Seasonal date traders in Dhaka have moderate sales of the most popular iftar item ahead of and during Ramadan as many city-dwellers left the capital because of the reinstatement of the strict coronavirus restrictions.
Like previous years, hundreds of thousands of makeshift and roadside shops selling dates have sprung up throughout the city, hoping there would be a spike in sales in the weeks preceding the fasting month and throughout Ramadan.
Some traders said business was good a week before the advent of Ramadan. They even saw good sales during the initial days of the fasting month.
They said it would be more profitable for them than any other month of the year if they could continue it for the rest of the month.
Rafiqul Islam Fahim, a retailer at Karwan Bazaar kitchen market, expressed satisfaction over date sales ahead of and during Ramadan. However, turnover was not as much as he expected because of the thin presence of customers.
“Sales will accelerate when customers come to the market. But because of the Covid-19 fears along with the government restrictions, there have not been large crowds. We have to accept the reality of the country and the world as well,” he said on Tuesday.
Md Mominullah, a vendor in the same area, sells dates worth Tk 4,000-5,000 per day now, much lower than the pre-Covid period.
“We have been able to keep our shop open while most of the businesses had to be shut during the restriction on movement. In that sense, we are lucky enough that we could manage our livelihood under the difficult circumstances.”
In the first week of Ramadan, Mehmud Jardar, a seasonal date trader at Bihari Palli in Kalshi, Mirpur, said he made a good sale of dates a week before Ramadan began on April 14.
“I’ve earned higher than I had expected before the start of the holy month despite the latest restriction,” he said.
After Covid-19 infections and deaths from the virus began rising alarmingly, the government enforced the lockdown-like control from April 5.
As the situation worsened, it went for a strict countrywide lockdown from April 14. The restriction was later extended thrice to May 5.
Shahinur Rahman runs a shop that sells biscuits on Kalshi road. He added a variety of dates to make some additional bucks prior to Ramadan that could help ease his debt burden.
Rahman, who incurred losses after the coronavirus hit the country in March last year, has borrowed from banks and local cooperatives to keep his business up and running.
His hopes to earn additional income were blasted when the government slapped the restriction to rein in the second wave of Covid-19.
He said many people left the city in droves apprehending that the government might extend the restrictions.
“The exodus of people from the city is a blow for all the businesses because traders like me are fully dependent on this group of customers. Some customers are more comfortable buying goods from shops rather than street vendors,” Rahman said.
Jardar says he sells both general and medium standard dates in his makeshift shop because the former has a good demand among the middle and lower-income groups.
He showed his van trimmed with various dates and described the variety of tastes and sweetness so that the customers could choose the right dates they sought for.
He has Dabbas, Zahidi, Kalmi, Iteema, Khola, Khadrawy, Halawy, Dayri, Albera, Khudri, Safawi, Saghai, Saidy, Sukkari, Ajwa, and Maryam dates on his van.
Joardar switches his business depending on the season. He sells orange, apple, tangerine, grapes and pomegranate before his dates’ business.
Albeit he deals in other fruits’ business in different seasons, the vendor keeps dates in his shop to sell throughout the year.
Abdul Matin, another seasonal date trader at Mirpur-6, sells dates in his sweetmeat shop.
“People come to my shop to buy sweetmeats. But the sale of sweets in Ramadan normally remains low. So, I am selling dates to make up the loss in revenue. In this way, I could be able to recoup my earnings,” he said.
There is demand for dates throughout the year, but the lion’s share of the overall imported dates are sold in Ramadan.
Bangladesh has a demand for dates around 60,000-70,000 tonnes annually. Of which, around 40,000-50,000 tonnes are consumed during Ramadan alone, which is around 70-80 per cent of the total consumption, according to the Department of Agricultural Marketing.
The import price of ordinary category dates was $400-500 each tonne, or Tk 43 per kilogram. The price of medium quality dates is $1,000-2,000 per tonne, or Tk 120 per kg.
The ordinary category date is being sold at Tk 60-70 per kg in the wholesale market and the medium category at Tk 150-200.
The price of the ordinary category dates is Tk 80-100 per kg at the retail market, and the medium category date is Tk 100-250.
Md Serajul Islam, general secretary of the Bangladesh Fresh Fruits Importers Association, said people are very aware of dates’ high calories and its food value. “They consume it round the year.”
“People eat dates not only in Ramadan but also at suhoor (pre-dawn period) for its high food value. They consider dates as a perfect afternoon snack.”
So, the demand for dates in Bangladesh has not decreased amid the pandemic.
“Rather, the demand for the fruit is increasing day by day. This year, an additional 10,000 tonne of dates have been imported,” Islam said.
A total of 25 varieties of dates come to Bangladesh from around 15 countries. The bulk comes from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Dates also come from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.