Barishal fish trader Bappi Das will no longer have to worry whether his truckloads catch up with the ferry and cross the mighty Padma on time en route to Dhaka. Shariatpur fish farmer Najir Hossain will soon be able to send fishes to Dhaka kitchen markets instead of the relatively dull ones in Noakhali. Liaqat Kazi of the district will also get fair prices for his vegetables, which he now sells at the local market at throwaway rates.
The Padma Bridge is set to unlock all these gains for farmers and fishermen in the country's southern swathe.
Fishermen and traders in Barishal – a key location for the country's fisheries – say they send truckloads of fishes to the capital and other major cities.
"We load the fishes on trucks in the evening. The trucks often cannot reach Dhaka next morning due to tailbacks at the ferry terminal," Bappi Das, a wholesale trader at Port Road in Barishal, told The Business Standard.
He said the bridge would enable them to transport the fishes to Dhaka market quickly, adding that fresh fish would fetch them more profit.
Barishal division annually produces 5-6 lakh tonnes of fishes, according to the local fisheries office. Fishermen in the division net the fishes from the Bay of Bengal, local rivers and open water bodies.
Anisur Rahman, deputy director of the Fisheries Department in Barishal, said the bridge would help establish new fish processing factories as well in the region.
Similarly, fish growers in Shariatpur – 55 kilometres from the capital – say the bridge will open up a Tk550 crore market in the capital.
The district annually produces 28,543 tonnes of fish, 5,000 tonnes of hilsa and 2,953 tonnes of other fish varieties, according to fisheries data.
Even though Shariatpur is not too far from Dhaka, the mighty Padma has been a major geographical divide for the fish farmers. The lengthy road transport to the capital forced them to sell their fishes to different districts of Noakhali. But transportation to these markets costs more, while the rates are low.
Fish traders said they send 60 tonnes of fish to the Noakhali market per day, worth around Tk1.5 crore. Sending per kg fish to Noakhali market costs Tk20, which will be Tk8-Tk10 for Dhaka via the Padma Bridge. The capital also offers fish prices to the tune of at least Tk10 more per kg.
"Low-cost transport and lucrative rates in Dhaka market mean more profit to us," said Shariatpur fish farmer Najir Hossain.
According to Shariatpur District Fisheries Officer Pranab Kumar Karmakar, the Padma Bridge would have a huge impact on the region's fisheries economy.
"Fish farmers had not been able to earn much profit due to the lack of a good market. But the bridge is going to change that," he added.
Vegetable growers in Shariatpur too said the Padma Bridge will help change their living standards.
"Currently no truck goes directly to Dhaka from here. Besides, wholesalers from the capital do not come to us," said local farmer Liaqat Kazi. Therefore, he has to sell his agri produce to local middlemen at throwaway prices.
"But once the bridge opens, we will be able to sell the items in Dhaka's Karwan Bazar or Shyambazar at fair prices," he added.
The district's Zajira upazila agriculture officer Jamal Hossain said the transportation boost to local agriculture would add new crops to the production basket. Flowers, capsicum, mushrooms, broccoli and other high crops will be cultivated in Shariatpur.
Besides, entrepreneurs will establish agro-processing units which will ensure fair prices to the farmers, and generate employment on the other hand.