Farm production, particularly for export, has been one of the worst-hit areas during the pandemic, recovery of which seems quite a bit distant. True, even before the covid-19 struck businesses and trading, Bangladesh's export of farm and horticulture produce and products was fraught with many disadvantages. Accessing the markets fulfilling compliance norms was a major problem. There were efforts on the part of the government so that exporters of farm goods could mitigate the difficulties, but things did not materialise as expected, except in some isolated cases. With the pandemic taking its toll on businesses as a whole, the moves got either mostly abandoned or halted. Experts feel that the moves taken were in the right direction, and it is high time those were put in place again to revamp exporting of farm products.
One of these key moves was contract farming. The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) in an effort to meet compliance issues in overseas markets of Bangladesh's farm products had made it mandatory for exporters of primary and processed food products, especially vegetables and horticulture produce, to follow a few practices while procuring those for export. These among others include-following the steps involved in Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) and sourcing the produce under contract farming.
The Plant Quarantine Wing (PQW) under the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) of the agriculture ministry had issued the aforementioned directive in 2017, making GAP and contract farming mandatory for exporting vegetables, fruits, potato, betel leaf and other agro produce. The directive that came into force from January 2018 stipulates that to be eligible to export, exporters are required to present documents detailing that they have maintained GAP, hazard analysis at critical control points (HACCP), traceability and maximum residue limit (MRL) and that their products are collected from contract growers under the supervision of upazila agriculture officer.
Contract farming involves agricultural production being carried out on the basis of an agreement between a buyer and farm producers. Sometimes it involves a buyer's specification of the quality required and the price offered, with the farmer agreeing to deliver accordingly. More commonly, however, contracts outline conditions for the production of farm products and for their delivery to a buyer's premises. Experts hold that under contract faming, fruits such as bananas, pineapples among others can prove to be highly rewarding as exportable products from Bangladesh. Contract farming has become attractive to farmers in many countries because the arrangement can offer both an assured market and access to production support.
Experts are of the view that in order to be able to produce products on a uniform scale and quality, the key requirement, among others, is bulk production, which under the existing method of production cannot be ensured. Contract farming is thus believed to the only alternative in that it can offer the opportunity for farm produce to be produced in a quality package capable of ensuring market-specific standards.
It is well known that over the past months export of farm products has experienced a terribly bad patch bogged down by cancellation of export orders, difficulties in the movement of goods during the 'semi-lockdown' period, and later, non-availability of air cargo for shipment. Besides, stringent measures followed by most export destinations regarding the quality of products free from any harmful substance further dented the prospect of export. Under the circumstances, getting back to the pre-Covid level is the immediate task, and for that to happen, it is extremely important that the DAE were back with its earlier moves to ensure that the markets where Bangladeshi farm products had their presence for decades are not lost.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that some export markets such as the EU, the Middle East and China have already issued strong instructions to follow while allowing farm produce into their territories. So, at such a time, flouting compliance norms of these and other export markets is sure to cause a disaster for future export. The mandatory requirement of GAP and contract farming can play the all important role in accessing overseas markets.
It may be noted here that other than the incidents of deliberate flouting of compliance norms, non-compliance is also believed to be due to the fact that farm produce for export are procured from various locations, often from small farmers, which makes a likely case for lack of uniformity in scale and quality. No organised mechanism is available in the country to facilitate procurement in a big way for ensuring quality and related standards.
It is thus expected that the government agencies concerned came forward in creating a congenial environment for export of farm products.