The government has made 'contract farming' mandatory for shipment of agro produce aiming to ensure the quality, said officials.
The decision came as a big blow to the exporters who found themselves in a difficult situation searching for contract growers during this peak winter harvesting season.
They said such a decision put the shipment of farm produce at stake as local exporters would lose their traditional markets.
The Plant Quarantine Wing (PQW) under the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) of the agriculture ministry issued a directive on November 13 last year, making good agricultural practice (GAP) and contract farming mandatory for exporting vegetables, fruits, potato, betel leaf and other produce.
PQW director Mir Nural Alam said the decision is a continuation of an objective set by the government to ensure safe and quality produce both for internal and external trade.
Total exports of farm produce to Europe have come under contract farming as the exporters are now buying produce from their contract growers, he added.
"And now we have made it compulsory for every market," Mr Alam said, adding that exporters would not be allowed to send produce without documents on contract farming from January 15.
The exporters will have to show documents detailing that they have maintained GAP, hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP), traceability and maximum residue limit (MRL) and their produce has been collected from contract growers under the supervision of upazila agriculture officers, he said.
Secretary of Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables and Allied Product Exporters Association (BFVAPEA) Mohammed Mansur told the FE that exports of farm produce to Middle-East, Far East Asia and other regions have almost come to a halt.
He said the PQW is showing 'unnecessary' enthusiasm for contract farming when importers in non-EU regions have no such requirements.
"They need quality and safe produce which we collect from the farmers who have adopted good agricultural practice (GAP)."
He added: "It takes 40 years to tap market potentials in the Middle-East and Far East which we are going to lose." They sent a letter to the PQW after getting their directives, he said, adding that they also urged the wing to give them time until December 31 this year.
The wing issued a letter on November 20 which they got on January 09. "PQW has given us time till January 15," he said.
Adviser to BFVAPEA Manjurul Islam said contract farming usually starts from sowing seed in particular.
The decision was taken at a time when the farmers are almost ready to harvest their winter crops, he said.
The country's exporters collect produce from 20,000 to 25,000 farmers and 6,000-7,000 of them have been able to be contract growers.
"We need few more years to make formal contracts with all the suppliers," he said, adding that the government cannot attain the target of exporting farm produce worth US$711 million if "it doesn't review its decision."
He said the sector achieved a tremendous growth in the first half of the current fiscal year by attaining a 66 per cent growth over that of last year.
"But it will start affecting the export earnings badly from this next half," he added.
Preferring anonymity, a leading exporter said his company recently sent a consignment of 26 tonnes of pumpkin and cabbage to Chattogram port for Malaysia.
"The port authority asked me about relevant documents on contract farming that I don't have. So what should I do now?" he questioned with frustration.
He said pumpkin is cultivated in September, but the PQW issued the directive on November 13.