grinstead, near Croydon. He leaves a partner and an adult son from a previous relationship.

“As a colleague, he was big in stature and big-hearted, a friendly, capable police officer,” Dick said.

“A lovely man, highly respected by officers and staff, and by the public, including suspects he arrested or dealt with in custody.

“He was very well known locally and will be remembered so fondly in Croydon, as well as in the Met and the rugby world.”

Dick said security and police body camera footage would be examined closely as part of the investigation, after media reports suggested the suspect may not have been fully searched before entering the custody suite.

Many British police carry taser stun guns but are not routinely armed, although forces have tactical firearms units to respond quickly to incidents.

According to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which sent investigators to the scene, no police firearms were fired.

The suspect was handcuffed and apparently opened fire in the custody suite with a revolver as officers prepared to search him, it added.

Deaths in service in Britain are rare and the shooting sent shockwaves throughout police forces across the country. 

Flags were lowered and officers stood in a minute’s silence in Ratana’s memory.

His death came as the British government is looking to introduce harsher sentences for attacks on emergency service workers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered his “deepest condolences” to Ratana’s family, writing on Twitter that “we owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe.”

Policing minister Kit Malthouse told parliament: “We ask our police officers to do an extraordinary job.

“The fact that one of them has fallen in the line of performing that duty is a tragedy for the entire nation.”

Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were the last British police officers to be shot dead in the line of duty, when they were ambushed in a gun and grenade attack in September 2012.

They were killed by drug dealer Dale Cregan while responding to a report of a burglary in Manchester, northwest England.

Since then, a further five officers have been killed on duty — four by vehicles while pursuing suspects and one, Keith Palmer, who was stabbed during a 2017 terror attack on parliament.

Ratana is the 17th officer from the Met to be killed by a firearm since the end of World War II, according to the National Police Memorial roll of honor.