Two cold waves in 45 days, accompanied by rain and fog, swept over the district this winter and in its wake left the farmers to struggle with late blight disease of potatoes.
Fearing an outbreak of the disease and subsequent losses, many farmers have started harvesting potato although the crop is yet to mature enough.
Farmers cultivated potato on 15,000 hectares of land in eight upazilas of the district this season, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
The weather was favourable for potato at the beginning of the season but plants started dying because of late blight, the DAE said.
Farmers fear big losses as potato in most of the fields are getting dry while the plants the roots of the plants are decomposing.
They said the plants begin to grow potato at the end of December when a cold wave was sweeping over the district. The weather did not improve for several days and the disease emerged.
Potatoes started to turn yellow and were drying out, they said.
At the DAE’s advice, farmers applied anti-fungal spray but after two weeks, the district was again hit by a cold spell. The symptoms of late blight reappeared, prompting farmers to harvest potato and sell them before time.
Experts said late blight emerges in humid condition and if the appropriate fungicide is not used, it can destroy the entire plant in a matter of days after the first lesions appear.
Infected tubers are often invaded by soft rot bacteria which rapidly convert adjoining healthy potatoes into a smelly, rotten mass that must be discarded.
Several farmers from Nongorpur in the Sadar said they used anti-fungal spray at the advice of DAE but it did not make any difference.
Things are looking gloom for the farmers.
Hasmot Ali, a local farmer, said he cultivated potato on two bighas (66 decimals). “The plants were growing properly at the beginning but the disease affected them in the last one week,” he said.
“The yield would have been higher if we could harvest the potato after two to three weeks. But I fear that I’ll incur more loss if I don’t sell the potato now [as the fields have been affected by late blight],” he said.
Jashore DAE Additional Director Emdat Sheikh said they are aware of the situation.
“We’ve have visited different areas of the districts and found that some fields have been affected by the disease,” he said. “We’ve advised farmers to apply anti-fungal spray to prevent the outbreak.”
At a time when losses are forcing many farmers to turn to cash crops, a farmer has found hope in Chia cultivation in Manirampur upazila of Jashore – with a little help from his agriculturist brother.
Highly nutritious Chia seed shares similarities with sesame seed and the farming system is quite identical. It is mainly cultivated in Canada, Australia, Japan, America, Chili, Mexico, and New Zeeland, among other developed countries.
Hafizur Rahman, a local farmer, cultivated Chia on 50 decimals of land this season under the direct supervision of his elder brother agriculturalist Dr Md Mashiur Rahman, a professor at the Bangladesh Agricultural University.
Dr Rahman collected seed from Canada in 2016 and later led an experimental cultivation.
He told UNB that he became interested in Chia farming in Bangladesh after learning about its nutritional quality, and examined local soil and climate to see if it is suitable for Chia cultivation.
“After months of research, I started experimental Chia cultivation and succeeded in 2017,” he said, adding that he encouraged his brother to start cultivating Chia.
Chia plants look like sesame but its nutritional quality is higher than many crops and it is very expensive.
Hafizur said Chia seed can be sown in the Bengali month of Karthik and Agrahayan. “I’ll harvest the crop within a few days,” he said.
Only 200 grams of seed are enough for each Bigha, he said, adding that Chia plant requires one or two irrigations and requires less insecticide due to less pest attack rate.
Farmers should use a little amount of Urea, TSP and MOP fertilisers 15-20 days before sowing Chia seed in the field, he added.
Each kilogram of Chia seed costs about Tk 2,700 in Dhaka’s market.
It turns into jelly when the seeds are put in water. This jelly can be eaten with bread, pudding, cake and loaf.
Hirok Kumar Sarkar, the Upazila Agriculture Officer, said they will encourage local farmers to cultivate Chia in the next season.
A ‘discriminatory’ condition in a procurement process will cost Dhaka Power Distribution Company (DPDC) an additional amount of Tk 270 crore if it picks the lowest bidder for the job.
As per the condition, if the lowest bidder is a foreign firm, DPCC will pay the customs duty and VAT while in case of the local firm, those will be paid by the company itself.
According to official sources at the Power Division, the issue came to their notice following the submission of a complaint by a representative of a local company on January 23.
One Jamal Uddin of the local company made the complaint in a letter submitted to the Power Division seeking ‘justice’ over a DPDC tender for “Design, Supply, Construction, Testing & Commissioning Of 11 KV New Distribution Line, including Underground Distribution System & Renovation Of Existing 11 KV Distribution Line On Turnkey Basis”.
Through the tender, the DPDC is supposed to procure different materials, including transformers, cables, electric poles, hardware, insulators, fuse cutouts and lighting arrests, and carry out civil work.
Electrical equipment will also be procured for refurbishing the underground distribution system and the existing 1kV distribution line along with a new 1kV distribution line.
In the letter, it was complained that DPDC has allowed a Chinese company, which was initially disqualified technically, to submit its financial offer at the final level bid submission.
When its financial offer is opened, it was found that the company became the lowest bidder with its offer of Tk 924.36 crore while a local company became the second lowest bidder offering Tk 992.18 crore.
“If DPDC now awards the contract to the Chinese company, ultimate total price will be approximately 1,261 crore, including taxes, and if they go for the offer of the Bangladeshi company, the total cost will be Tk 992 crore, including taxes. It means DPDC can save approximately Tk 270 crore,” said the complaint.
If the local company’s offer is accepted, the customs duty and VAT will be paid by it as per the tender condition, claimed the representative of the local company in his letter.
It was further mentioned in the letter that the main reason behind the lower price offered by the Chinese company is that it would supply materials from China instead of Europe/USA/Australia as per the tender requirements.
According to tender conditions, cable jointing kits, termination kits and MCCB, as mentioned in Technical Specification Country of Origin should be of UK/USA/ Germany/France/Switzerland/Sweden/Canada/Japan.
Contacted, DPDC Managing Director Bikash Dewan denied such allegation and claimed that his organisation has invited the tender to procure the goods following the public procurement rules (PPR) of the government which is applicable for all the government entities.
About the disqualification of the Chinese firm at the technical stage, he said the technical evaluation committee first wrongfully disqualified it. “But the DPDC board found it qualified which was also later agreed by the tender evaluation committee,” he told UNB.
Bikash Dewan also claimed that the tender process was followed transparently and no unfair practice was made in the evaluation process.
Farmers in Gazipur are dealing with an acute shortage of goat vaccines after supplies from the district livestock office have run out, leading to a great anxiety among the farming community here that their farms could be destroyed in the absence of timely vaccination.
District livestock officials said they have taken necessary measures to collect the requisite goat vaccines from the capital, which would be delivered within this week in line with the needs of the district.
According to information of the district livestock office, there are about 3,000 goats in 25 farms across different upazilas of the district.
Besides, many families are rearing 233,229 goats at home. Goats need to be vaccinated once a year ahead of the breeding season to remain healthy. Farmers vaccinate their goats from the livestock office at Tk 50 per goat.
The livestock office has distributed 53,000 goat vaccinations among the farmers this year but the vaccine against Peste des petits ruminants (PPR), a highly contagious viral disease affecting sheep and goat, ran out two weeks ago.
PPR, also known as sheep and goat plague, is a viral disease of goats and sheep characterised by fever, sores in the mouth, diarrhoea, and pneumonia. The PPR virus does not infect humans.
Talking to UNB, Atiqur Rahman, manager of Plus-Minus Agro Limited, said, “We've brought 30 new goats in January. We went to the district livestock office for vaccination but it wasn’t possible to vaccinate due to acute shortage. So, we're worried.”
District Livestock officer Dipak Ranjan Roy said they have sent a team to Dhaka to bring the necessary goat vaccinations. After receiving the consignment, it will be possible to vaccinate from Monday next, he added.
Preparations for holding the annual Amar Ekushey book fair, the largest and most popular book fair in the country, on the Bangla Academy premises and the adjacent areas are going on in full swing.
This year, the fair is being arranged covering larger areas, aiming to accommodate more publishing houses and booklovers.
The fair is set to begin on February 2 instead of February 1 due to elections to two Dhaka city corporations.
The month-long book fair is arranged every year in February commemorating the sacrifices of eight people who laid down their lives on February 21, 1952 for establishing Bangla as the mother tongue.
Salam, Barkat, Rafiq, Jabbar and a few other brave sons of the soil were killed in police firings on the day when students came out in a procession from Dhaka University campus defying section 144 to press home their demand for the recognition of Bangla as a state language of the then Pakistan.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the event on the first day of the fair on the premises of Bangla Academy. The Bangla Academy Literature Award will also be distributed at the opening ceremony.
Visiting the fair venues, the UNB correspondent found workers busy preparing and designing their stalls on the Bangla Academy premises and in the extended part of the fair at Suhrawardy Udyan.
The correspondent found that the publishing companies who got allotment have already started setting up stalls.
Workers were found busy in installation of pavilions and stalls to complete those within the deadline set on January 30 noon.
Besides, the printing presses in the capital’s Bangla Bazar and Paltan areas are now abuzz with the last moment tasks of printing and binding new books.
Visitors at a stall of Amar Ekushey Book Fair. File Photo: UNB
Bangla Academy director and member secretary of the fair organising committee Jalal Ahmed told UNB that they are well-prepared to hold the fair smoothly.
"We’ve completed our all the formalities of the fair successfully. We’ve allotted the stalls earlier which will help the publishers install their stalls properly. The number of units has been increased while the fairground expanded," he said.
Jalal said the fair will be dedicated to Father of Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibir Rahman while his life and works will be showcased in the fair in different ways marking his birth centenary.
He also said a total of 830 units have been allocated to 550 publishers on January 13.
This year, the land earmarked for the fair has been expanded to 850,000 square feet which is 300,000 square feet more than the previous year, he added.
The fair venue was first extended to Suhrawardy Udyan in 2013 to accommodate more participants.
He also added that 34 pavilions have been allotted to publishing houses, including the Bangla Academy. The total number of the pavilions was 24 last year.
Two honorary guests - Indian poet Shankha Ghosh and Egyptian writer and poet Mohsin Al Arishiare expected to grace the opening ceremony.
Writers and publishers are also busy promoting their books on the social media ahead of the grand fair.
Publishers expressed their satisfaction to reporters as the academy allotted stalls for them on January 13, much earlier than the previous year.
Director General of Bangla Academy Habibullah Siraji told UNB that Bangla Academy is ready to present a beautiful event of fair for a month.
He also said the Academy has set the theme of the fair as ‘Birth Centenary of Bangabandhu.’
The fair began informally in 1972 on Bangla Academy premises but the academy officially took the responsibility in 1978 to organise the book fair every year.
It was then named as ‘Amar Ekushey Grantha Mela’ and a guideline was laid out in this regard in 1984.
The fair will remain open from 3pm to 8:30pm on weekdays, from 11am to 8:30pm on weekends, and from 8am to 9pm on February 21 -- International Mother Language Day, according to the organisers.