People living in Dhaka city and other cities in Bangladesh are mostly deprived of fresh vegetables, and also have to pay higher prices for unfresh food items.
Consumer rights activists, market observers and government officials concerned said that the multi-tier supply chain is mainly responsible for the unavailability of fresh vegetables in urban areas, and the higher prices. Complex market systems, lack of integrated effort and absence of strong law and policy are also responsible.
“The supply chain of vegetables is very complex due to the involvement of middlemen. They handle vegetable products that are supplied to the urban market. As a result, the price goes up a lot. On the other hand, there is a shortage of fresh vegetables in the urban market due to the weak transportation system,” said Dr Ruman Huque, a professor of Economics at Dhaka University and executive director at ARK Foundation.
Talking to Bangladesh Post on Tuesday, she said that it is more important to ensure fresh and unadulterated vegetables in urban markets because urban consumers don’t want to compromise on quality. If necessary, they want fresh vegetables at a comparatively higher price.
However, urban people, especially Dhaka’s residents, even pay higher for seasonal vegetables when the price significantly declines at growers’ level at the beginning of full harvest time.
Middlemen are gobbling up most benefits as they collect products at a very low price from producers. But the price increases several times to reach the consumers in Dhaka.
Palash Mahmud, executive director at Conscious Consumers Society, said that none can do business in Dhaka’s biggest vegetable market Karwan Bazar without involving syndicate. Consumers have to pay for this. Stern action against the syndicate and middlemen must be taken and exemplary punishment must be ensured, he added.
However, no law properly covers the issue of supply of fresh vegetables in urban markets although Bangladesh has the highest number of laws on safe food in the world. There are about half a hundred laws, regulations and policies, including Food Safety Act, 2013; Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009; National Food Policy, 2006; National Health Policy, 2011; and Pure Food Rules, 1967.
Several ministries and departments are involved in food issues. However, there is no proper coordination among them.
Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin, secretary at Center for Law and Policy Affairs (CLPA), told Bangladesh Post that there are numerous laws regarding food, but no law covers the issue of fresh food properly. The laws should be amended so that fresh food can be covered and recognised properly.
He emphasised on formulating urban agriculture policy to ensure fresh vegetables, fruits and other food items in urban areas.
Placing logic in favor of his proposal, Syed Mahbubul Alam said that urban people are compelled to buy stale vegetables at a high price that also hits their home budget. Fresh vegetables must be ensured for the urban population in equilibrium price also in the interest of public health as 67 percent of deaths in the country are from non-communicable diseases.
The expert on public health said that removal of middlemen’s involvement is not the only solution. Alongside the problem, emphasis should be given on vegetable production in urban areas as well. So, roof-top farming should be encouraged and given importance. Special arrangements have to be made for the transportation of vegetables coming from outside cities. These issues need to be included in a policy. So, a coordinated effort of several ministries and departments, including Agriculture Ministry, Food Ministry, Railways Ministry and Road Transport and Bridge Ministry, is needed.
Supporting him, Dr Ruman Huque said that the government should provide intensive support to encourage urban horticulture and rooftop gardening so that vegetables can be produced in Dhaka and other cities. “The authorities concerned should arrange a smooth transportation system for vegetables and provide subsidies in this regard like during the Covid-19 situation, so that the farmers can sell their produce in the urban market directly,” she said.
Bangladesh is an agriculture-based country and plenty of vegetables are produced here. But farmers fail to go to the proper market due to lack of proper arrangement, poor transportation, inadequate storage capacities and poor market infrastructure.
In this situation, the vegetable supply chain starts from the farmers. It changes hands to reach urban areas. Multiple layers of the supply chain are involved in every step.
Prof Dr Md Abdul Alim, a member of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA), said that there is no other place in the world where there is such a change of hands. Vegetables and other food items also become unsafe due to excessive change of hands.
The BFSA member said that the supply chain must be shortened. Cooling vans are used in other countries for carrying vegetables. But in our country, the vegetable is carried by open truck, bus and other public transport. The transportation type must be changed. Train should be used for carrying vegetables to urban areas, he added.
Against the backdrop of complex supply chains and involvement of middlemen, many are thinking of introducing ‘Farmers’ Market’ in cities in the country.
Ziaur Rahman Litu, senior project manager of WBB Trust, said that they have received positive output from a pilot farmers’ market that was set up at Mirpur in the capital. Such markets should be established in all ward areas of Dhaka city and other cities in the country. The marginal farmers would sell their products, including fresh vegetables, directly in the Farmers’ Market, while the consumers won’t be deprived of access to safe and fresh food at fair prices.
Prof Dr Md Abdul Alim of BFSA supported the idea of farmers’ market and proposal of enactment of urban agro policy. He said that such a marketplace would facilitate farmers and consumers and such a marketplace in urban areas would be a good source of safe, healthy and fresh food items, including fresh vegetables.
He also said that they are working to limit the influence of middlemen and ensure fresh food items in urban areas. The city corporations have to play an important role in this regard, he added.
Touhid Md Rashed Khan, assistant director of Department of Agriculture Marketing (DOM), said that a huge price gap between growers’ level and Dhaka’s retail markets is depriving consumers of buying seasonal crops at rational rates. It must be removed. The DOM is working in this regard.