Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat

Bangladesh’s guava growers use river market to stay afloat
1 / 4
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
2 / 4
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
3 / 4
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
4 / 4
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)
Short Url
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.


‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade
Updated 25 February 2021

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade

‘Nation of one kidney’: Scarred by poverty, more Afghans turn to illicit organ trade
  • Herat residents and lawmakers accused the government of failing to provide jobs and alleviate them from poverty, leading to a rise in the illegal kidney trade

KABUL: When Fateh Shah and his two brothers sought to escape a debt trap a couple of years ago, he says they were left with two options: To either commit a crime to pay off their lenders or to sell their kidneys.

“We were fed up with their repeated harassment,” Shah, 35, told Arab News.

They fled to neighbouring Iran “with the help of a smuggler,” hoping to find a job there and send part of their earnings back home to pay off their debts in stages.

“But we got into more debt as we were deported soon after arriving in Iran ... The smuggler became our new lender, demanding money for the trip. It was a nightmare,” Shah said.

The three brothers finally decided to go under the knife, each earning 320,000 Afghans ($4,000) for selling one kidney.

“We had no other option … we could not take the humiliation, shouting and complaints of the lenders anymore. We either had to commit a crime to pay our hefty debts or sell our kidneys, and we decided to live with one kidney rather than stealing,” Shah said.

The Shah brothers are not alone. According to recent media reports, “confirmed figures” show that more than 1,000 kidneys have been traded in the past five years in Herat, one of Afghanistan’s largest provinces, which shares its border with Iran.

“Hundreds of people who have sold their kidneys live in Se Shanba Bazar village in Injil district in Herat,” the private TV channel Tolo News said in a report.

Shah says he learned about the illegal kidney trade in western Herat, where he, like many others, had settled after fleeing prolonged periods of drought, poverty and joblessness in the province of Badghis, in the northwest of the country.

So lucrative is the illegal kidney trade that two hospitals in Herat “offer transplantation services with the help of Iranian doctors,” according to the report, which added that children as young as seven and several women “were among those forced to sell their vital organs.”

The numbers shared by the Afghan authorities, who launched a probe into the trade soon after the report, are equally jarring.

“When the team visited the hospitals, it found that in one hospital 182 transplants had occurred … and 18 in another hospital,” said Dastagir Nazari, Health Ministry spokesperson.

He added that initial findings showed that the “transplantations had been going on in the two hospitals in Herat for at least two years.”

“But … we came to know that the number is much higher, especially in the Injil district, than in these hospitals,” Nazari said.

The alarming figures prompted authorities in Herat to conduct a more detailed investigation.

However, officials “found no document showing that trade has happened inside the hospitals” between donors and patients. Public health laws dictate that the “transplantation of a kidney can only happen when the donor is a relative of the patient, in need of the kidney,” with the illegal trading of organs punishable by law, Nazari said.

Experts blame the “health mafia” in Herat for the province’s dire straits.

“It is a reality that economic compulsions have put much pressure on our people, but the health mafia should not misuse the poverty of the people this way,” Waheed Qatali, the governor of Herat, posted on Facebook recently.

However, Herat residents and lawmakers accused the government of failing to provide jobs and alleviate them from poverty, leading to a rise in the illegal kidney trade.

“The government here is good in giving hollow slogans to people. It cannot stop this process because people have no alternative,” said Rafiq Shahir, a prominent figure in Herat.

He added that poverty was prevalent in many parts of Afghanistan despite the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign aid since the Taliban’s ouster in a US-led invasion in 2001 because “authorities live a luxurious life.”

Dr. Nawrooz Haqmal, an Afghan health expert based in the UK, agreed, saying that “people had no choice but to break the law”, which prohibits the illegal sale of kidneys.

“The sad reality has been reported for years wherein the private health sector has been involved in illegal businesses,” he told Arab News.

“Also, the silence of the leadership of the public ministry about the details of this illegal business has created confusion about the law enforcement in the capital of one the major cities,” he added.

Ordinary Afghans were still able to joke about the issue, with a satirical TV program featuring Herat’s illegal kidney trade as its main topic last week.

Impersonating President Ashraf Ghani, who has repeatedly vowed to improve the livelihood of the Afghans since assuming office more than six years ago, one artist said: “The people of Herat are wise to sell their kidneys to boost their economy. Afghans were very rich, and each possesses a treasure in their bodies for selling.”

“Hope to see you, the nation of Afghanistan, soon with one kidney,” he added.


Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings
Updated 25 February 2021

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings

Mob attacks Iran governor’s office after border shootings
  • Iranian official accuses Pakistani forces of opening fire at fuel smugglers at border

KARACHI: At least one Pakistani was wounded after Iranian forces opened fire on smugglers in an area on the border of Iran and Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, a local Pakistani official said on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported that the shooting at the border left at least two dead and six wounded. It quoted Iranian officials as saying forces had shot at several fuel smugglers on the Pakistani side of the border near Saravan the day before.

Mohammad Hadi Marashi, deputy governor of the Sistan and Baluchestan province, also accused Pakistani forces of opening fire at a gathering of fuel smugglers trying to cross back into Iran, killing one and wounding four.

Pakistan has set aside nearly $20 million to fence its 900-km border with Iran, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages. But the border is also the entry point for cross-border militancy and for an illegal fuel trade that authorities have struggled to crack down on for decades.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that the shooting was part of a move by Iranian authorities against smugglers of Iranian petrol. “No Pakistani (has) died … only one person from Kharan (was) injured with a leg bullet, who is stable now,” Abdul Razzaq Sasoli, deputy commissioner of Panjgur, a Pakistani district bordering Balochistan, told Arab News, denying reports that a Pakistani had been killed in the incidents.

A border official said on condition of anonymity that one Pakistan had been killed in the shooting incident. Arab News could not verify that claim from Pakistan’s Foreign Office or the Baluchistan home minister, Mir Ziaullah Langove, who did not respond to repeated attempts for comment.

Sanaullah Baloch, a Pakistani lawmaker and leader of the Baluchistan National Party, said that the number of the deceased and injured was much higher than reported.

“We have reports that several dead and injured have been brought to Panjgur and other districts of Baluchistan,” Baloch said. “I demand a trilateral commission comprising members of the Iranian and Pakistani foreign ministries and Baloch representatives and elders to probe this unfortunate incident and dig out the reasons for why fire was opened on innocent people.”

Iran has not officially confirmed or denied the incident yet.

An angry mob stormed a district governor’s office in southeastern Iran on Tuesday, footage widely circulating on social media showed, a day after shootings at the border.

Violent clashes had also erupted Monday at a police station in Saravan. Iranian border guards opened fire at fuel smugglers trying to storm the station, wounding several, AP reported.


UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm
Updated 25 February 2021

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm

UK police arrest six after protest at factory linked to Israeli arms firm
  • Three men and three women have been detained and remain in police custody
  • Police said there had been ‘substantial damages’ to the building during the protest

LONDON: Police in the UK are holding six protesters arrested after they scaled the roof of a factory that Palestinian activists claim manufactures Israeli arms.
Protest organizers, Palestine Action group, said its members had been held more than 24 hours after the protest at the UAV Engines plant in the West Midlands of England, which is owned by Israeli company Elbit Systems UK.
Police said there had been “substantial damages” to the building during the protest on Tuesday.

The protesters drenched the building in red paint using fire extinguishers, and smashed windows. They were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and related offenses.
“Three men and three women have been detained and remain in police custody after officers brought the demonstration to a safe and peaceful conclusion at around 4:45 p.m. (on Tuesday),” Staffordshire police said in a statement reported by the Press Association.
The protest was the fourth in six months targeting the building. The organizers said they have targeted all 10 of their sites, including four arms factories, over 50 times since they launched the campaign.

“This is part of a series of actions targeting Elbit Systems and we are not planning to stop until they are shut down for good,” Huda Ammori, co-founder of the UK-based Palestine Action told Arab News.
“Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest privately-owned arms company, making a killing from Israel’s attacks on Palestinian people and it’s biggest single customer is the Israeli Ministry of Defense,” Palestine Action says on its website.
Staffordshire police did not provide further details on the custody status of the protesters when contacted by Arab News.
Earlier this month, Palestine Action, along with Extinction Rebellion --  a global environmental movement, held a protest at the Elbit factory in Oldham, only days after the UK signed a £102 million investment deal with Elbit Systems to deliver a detect and destroy system for the British Army. 


Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor
Updated 24 February 2021

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor

Pakistani PM urges Sri Lanka to join China corridor
  • Khan woos business leaders with promise of ‘religious tourism’

COLOMBO: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday opened Pakistan’s doors to “religious tourism” from Sri Lanka, inviting business leaders to visit the historically rich Gandharan region in the northwest of the country where a 40-foot statue of sleeping Buddha was recently unearthed.

He also sought their participation in Islamabad’s multibillion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Beijing.

“Pakistan has probably the most undiscovered religious tourism. For people in Sri Lanka, what is of great interest is the Gandhara Buddhist civilization. We have discovered various new sites for tourists to visit Pakistan,” Khan told delegates at the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference in Colombo.

The event was attended by Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunwardena, and a host of officials.

Khan added that the Buddhist civilization was “discovered in the north of Islamabad,” the capital of Pakistan, and that “the findings will be of interest to Sri Lankan tourists who go to historical places.”

“Pakistan will do its best to restore Sri Lanka’s tourist industry,” he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, during talks with Rajapaksa, Khan said that both countries were “on the same page” on the need to alleviate poverty in their respective nations.

“We both agreed that poverty is due to food inflation, and this problem could be solved by bridging the gap between the producer and the consumer,” he said, citing the example of China, which had “successfully uplifted more than 700 million people.”

“Successful trading relations will help alleviate poverty. Pakistan is part of the One Belt and Road initiative of China, and CPEC is one of its flagship programs, and it means connectivity, and it will help enhance Sri Lanka’s connectivity right up to Central Asia,” he said.

China has pledged more than $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan as part of CPEC, central to Beijing’s wider Belt and Road Initiative, for the development of land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.

Khan also underlined the “exceptional quality” of Pakistan-Sri Lanka relations which are “marked by trust, understanding and mutual support,” before inviting Rajapaksa to visit Pakistan at the “earliest convenience.”

The Pakistani leader also stressed the importance of building a “robust economic partnership characterized by enhanced bilateral trade, investments, and commercial cooperation.”

Sri Lanka’s business leaders agreed.

“The first-ever investment forum with 39 Pakistani business magnates will pave the way for development in trade and investments,” Bandula Dissananayake, secretary-general of the Sri Lanka National Chamber of Commerce, told Arab News.

On Monday, both prime ministers witnessed several economically important agreements between Sri Lanka and Pakistan for development in tourism cooperation, investment, technology and education.

Pakistan’s exports to Sri Lanka grew from $97 million in 2004 to $355 million in 2018, while Sri Lanka’s exports to Pakistan grew from $47 million in 2004 to $105 million in 2018, almost double over the same period.

However, the two-way trade totals only $460 million, despite the potential to garner more than $2 billion.

Related


UK to launch vaccine trials on COVID-19 variants in summer

UK to launch vaccine trials on COVID-19 variants in summer
Updated 24 February 2021

UK to launch vaccine trials on COVID-19 variants in summer

UK to launch vaccine trials on COVID-19 variants in summer
  • The new versions of the vaccine are being produced in case COVID-19 variants substantially evade immunity provided by the current jabs

LONDON: British clinical trials of vaccines against new variants of COVID-19 will start in the summer to prepare updated jabs for the autumn if variants evade the current inoculations, the Oxford University vaccine group’s lead researcher has told the UK Parliament.

Prof. Sarah Gilbert said her team is producing an initial group of vaccines against new variants that are at least partially resistant to the current jabs being rolled out.

The new versions of the vaccine are being produced in case COVID-19 variants substantially evade immunity provided by the current jabs.

A small trial in South Africa found that a variant that emerged there, and which has since arrived in the UK, is partially resistant to the Oxford vaccine.

Vaccines from Novavax and Johnson & Johnson also appear less effective against the South African variant.

“We need to make preparations so that everything is in place, if it turns out that we do need to do it,” Gilbert told British MPs.

“Currently, the plans are to be ready for an immunization campaign in the autumn, so before going into the winter season we’d have a new variant vaccine available if it turns out that’s what’s going to be required,” she added.
“If we see the emergence of a new strain very close to that date, it’s going to be difficult to go through this whole process, because we do need to conduct a clinical study and get regulatory approval, in time to be vaccinated before the winter.”
Gilbert said trials are underway to judge whether mixing vaccines will provide better protection against COVID-19 by stimulating the immune system in different ways.
The Oxford vaccine group is also looking at producing nasal spray and pill alternatives to the standard inoculation.