Sunday, July 3, 2016

Rajshahi: Home of mangoes in Bangladesh

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

It's mango time in Rajshahi

Baneshwar mango market in Rajshahi is abuzz with growers and traders. Photo: Anwar Ali

It's mango time in Rajshahi: THE DAILY STAR  

Sitting on a rickshaw-van, Abdul Jalil Mondol was watching his son, grandsons and labourers pluck mangoes from the trees at his orchard.

Despite his humble attire comprising of a lungi, a white vest and a gamchha (cotton towel) hanging over his shoulder, he looked happy and content.
Wiping off the sweat from his forehead with the gamchha, he said, “I made this orchard in my youth. Now I earn the most from it.”
The day's harvest was almost done by 8:00am, when this correspondent reached the orchard at Dhadhas, about 18km from Rajshahi city. The orchard was near Baneswar Bazar, the second largest mango market of the northeastern region.
“Mango plucking begins at sunrise. Orchard owners try to complete the job by noon to take the fruits to the market,” said Jalil, adding that trading of the delicious fruit goes on all night and day in the market during the harvest season.
The labourers pluck mangoes with a “kota”, a locally made tool consisting of a net, tied to bamboo sticks.
Jalil's son Moklesur Rahman was picking mangoes from the ground while his two sons helped him collect those in baskets.

The festive mood of plucking, picking and collecting mangoes, prevails over the otherwise quiet mango orchards in the area during the harvesting season, which starts from mid May and lasts until early August.
At daybreak, the orchards become alive with the footsteps of mango growers and labourers. Often their family members, including women, children and relatives join them.
In the orchards of Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj, the two districts famous for the best quality mangoes and produce 78 percent of the country's mangoes, everyone plucks the fruits together, separates the ripe mangoes from the green ones, and piles those into baskets. The lengthy and tiring job becomes fun when some mangoes are shared with relatives and visitors, while the rest are taken to the markets.
This year, Ramadan and Eid added to the festivity.

People busy plucking mangoes from orchards at Dhadhas and Jhalmalia villages near the market Photo: Anwar Ali“We harvest Gopalbhog mangoes first, then Khirsapat, Langra, Fazli and Ashwina,” said Mokhlesur. This year, they were harvesting all types of mangoes together in an attempt to get good prices before the Eid, he added.
“Because of Eid, the prices of mangoes are good. That's why I am harvesting all types of mangoes together with a few days' gap,” he explained.
Mokhlesur said the production was average this year.
He said he sold mangoes between Tk 900 and Tk 1,000 per maund when trading began in late May, and now the prices are hovering between Tk 1,300 and Tk 1,500 per maund.
From the orchards, the festivity flows into the mango market. Growers take mangoes in rickshaw-vans to Baneswar market and wait for buyers.
The sweet fragrance of mangoes even attracts visitors and passersby as they walk past the market.
Mango traders stand on both sides of Dhaka-Rajshahi highway, even occupying one lane of the two-lane road. The Baneswar union land office premises turns into a makeshift mango market during the harvest season.
“Farmers are taking care of the mangoes like gold because of the high prices, which are almost double the last year's prices,” said mango trader Yasin Ali at Baneswar Bazar.

While female workers separate ripe mangoes from green ones at Jhalmalia. The photos were taken a few days ago. Photo: Anwar Ali“Laukna mangoes were sold at Tk 600 per maund last year. This year the price rose to around Tk 1,300 per mound,” he said.
As there was a bumper production of mangoes last year, their prices were lower, he added.
Muktar Hossain invested around Tk 9 lakh for buying mangoes. He sells those to traders from Dhaka and Chittagong. Another trader from Chandpur, Muhammad Babu, went to Baneswar to buy more than a dozen truckloads of mangoes. “I came here as I get the best quality of mangoes”.
Even truckers and basket-sellers were doing brisk business as those are essential for transporting the fruit.

“Mango brings money to all kinds of people in Baneswar,” said mango trader Nazrul Islam, adding that even a labourer earns Tk 600 to Tk 1,200 per day during the season.
“I normally earn Tk 500 a day as a farm hand. But during mango season, my income increases by at least Tk 200. Moreover, I do not have to buy mangoes, as orchard owners provide us with enough mangoes after every harvest,” said Abdul Aziz, a labourer of Jhalmalia.
Many rural women also make nearly Tk 150 to Tk 200 a day from sorting out green and ripe mangoes, said Asma Begum, a female labourer.
“Mangoes bring blessings for poor people like me. We can eat mangoes, and also earn some money,” she said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Poachers use poison traps to kill birds

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Poachers are hunting migratory birds with “poison traps” in the char lands of the Padma river in Rajshahi and selling those in the city.
A large number of migratory birds come to the chars during winter every year and a group of poachers catch these birds mixing grains with deadly pesticides, according to locals and experts.
They use this method to avoid being caught by people and the administration, the sources claimed.
During a visit to the chars late last month, this correspondent saw the carcass of a Ruddy Shelduck in a char of the river near Khanpur. The bird's internal organs appeared to be gouged out by some wild animal.
“The dead bird was left there, because it was of no use to the poachers. Wild cats might have eaten up some of its organs,” said boatman Mosharraf Hossain.
Another local boatman Noor Islam told this paper that he had seen some guest birds mostly Ruddy Shelducks, locally known as Chokha-chokhi, lying dead in the chars at Majhardiar and Khanpur for the last few weeks.
A carcass of Ruddy Shelduck on a char. Photo: Anwar Ali
He said he had also seen some people collecting the carcasses.
“I see dead birds early in the morning. But I don't see them later in the day, as some people in small fishing boats take them away,” said Noor Islam.
These birds are sold in the city for Tk 600 each, he said.
Prof AM Saleh Reza of Zoology department at Rajshahi University echoed the same.
“The birds are dying mainly because of the illegal poaching,” he told The Daily Star.
Prof Saleh, who has been researching on the migratory birds for over a decade, said due to increasing awareness, poachers are not able to hunt birds openly with guns or nets these days.
“But they become active as soon as the guest birds start to arrive,” he said.
He said poachers now use food grains mixed with poison to hunt the birds. As the birds die after eating the bird feed, poachers collect and sell those secretly in the city or elsewhere as slaughtered birds.
The professor suggested that the authorities collect the carcass of the birds and examine those in laboratories to find out the reason for their deaths.
Naimul Hasan, a member of an amateur bird watchers' team, said he had seen six dead Ruddy Shelducks on the chars near Majhardiar a week ago. He posted a photo of one dead bird on his Facebook account.
Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division) Mozammel Haque Shah Chowdhury said those eating the dead birds are at health risk.
He too blamed the use of insecticides and pesticides for the deaths of these birds.
Mozammel said a shortage of manpower was the reason why they could not strengthen vigilance against poaching.
However, he said they arrested one poacher and destroyed some hunting materials around two weeks ago.
Due to the illegal poaching, the number of migratory birds visiting the chars has dropped this year compared to that of last year, Prof Saleh observed.
He said he saw at least 2,000 Ruddy Shelducks at the Padma chars last year, while the number came down to around 500 this year.
He said bar-headed goose, common shelduck, black stork, and greylag goose, among others, come to the chars.

The mother of Rajshahi's shoemakers

Now in her eighties, Rokeya Begum of Kaluhati village in Rajshahi's Charghat upazila is well within her rights to reflect upon life. Having raised five sons and one daughter, as breadwinner and for the most part singlehandedly, she could be forgiven if such reminiscence gives rise to a self-satisfied smile.
What's less well known about Begum is how this one woman's efforts brought prosperity to her entire village. And it was a matter as simple as shoes...
“In Kaluhati, most men worked as share croppers or day labourers,” says neighbour Mizanur Rahman, remembering what the village 35 kilometres from Rajshahi City was like in the 1980s. “Most villagers had no land then. They lived in houses of clay and straw; the village had a reputation for harbouring thieves.”
“It's a past long forgotten,” he adds.
Today, almost every family in Kaluhati is solvent and self-reliant. Many families which once had next-to-nothing now live in brick homes with electricity. To accommodate visiting bankers, wholesalers and retailers, the village roads are in good repair. “It all began with Rokeya Begum,” says Rahman.
Begum never set out to revolutionise the village economy. At the start of her married life she was a housewife much like any other. Her husband Ekkabor Pramanik was a farmer who spent days cultivating their three bighas of land and worked as a sharecropper.
Theirs were village lives of the common variety, and it lasted until the day 35 years ago when Pramanik fell from a mango tree. Including a broken leg and hip, injuries were serious.
“I took care of my husband as Rupban did for Rahim,” says Begum poetically, referring to the devotion of characters from a well-known folk drama. “From Rajshahi to Mymensingh I took him for treatment, holding him on my lap. I did everything to save him.”
“When he died from his injuries years later,” she continues, “I saw darkness all around.”
She never lost hope. From the day of Pramanik's fall, responsibility for the family belonged to Begum. Although her parents had offered to take her family in, she refused, wishing to forge her own way. At first she travelled to Rajshahi to sell vegetables but it wasn't easy or too profitable. And then, she had an idea...
As it happened, Begum's brothers living in her hometown in Kishoreganj's Bhairab upazila were busily engaged in footwear manufacture. Could she not send her three sons, she thought to inquire, to learn that trade?
Brothers agreed, and when sons returned three months later as newly-trained cobblers, Begum sold her marriage jewellery to set up a shoe-making business in the family home. She could barely have imagined, but on that day, big changes for both family and village, began.
The shoes proved popular. “People saw them making money and asked to work for them,” says local Sohel Rana. “I joined at age 12, later setting up my own factory.” Many others did likewise.
“The village has around 40 shoe factories employing in total around 600 people,” says Said Abdul Mannan, president of the Kaluhati Shoe Industry Cooperative, of which Sohel Rana is the current general secretary.
“Kaluhati factories take most work orders from southern and northern districts,” Mannan continues, “with some orders also from Dhaka.” In addition to the factories, support industries supplying raw materials, including a shoe material shop established by neighbour Mizanur Rahman, have prospered. Even shoeboxes are made locally.
Jalangir Hossain has been another villager to benefit. “I started the shoe business on a part of my land,” he says, “just as my cousins Chandan Ali and Tuhin Ali did. When I started I had almost nothing. Now I have land and a nice, concrete house.”
Indeed some of Kaluhati's shoe businessmen have been so successful they have since moved to pursue affluent urban lives in Dhaka.
Kaluhati's flourishing industry wasn't all the work of Begum, of course. The Small and Medium Enterprise Foundation and a private bank have been active in providing training, loans and other support to footwear entrepreneurs over the years.
But it was Begum, in the search for a solvent life for herself and her children, who first thought to try, to see, if any shoe business could succeed in Kaluhati.
She's sitting in the yard now, of her youngest son Joynal Abedin's home-and-footwear-factory. She's sporting attractive golden earrings and a delicate gold chain, comfortable in her twilight years and with her memories, quietly pleased about how things turned out.
“Success was not made in a day,” she says profoundly, “I passed many difficult days in sorrow. There was lots of hard work also.” She's referring to her family life when she says this, but as well she could be narrating the much broader story of success that she started, that swept through, captured and irretrievably improved the lives of the villagers of Kaluhati.

Original production of the story