Demand for local green malta on the rise
Locally grown green sweet orange, or malta, enhances immunity and has shown to be quite helpful for treating people with anemia.
The popular fruit also contains a type of fibre called pectin that helps prevent colon cancer. Given its many medicinal properties and delicious taste, the demand for malta has increased exponentially over the years.
During a recent visit to an orchard in Lathitila area of Juri upazila in Sylhet's Moulvibazar district, green maltas ripe for the picking were seen hanging from their branches.
"I started cultivating native (green) malta on five bighas of land five years ago and have been doing well ever since," said Tufail Ahmed, a local farmer. Malta farming does not require much effort according to Ahmed, who spent just Tk 200 to plant his first tree.
"Within a year of planting, 250 to 300 pieces of fruit can be obtained from a single tree," he added.
Ahmed went on to say that around one hundred malta tree saplings can be planted on one bigha of land, making it a highly profitable crop.
"Now, I make a profit of about Tk 1.5 lakh each year," he said.
Hazi Jasim Uddin, president of Anaros Lebu Arat Samity in Sreemangal, told this correspondent that green malta was grown abundantly in the area to meet the growing demand for citrus fruits, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Thanks to the increasing popularity of locally grown matla, imports are almost no longer necessary.
"The domestic product tastes better and has a lower price of about Tk 80 to Tk 120 per kilogramme (kg) compared to around Tk 250 per kg for the imported ones," Uddin said.
Echoing the same, Akhter Hossain, a fruit seller based in Moulvibazar's Kulaura Fruit Market, said it seems foreign malta would eventually be phased out due to rising domestic production.
Considering malta's growing popularity, cultivation of the fruit has been widely adopted in the Juri and Sreemangal upazilas, local farmers say.
Still though, supply remains below the current market demand.
The younger generation has also taken a shine to malta farming with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) having trained 270 new farmers in the region, where 18 hectares of land has been brought under cultivation, said Abdul Momin, agriculture officer of Moulvibazar's Kulaura upazila.
ATM Farhad Chowdhury, upazila nirbahi officer of Kulaura, said he was overjoyed by the farmers cultivating chemical-free Bari-1 malta. He urged for the overall cooperation of the upazila administration for cultivating the high-yielding fruit so that further expansion of gardens in different areas of the region was possible.
Kazi Lutful Bari, deputy director of the DAE in Moulvibazar, said local farmers have woken from their stupor and were now motivated to work hard for the successful cultivation of malta.
Dilip Kumar Adhikary, additional director of the DAE in Sylhet division, said vitamin-rich varieties of native green malta were available in the peak season, which starts in September and ends in February.
"Although demand remains high in the cities, sales at local wholesale markets has fallen as only a few of them are coming lately amid the current Covid-19 crisis," he added.
Malta cultivation in the region is successful due to its geographical advantages.
As such, various plans, including training and motivational initiatives for farmers, have been taken up to increase malta cultivation.
So far, a total of 619 acres of land in the region have been brought under malta cultivation this season, which is double compared to that last year, Adhikary said.
Some 17,800 tonnes of the fruit were grown on 2,525 hectares of land across the country in fiscal 2019-20, around 800 tonnes more from that in the preceding year, according to Kobir Ahmed, deputy director for fruit and flower of the DAE's horticulture wing.