Attar makers face manifold problems

Saif Uddin back from Moulvibazar | Published: January 11, 2019 21:51:01 | Updated: January 12, 2019 16:43:22


Higher gas tariff, suspension of new connections of gas and poor implementation of government policies are holding back the potentials of country's attar manufacturing sector, insiders have said.

Besides, delay in obtaining certification from forest officials and discrepancies in export related documents are also restricting the growth of the small industry, they added.

However, they said, attar makers could bring in more foreign currencies and create employment, if they get the due facilities from the government.

During a recent visit to Moulvibazar's Baralekha, the hub of such business in the country, the FE correspondent had an opportunity to witness the various phases of producing the pricey essence.

Ashraf Muhit Soyeef, an attar manufacturer explained steps to extract the oily essence from Agar trees.

Agar trees, which become matured in around 10-12 years, are chopped down to pieces to separate the suitable wood chips, he said.

"Following various steps the agar tree flakes are boiled in large pots for more than 10 days at stretch to get the oily essence through evaporation", said Mr Ashraf, owner of Al-Muhit Agar Attar factory.

Inadequate gas supply is one of the major problems for the factories, he said, adding that they pay tariff at commercial rate despite being a priority industrial sector as per the government policy.

The region is served by Jalalabad Gas Transmission and Distribution System Limited (JGTDSL).

According to the JGTDSL source, its commercial rate is Tk 17.04 per cubic meter, while industrial rate is Tk 7.76 for the same.

Mr Ashraf also said in addition to paying higher rates, factories receive the natural energy through only a two-inch diameter pipeline, which should be at least four-inch.

"We need uninterrupted gas supply at a desired level of pressure to help ensure the attar's quality," he said.

When contacted, an official of the JGTDSL told the FE that the state-run company doesn't fix the rate nor can change by its authority.

"Clients' categories and rates are set by the regulatory bodies including the line ministry and Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission (BERC)," he said.

A trade body of attar manufacturers is also putting its efforts  for reducing the rate.

Bangladesh Agar & Ator Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BAAMEA) president Md Ansarul Haque said despite their relentless effort in the last couple of years, no visible progress has been made so far.

"The ministry of industry wrote a letter to the energy ministry in this regard more than one and half years ago, which seems to make no difference yet," he said.

Besides gas problem, obtaining forest department's approval prior to exporting the essence has become another cause of headache for the traders, said Mr Haque.

Sources said, trade in endangered plants like Agar tree is administered by the country's forest department under an international treaty called, 'Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)' of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Talking about CITES-issue, Mr Haque alleged that Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) officials intentionally perform their official duties slowly demanding 'speed money' before giving permission to export.

Contacted, Moulvibazar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Abu Musa Shamsul Muhith Chowdhury said upon a trader's request they collect the related information from field level before sending it to headquarters in Dhaka for final approval.

"CITES certification takes around two weeks as there are various phases starting from field level," he said, adding: "We intentionally don't make delay".

Responding to a query on corruption, he said the traders should contact the higher authorities if they are asked to provide undue facilities.

Amid such challenges, Bangladeshi attar has been gaining strong foothold in rich Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, sources said.

They also said Agar makers earn approximately Tk 1.0 billion in a year from attar export. But very few of the export is done through proper channel, due to complexities in HS code of Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh (EPB).

The several-century old businesses grew in Baralekha Upazilla mainly on the back of suitable weather for growing Agar tree.

The fully export-oriented business in the region created employment opportunities for more than 50,000 people at around 250 small and medium sized attar manufacturing businesses.

Per 10-gram of finest attar is sold at Tk 6,000, while the Agarwood is sold between Tk 50,000 and Tk 2,00,000 per kilograms depending on quality.

saif.febd@gmail.com

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