Within a few weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers in the remote areas of Chittagong Hill Tracts realised they were heading towards some troubled times. They had a large amount of agricultural produce ready to sell, but the entire country was in a government-mandated shutdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. Cut off from the mainstream trading hubs, farmers in the hill tracts felt left behind due to the remoteness of their location and the continued marginalisation of their communities.
Farmer Nilankar Tripura explained, “The villages in Khagrachari are quite hard to reach. But we grow some great quality fruits and vegetables here. We had been relying on middlemen to get these items to the markets, but they would pay us very little money. When the pandemic hit, we were in a dire situation, we didn’t know how we would get our harvest to the buyers. All these fruits and vegetables were at risk of getting rotten, and we wouldn’t be able to earn a livelihood.”
“Farmers had no other option but to rely on middlemen, who never paid a fair price for the hard work our communities did to grow this produce,” said Md Forkan Ali, a farmer from Batnatali union of Manikchari Upazila in Khagrachari, “But now, we have a specific collection point for agricultural goods which allows us to directly connect with traders. Farmers nearby each collection point gather their produce there, classify them according to quality and expiration date, and set prices before contacting the traders.”
Forkan was speaking about collection points set up by the CHT Affairs Ministry at 38 unions of Khagrachari, under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s project Strengthening Inclusive Development in Chittagong Hill Tracts (SID-CHT).
“At a time when farmers of my community were anxious about selling their goods during the pandemic, these collection points proved to be the most useful method for directly connecting farmers with the market,” said Mompaipru Marma, a member of Batnatali Union Parishad at Manikchari Upazila. “If such collection points are set up at further remote villages, it can change the fate of our farmers,” he added.
Each collection point is located near a Union Parishad, and the space is highly accessible to all farmers in the area. Before these were set up, they would either have to rely on unethical middlemen, or travel long distances to markets. The agricultural collection points have made both selling and buying easier for farmers and traders by creating a singular hub in each union.
“We’re saving time and money as we don’t have to travel to markets. We’re getting fairer prices as we can band together and sell large amounts of produce directly to traders through these collection points,” said Md Abdur Rahman, president of East Gacchabil Collection Point.
SID-CHT project of UNDP and Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs began in 2016 with a focus on inclusiveness, climate action, social development and capacity building of institutions. By the end of the project in September 2021, it is expected that 5,000 communities with 150,000 rural and urban households will be direct beneficiaries. In addition, 47,500 poor marginal farming communities will have increased access to resilient livelihoods through this project, which is supported by Danish International Development Agency and alongside UNDP Bangladesh.