Citrus orchards in Sylhet have been hard at work since fruit exports to several European countries and the United States were stopped after the discovery of a viral infection in the produce back in 2007.
The suspension has led to Bangladesh losing out on hundreds of crores in the international fruit market.
In a positive turn of events, the Sylhet Citrus Research Centre recently declared most of the orchards of citrus fruits free of the virus, with exporters eagerly awaiting for the greenlight to restart exporting.
"We have trained the farmers to keep their gardens canker-free. Besides, more than one thousand farmers have also been trained at the initiative of the Upazila Agriculture Office. As a result, most of the gardens in Sylhet region have now been cleared of canker. However, diplomatic efforts are needed to resume the exports," MHM Borhan Uddin Bhuiyan, scientific officer of the centre, said.
According to exporters in Sylhet, jara lemon, elachi lemon, defol (false mangosteen), pomelo, thoikor, satkara, ada jamir and naga pepper from Sylhet were exported to various European countries, including the United Kingdom, and the USA since 1980s.
In July 2007, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) of the UK detected the presence of citrus canker, an infection which causes lesions on the leaves, stems, and fruit of citrus trees, in these fruits at Heathrow Airport.
Since then the exports of these fruits to European countries have been stopped.
During a recent visit to the Sylhet Chamber last week, Agriculture Minister Mohammad Abdur Razzaque gave assurances that exports would begin soon and work was underway in this regard.
Hilkil Gulzar, president of the Jalalabad Vegetable and Frozen Fish Exporters Group, said that earlier Sylhet used to export citrus fruits worth around Tk600 crore to Europe each year.
The market of citrus fruits had grown bigger in these 15 years, he said. While exports from Bangladesh remained suspended, several countries, including India and Bhutan, were taking over the market, he added.
"We have not been able to resume exports even after our repeated requests to higher levels of the government at different times," Gulzar said.
MHM Borhan Uddin Bhuiyan, scientific officer of the Sylhet Citrus Research Centre, said that the soil of Sylhet was very suitable for the cultivation of citrus fruits. But the plants in the gardens get infected with various types of viruses, including the canker, as the farmers have not been trained, he said.
The canker virus infects plants due to unplanned gardening, planting of trees without maintaining certain distances, non-use of prescribed medicines and lack of cleanliness, according to the scientific officer.
The Business Standard tried to reach out to HM Ershadul Alam, assistant director at the Export Development Bureau of Sylhet, but he is currently on sick leave.
Hasib Ahmed, an official of the Bureau, said Hasib Ahmed said a no-objection letter was needed from Defra to resume the export of citrus fruits.
"Diplomatic efforts are being made for this no-objection letter. Hopefully, the fruit export will start again soon," he added.