The Covid-19 pandemic has come as a boon for lemon traders, though the deadly virus has dragged down almost every other sector and spread panic around the world.
Because of being rich with vitamin C, people are consuming more lemons to prevent Covid-19, doubling its trade compared to any other year.
Lemons are being sold for Tk2-Tk3 per piece while they were earlier Tk1.5 apiece. Lemons worth Tk4 lakh-Tk5 lakh are sold from Srimangal of Moulvibazar every day, the traders said.
A dozen of lemons is usually sold for up to Tk20 during the peak season – Boishakh-Ashwin or April-September. However, the price was two to three times higher even in the peak season last year after the onset of Covid-19. A dozen then sold for up to Tk40.
Now that the production has decreased in the off-season, the prices have jumped four to five times. At present, a dozen of lemons sells for Tk60 to Tk80.
During the peak season, before Covid-19, seven to eight trucks of lemons worth about Tk2 lakh used to be sent to different parts of the country every day from the wholesale market of Srimangal. Each truck would carry 180 to 200 sacks of lemons and each sack contained 1,000-1,200 lemons.
According to the Lemon Traders Association, there are 2,000 lemon orchards in areas from Chunarughat of Habiganj to Kamalganj in Moulvibazar and in the surrounding hilly areas. From the wholesale market of Srimangal, lemons are taken to different areas, including Dhaka.
Apart from 22 warehouses under the association in Srimangal, there are many more traders. Of them, some are seasonal traders.
Md Jasim Uddin, president of the Srimangal Lemon Traders (wholesale market), said a lemon was sold for Tk0.50 to Tk1.5 in normal times but a lemon is now sold for Tk2 to Tk3 during Covid-19.
Farmers, however, alleged that they are not reaping benefits from the increased demand; instead, traders and middlemen have cashed in on the situation.
Shamsul Haque, a lemon farmer from Srimangal, said, "The demand for lemons has increased during the Covid-19 period but we have not gotten a fair price. The middlemen or traders have benefited from the increased price."
He alleged that there is a syndicate of warehouse associations in Srimangal and it is not possible to operate without them. The association buys lemons from farmers and sells them for a handsome profit.
Additionally, each farmer has to pay the syndicate 5% from the money he sells. Despite many efforts, they have not been able to resolve this problem, he added.
However, the farmer acknowledged that the yield and sales of lemons have increased during the Covid-19 period.
Lemons were not available in winter even a few years ago but now, due to applying advanced technologies and planting high-yield seedlings, lemons are being produced round the year.
According to the district Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), there are 1,751 lemon orchards on 1,675 hectares of land in Moulvibazar. In 2020, the production of lemons was 26,800 tonnes.
Of them, Srimangal has 1,024 orchards on 1,230 hectares of land, while there are 12 in Sadar upazila, 30 in Rajnagar, 199 in Kamalganj, 180 in Kulaura, 60 in Baralekha, and 164 orchards in Juri upazila.
Kazi Lutful Bari, deputy director of the district DAE, said Covid-19 has created a huge demand for lemons. If the weather is favorable; the bumper yield will be available this year, too.
When asked, Srimangal Upazila Nirbahi Officer Nazrul Islam said he has never received an allegation of 5% of money on sales being taken from the farmers.
"We are aware that cultivators should be given the maximum opportunity and have to ensure that they do not face any kind of harassment," he also said.