Bangladesh has exported tomatoes to Malaysia by sea for the first time, exporting 75 tonnes of tomatoes to Malaysia through Chattogram Port in February and March.
These tomatoes are sold on the Malaysian market at Tk50 per kilogramme. As such, Bangladesh exported tomatoes worth Tk3,750,000 (75,000 kilogrammes at Tk50 per kilogramme) in two months.
As tomatoes are sold at Tk5-10 per kilogramme on local markets during the peak season, its exports by sea will bring smiles to farmers' faces, exporters believe.
Md Nasir Uddin, deputy director of Plant Quarantine Station at Chattogram Seaport, said Dhaka-based exporter CSS International has exported 75 tonnes of tomatoes by sea to Malaysian company Shahria Trading.
"We gave export clearance for 25 tonnes of tomatoes on 25 February, 25 tonnes on 27 February and 25 tonnes on 6 March," he said.
"If it is possible to harvest tomatoes and ship them within two to three days, we can utilise the tomato export potential to the full as lots of tomatoes are cultivated in almost every region of Bangladesh," he added.
With this, Bangladesh has the potential to earn a lot of foreign exchange from tomato exports.
According to the Chattogram Seaport Plant Quarantine Centre, Bangladesh exports about 60,000 tonnes of vegetables – including potatoes, cabbage, kachur loti (taro stolon) – by sea, every year, to several countries in the Middle East as well as: Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Brunei.
According to the Chattogram Vegetable Exporters' Association, although various vegetables worth $20 million were exported through Chattogram Airport every year, tomatoes were not exported.
This year, tomatoes were added to the list of vegetables exported by sea, they said.
Khandaker Sohel, proprietor of CSS International, said, "Considering the demand for Bangladeshi tomatoes in Malaysia, for the first time, we have exported tomatoes by sea. It took 11 days from collecting the tomatoes for them to reach the Malaysian market."
"The government provides a 20% financial incentive for vegetable exports. Additionally, as the price of tomatoes on the domestic market is lower than other countries, there is an opportunity to earn a lot of foreign currency by exporting this product," he added.
The exporter said residents of other countries – including expatriate Bangladeshis – are also customers of these tomatoes in Malaysia.
Rezaul Karim, proprietor of C&F agent Sky Sealand, who is in charge of forwarding tomato shipments, said shipments of tomatoes are sent to Port Kelang of Malaysia from Chattogram Port in a 40-foot size air-conditioned container. It takes four days for them to reach Malaysia.
He added that time is wasted due to the procedures for exporting goods. Often it takes five to 10 days even after a consignment arrives at the port.
To tap tomato export potential, shipping within a maximum two to three days should be ensured, he said.
As time is wasted on the approval of various organisations and procedural complexities; traders are reluctant to export vegetables by sea.
Chattogram Vegetable Exporters' Association general secretary Mohammad Forkan Rubel said there is huge demand for Bangladeshi vegetables in different countries around the world– especially in Middle Eastern countries.
However, through proper processes, tomato exports can be started to countries five to seven days away by sea. Alongside Malaysia, there are opportunities to export tomatoes to Singapore and Sri Lanka.
Once the facilities relevant for goods exports – including cold storage and processing centers – are ensured, it will be possible for Bangladesh to earn more foreign exchange by exporting vegetables, he added.