Buy both toxic, non-toxic vegetables from farmers but sell as organic ones for good profit
With the early morning mist still hovering, traders head for the markets with cauliflowers they bought from farmers. The photo was shot from Manda on the edge of the capital recently.
Farmers in many parts of the country are producing vegetables without using chemical pesticides but their toxicity-free produce is getting mixed with toxic vegetables in the absence of proper marketing facilities.
Traders buy both toxicity-free and toxic vegetables, load those in trucks without differentiating between the two types and take those to markets, say field reports received from some major vegetable-growing districts.
A large number of farmers are growing toxicity-free vegetables and fruits by applying Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods like pheromone trap instead of chemical pesticides but they are facing an acute problem of marketing their produce separately.
Pheromone trap is a device that uses pheromones to lure insects to get trapped in it so that farmers can save their crop from pest attacks.
A number of farmers said had there been separate markets for toxic free vegetables, consumers would have shown more interest in buying those. And this would encourage more and more farmers to go for producing toxic-free vegetables instead of toxic ones.
There should be specific corners in markets including those in Dhaka for sale of the safe vegetables, they said.
Asked, agriculture officials in the areas with increasing use of IPM methods echoed the farmers' views about marketing their produce separately, and said this would enable consumers to buy those without worrying about heath hazards.
Nazmul Islam, a farmer at Belabo in Narsingdi, who has been using pheromone trap and some other IPM methods for the last five years, told this correspondent, "I feel bad when I see my produce is mixed with toxic ones. My efforts become meaningless."
Torikul Islam, a farmer in Jessore, said he opted for vegetable cultivation by using pheromone trap a decade ago when he came to know about the health hazards of using chemical pesticides. "I did it to ensure good health of my family members and those who purchase my produce," he said over the phone.
The number of farmers using IPM has increased over the years. But many are yet to go for it although it costs less than using pesticides. IPM practice however requires more time and care.
Cultivation of vegetables by using pesticides gives higher output and the produce looks better than those produced without using toxic substances. And this might encourage many to go for it, said Torikul.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry in association with traders have opened four formalin-free fish markets in the capital in the face of growing worries about health hazards due the use of toxic substances in foods.
But ensuring availability of toxicity-free vegetables and fruits to consumers has so far got little attention.
Only a handful of private sector firms such as Fresh and Safe Agro Ltd (FASAL) and online shopping portal -- amardesheshop.com --by Future Solution Business (FSB) are buying and supplying toxicity-free vegetables to consumers in the capital.
Some superstores such as Agora and Meena Bazar have also taken initiative to collect and supply toxicity-free vegetables.
These initiatives, however, are far from enough to enable farmers to sell all their safe vegetables.
Nazmul and some other farmers said they supply a specified quantity of vegetables to FSB. They have to go to nearby markets to sell the rest of their produce.
Agriculture officials say the number of farmers using IPM is growing due to the agriculture ministry's decade-long efforts to motivate farmers to cut use of chemical pesticides hazardous to health. The initiative was taken as rampant use of chemical pesticides for commercial cultivation of vegetables and fruits led to growing worries among people about health risks.
They mentioned that preservatives and dyes are being used by traders to retain natural colour of vegetables such as tomato.
Asked about proper marketing of safe vegetables, Hemayet Hossain, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture Extension, Jessore, said, "We are trying to establish market linkage."
Mitul Kumar Saha, assistant general manager of Hortex Foundation, said their organisation has established 12 marketing and collection centres of toxicity-free vegetables and fruits.
Traders purchase those from these centres but the foundation is yet to devise any mechanism to reach those to consumers.
Sharmin Hossain, chairman of FASAL, said there are demands from customers for safe vegetables. Buy his company cannot meet that fully because it has only six outlets in the capital.