Watermelon cultivation transforming lives in the poorest district
The people in the remote char area of the Brahmaputra river in Kurigram started cultivating watermelon on an experimental basis last year. The number of farmers signing up for watermelon cultivation has proliferated within just a year. The yield has also been as expected. Farmers are hoping for double the profit if there is no flood in advance this year.
However, if the government comes forward in marketing and banks provide loans with easy installments, the misery of the people of the char area can be erased, or at least eased.
According to the Kurigram Department of Agricultural Extension, there are about 450 chars in 16 rivers in the district. There are about 45,000 hectares of cultivable land. Of these, farmers are starting cultivation on 35,000 hectares of land in 368 chars. Maize, watermelon, sweet pumpkin, cucumber and pepper have been cultivated in these char areas.
Last year, watermelon was cultivated on 50 acres of land in Char Bagua village of Hatia union of Ulipur upazila of the district. In the early floods, 40 acres of crops were submerged and damaged. Yet the farmers did not stop. This year watermelon has been cultivated on 34 hectares of land in the char.
Farmers have also started harvesting watermelons. Due to favorable weather conditions, the yield has also been as expected. As a result, they are hoping to make a good profit this time after overcoming last year's loss. However, the biggest obstacle to commercial cultivation in the char is marketing management. Besides, many farmers have left the land after being unable to cultivate these crops despite the desire as the banks are not providing loans to the common farmers.
Dashim Uddin of Bagua Char said three enterprising farmers have cultivated watermelon on 40 acres of land in this char. As a result of getting a large amount of loan from the bank, they have got the opportunity to cultivate on a large scale. Although a number of farmers are interested in watermelon cultivation, they are not being able to start due to economic reasons.
Abdur Sabur, one of the watermelon farmers, said, “Although watermelon was cultivated on an experimental basis last year, the field was washed away in the early floods. This year, I have cultivated watermelon on 14 acres of land. It cost me Tk 600,000-700,000. I expect to pick up 20,000 watermelons this year which will give me profit of Tk 600,000-700,000.”
“However, the problem here is marketing. Wholesalers come here and buy watermelons at a lower price. If we could take melons to the city and sell, we would have made more profits. More farmers would have come forward to cultivate watermelon,” he added.
The farmers said that watermelon seeds should be sown at the beginning of Bengali month of Paush. Watermelons can be picked within four months. There are some precautions to be taken in watermelon cultivation. In the sand land, a hole of one and a half feet in the 10-inch by 10-inch square has to be given some loamy soil, dung fertilizer and DSP in the pit. Forty grams should be given in each pit. In this way, after keeping it for a week, three seeds are sown in a pit. In addition, regularly insecticides have to be sprayed to protect against the attack of insects and rats.
Abul Hossain Master, former chairman of Hatia Union, said, “At present, local entrepreneurs in the char area have become interested in cultivating various agricultural products. Due to economic problems, the rest of the farmers are unable to come forward. “Their misery would go away if banks and NGOs come forward.”
Additional Deputy Director (Crops) of Kurigram DAE, Md Azizul Islam, said watermelon cultivation has started in the district since last year. Watermelon has been cultivated on 22,000 hectares of land this year. There is a plan to set up a collection center in the char areas so that the farmers do not suffer for marketing.