To visit Baliakhora village in Ghior upazila of Manikganj is to experience the tranquillity of lemon groves. Each of the 300 resident families grows the signature crop, if not in one of the around-150 local orchards then at least in their household yard. Baliakhora lemons, which include the elachi, kagoji and Colombo varieties, are renowned for their sweet smell, juicy pulp and rich flavour. In Dhaka's Karwan Bazar and Shyambazar, along with markets in Tongi in Gazipur where they are routinely sold, the lemons are understandably popular.
“Most people in this village earn a living through lemon cultivation,” says the chairman of Baliakhora union parishad, Abdul Awal Khan. “It's a local tradition and they do well. They might do even better if the agriculture department took a closer look.”
“My father Ruhinikanta Hore Khokababu established the first lemon grove here in 1950,” says retired teacher Narayan Chandra Bachchu. “At first he took ten trees from a nearby village. At present he has four orchards covering 150 decimals of land and featuring all three varieties. It's a good business but sometimes the trees suffer from insect infestation and die. The agriculture department hasn't advised growers how to manage the problem.”
“I have four orchards I inherited from my father,” says his neighbour Jewel Mia. “They cover 150 decimals and include Colombo and elachi lemon trees. Sometimes the trees are severely damaged or die for reasons unknown. I wish the agriculture extension office would help us.”
He also says that local growers are sometimes unable to obtain fair prices from wholesalers. “The buyers come to our orchards direct,” he says, “They harass us in different ways to keep the sales price low. The government could help ensure orchardists are paid fairly for their produce.”
The upazila-level agriculture officer in Ghior, Ashraf Uzzaman Khan, says all farmers should be benefiting from department advice and assistance. “We have sub-assistant officers in every union,” he says. “If any of them is found to be performing their duties less than conscientiously, action will be taken against them. Of course we will assist the lemon farmers.”