Agriculture sector of Bangladesh plays a vital role in boosting the country’s economic growth. Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) shows that vegetable production in the country is increasing year by year for various reasons, including the use of latest technology in agriculture, favorable weather and the country’s fertile land. Against this backdrop, the country has reached a new height in vegetable production.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Bangladesh ranked third as a vegetable producer in the world, while China is first and India is second. Bangladesh is now not only the third largest producer of vegetable, its production in the country has increased several times in the last 52 years after the independence. Therefore, export of vegetables can become one of the major sources of foreign exchange earnings in future.
The people of the country are not able to properly enjoy this incredible success in vegetable production. Hence, vegetables are more expensive in the markets. People buy vegetables and other agro-products at higher prices. Retail prices of vegetables, fruits and other agro-based food items are much higher in urban markets as compared to rural markets, and the difference in vegetables is greater than that of other food items. Differences in rural-urban retail prices for vegetables mainly varied in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, than other parts of the country.
On the one hand the urban people, particularly the Dhaka city dwellers, are deprived of fair prices, on the other hand they are deprived of fresh vegetables, fruits and food items even at higher prices. The pricing is affected in Dhaka city and other urban markets mainly in absence of proper transportation system. The lack of proper transportation system also contributes to scarcity of fresh argo-based food items in urban areas.
Middlemen take advantage of the problems. Market and policy analysts said that the prices of vegetables, fruits and other food items increase several times while these come to urban markets from producers in rural areas through middlemen. As the farmers on a large scale can’t come to markets, particularly to the urban markets, they have to depend on the middlemen.
According to the market analysts, problems in marketing of agricultural produce, including profiteering middlemen and extortion during transportation, should be solved in order to provide fresh vegetables, fruits and other agro-items to consumers in optimum price while the producers won’t also be deprived of benefits.
Against this backdrop, Bangladesh Railway is planning to launch a special train service named ‘Sobzi Train’ for transporting vegetables and fruits from different parts of the country. They have taken a plan to buy 125 rail wagons this year in this regard. The authorities of the Bangladesh Railway made the plan at a informal meeting with rights activists, experts on public health and market analysts. The meeting took place on December 17 in 2022. According to the plan taken in the meeting, the special train will be introduced for farmers and traders to send their fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods to a place to other place in the country, particularly in the urban areas.
The vegetables and other agro-based items come mainly by road in Dhaka city and other cities and towns. This increases the cost of transportation due to various reasons. The influence of middlemen also increases due to various other hassles, including extortion. In such a situation, if vegetables are transported by rail and waterway, urban people will get fresh vegetables at fair prices. It will be a great initiative by the government.
Kawran Bazar and other kitchen markets in Dhaka are conveniently located by rail. If farmers or anyone else can directly bring vegetables or any other items to these markets from any part of the country, it will be a better solution than this to ensure fresh fruits at fair prices. If special service in train for transporting vegetables and other food items to Dhaka and other urban areas is introduced, the agriproducts will come in the urban market without extortion, which will reduce cost. However, transport cost in rail is usually less than roads and highways.
The Railway authorities had launched ‘Mango Special Train’ for transporting mango to Dhaka from mango producing areas at a lower cost for the welfare of the growers, traders and consumers. In 2020, the Mango Special Train was launched for the first time in the wake of growers’ transportation problems during the Covid-19 situation. Bangladesh Railway has received good experience after operating a special train for carrying mango. Like the ‘mango train’, the Bangladesh Railway is planning to introduce ‘special vegetable train’ for carrying all kinds of vegetables, seasonal fruits, eggs and other agricultural products at less cost in the special train.
For this reason, the Bangladesh Railway has taken the plan of buying 50 broad-gauge wagons and 75 metre-gauge wagons. The plans also include buying refrigerated containers. Among the 125 wagons, 28 will be refrigerated, 12 of them will be broad-gauge refrigerated wagons and 16 of them will be metre-gauge refrigerated wagons.
The Bangladesh Railway has taken its plan following a proposal from the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) as the government body on agricultural research proposed that there will be a lot of benefits for traders if there is a space for loading, unloading and wholesale of fruits and vegetables in the empty spaces next to the railway stations. Such arrangements can be made in Tejgaon, Shyampur and Kamalapur in Dhaka.
City dwellers often complain about food adulteration, lack of safe and nutritious foods and higher prices. If the government takes such initiative, it will be a boon for the urban people. It is a good initiative. We want to see its execution. The introduction of special train for carrying vegetables and other food items and use of empty spaces next to the rail stations in Dhaka for vegetable marketing purpose will play a vital role as farmers and traders can sell their items at fair prices which can be brought from outside Dhaka without intervention of middlemen and extortionists.
The middlemen buy vegetables, fruits and other food items at extremely low rates directly from the producers, but prices become high later from distribution to retailing through commission agents and wholesalers. Although a big portion of the profit goes to the pockets of the middlemen, they mostly fail to provide safe and nutritious food to the consumer level in urban areas.
Our neighbouring country India has introduced a special train, which transports vegetables and fruits to different parts of the country to help farmers get better prices and reduce wastage. The name of the special service in that country is ‘Kisan Rail’. At present, Kisan Rail trains are ferrying fruits and vegetables, connecting Devlali in Maharashtra to Muzaffarpur in Bihar, Ananthpur to New Delhi, Bengaluru to Hazrat Nizamuddin and Nagpur to Delhi. The Nagpur-Delhi train carried oranges from Nagpur and the itinerary is yet to be regularised.
Although the ‘Kishan Rail’ has not been launched on a large scale, many farmers in India are getting benefits, while people are getting fresh fruits and vegetables. Wastage has also come down significantly. There has been more demand for running such trains. Against this backdrop, the Indian Railways is planning to introduce more trains and routes.
The ‘Sobzi Train’ will be like the ‘Kishan Rail’ of India. We thank the authorities concerned for taking such a plan. We believe that the government will advance to implement the plan. We welcome the ‘Sobzi Train’ in advance.
Ehsanul Haque Jasim is Ph.D researcher at Dhaka University and a reporter of Bangladesh Post