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Spl train for perishables on cards

The aim is to trim urban-rural price gap of agri commodities

Published : 17 Feb 2023 09:47 PM | Updated : 17 Feb 2023 09:47 PM

The retail prices of vegetables, fruits and other agro-based food items are much higher in urban markets as compared to rural markets.

The vegetable prices are much higher than that of other food items. 

Differences in rural-urban retail prices of vegetables mainly vary in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, from other parts of the country.

Against this backdrop, Bangladesh Railway is planning to launch a special train  for transporting vegetables and fruits from different parts of the country. The railway plans to buy 125 wagons this year for the purpose, said an official of the Bangladesh Railway. 

The special train will be introduced for farmers and traders to dispatch fresh fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods from one place to another in the country, particularly in urban areas.   

The urban people, particularly Dhaka city dwellers, on the one hand, are deprived of fair prices, on the other they are deprived of fresh vegetables, fruits and food items even at higher prices. 

The pricing is affected in Dhaka city and other urban markets mainly in absence of proper transportation system, which also contributes to scarcity of fresh agro-based food items in urban areas.

Middlemen take advantage of the problems. Market and policy analysts said that the prices of vegetables, fruits and other food items increase several times when those arrive in urban markets from rural growers through middlemen.

As a large number of farmers can’t come to urban markets, they have to depend on middlemen. However, the middlemen eat into what farmers get as price for their produce by buying it before it can reach market, thus depriving the growers of a fair price, said Gaous Pearee, director of the Work for a Better Bangladesh (WBB) Trust. 

Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin, secretary of the Center for Law and Policy Affairs (CLPA), said that vegetables and other agro-based items come mainly by road in Dhaka city and other cities and towns. This increases the cost of transportation. The influence of middlemen also increases due to various other hassles, including extortion. In such a situation, if vegetables are transported by railway and waterway, urban people will get fresh vegetables at fair prices, he opined.

Talking to Bangladesh on Friday (February 17), the public health expert and policy analyst said that Karwan Bazar and other kitchen markets in Dhaka are conveniently located for railway. If farmers or anyone else can directly bring vegetables or any other items to these markets from any part of the country, what can be a better solution than this to ensure fresh fruits and veg at fair prices? Similarly, waterway also helps cut shipping costs and ensure fresh vegetables and other items, he added. 

For this, a coordinated initiative among the ministries and departments concerned, including Ministry of Shipping, Bangladesh Railway, Department of Agricultural Marketing (DAM) and Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), is necessary, said Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin. 

Some other experts said that if the special train service and waterway for transporting vegetables and other food items to Dhaka and other urban areas are used, farm products will come in urban markets easily, which will reduce cost. However, transport cost by railway and waterway is usually less than roads and highways.    

The West Zone of Bangladesh Railway had launched ‘Mango Special Train’ for transporting mango to Dhaka from mango producing areas at a lower cost for the welfare of the growers, traders and consumers. 

In 2020, the Mango Special Train was launched for the first time in the wake of growers’ transportation problems during the Covid-19 situation. Like the ‘mango train’, the Bangladesh Railway is planning to introduce ‘special vegetable train’ for carrying vegetables, seasonal fruits, eggs and other farm products at less cost..

Bangladesh Railway has taken a plan to buy 50 broad-gauge wagons and 75 metre-gauge wagons. The plans also include purchase of refrigerated containers. Among the 125 wagons, 28 will be refrigerated, 12 of them will be broad-gauge refrigerated wagons and 16 of them will be metre-gauge refrigerated wagons. 

An official of the department told Bangladesh Post that they had taken the plan to facilitate the farmers and traders to transport their goods easily from one district to another.

The Bangladesh Railway has taken the plan following a proposal from the DAE as the government body on agricultural research proposed that there will be a lot of benefits for traders if there is a space for loading, unloading and wholesale of fruits and vegetables in the empty spaces next to the railway stations. Such arrangements can be made in Tejgaon, Shyampur and Kamalapur in Dhaka.

City dwellers often complain about food adulteration, lack of safe and nutritious foods and higher prices. If the government takes such initiative, it will be a boon for the urban people, said some city dwellers.

“We pay a higher price but are deprived of safe food items. Transporting vegetables and other food items by train will be a solution. It is a good initiative. We want to see its execution. However, the shipping cost through waterways will decline compared to road transport. The authorities concerned should also consider the matter,” said Syed Saiful Alam Shovan, a rights activist who lives in Mohammadpur area in the capital. 

Talking to Bangladesh Post, some other city dwellers said that introduction of special train for carrying vegetables and other food items and use of empty spaces next to the rail stations in Dhaka for vegetable marketing purpose will play a vital role as farmers and traders can sell their items at fair prices which can be brought from outside Dhaka without intervention of middlemen and extortionists. 

The middlemen buy vegetables, fruits and other food items at extremely low rates directly from the producers, but prices become high later from distribution to retailing through commission agents and wholesalers. Although the middlemen line their pockets with big profit, they fail to provide safe and nutritious food to the consumer level in urban areas.