The agriculture sector has registered an export growth of 61 per cent during the first seven months of the current fiscal year compared with that over the corresponding period of last fiscal. The performance is likely to surpass the export target of US$ 711 million at the end of current fiscal year -- evidently a tiny portion of a hugely prospective market size overseas! However, on the back of an impressive agri-export growth the government has relaxed contract farming requirement for this season for non-European markets. The waiver is to hold good beyond the winter harvest into summer crops until June this year. In other words, from July 16 to November 15, 2019 the exporters will have to show papers of contract growing, certified by the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE).
The Plant Quarantine Wing (PQW) under the DAE in a directive issued on November 13 last year had made good agricultural practice (GAP) and contract farming mandatory for exporting vegetables, fruits, potatoes, betel leaves, among other produces. While this was to be effective from January 15 last, a six months' time extension has been allowed to exporters and farmers to firm up arrangements between them to be compliant. Certainly, the department of agriculture extension will have to play a catalytic role between the producers and the exporters. Strings of farmers' collectives or groups need to come up to facilitate outreach and the activation of supply chains. The compliances are highly imperative on two counts as required by the importers -- good agricultural practice (GAP) and qualitative contract farming .
Are the producers and the exporters ready to meet the compliance standards in six months? It is unrealistic to expect a wholesale change overnight. While acknowledging the pressure that in order to gain access to highly lucrative regulated markets compliance standards will have to be met and that the exporters and interested growers of their own volition should come forward in measuring up to them, a gradualist yet not a foot-dragging, approach appears to be the best way to go. In the first place, the magnitude of the task ahead will have to be underlined in clear terms to be able to square up to it. The country's exporters collect produces from around 30,000 farmers of whom the number of contract growers is 6,000-7,000.
Therefore, in parallel with creating a large pool of 23,000 contract farmers, if not more, with an eye to the future, under a time-bound plan, the imperative is to retain and build up on the present market space secured painstakingly over the last forty years. There the success was based on good agricultural practice (GAP), something that can't be lost on any serious observer of the market of perishable yet exotically tasty edibles from this region. Bangladesh market reach extends to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Middle-Eastern countries. Buyers never demanded papers related to contract growing; they need safe food collected from farmers who adopted good agricultural practice (GAP), argued one export house leader in defence of what experts believe to be a parallel strategy worth adopting.
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