No summer afternoon without chilled watermelons. But two unlikely men in southeast Bangladesh are bending the rules and harvesting watermelons before summer heats up.
The risk-taking duo Binoy Chakma and Pravakar Chakma from Karalachari village in Mahalchhari upazila, Khagrachhari district, started to bear the fruits of hard work last month.
Paddy is the crop of choice in the sadar upazila as most pieces of land are inundated in water for most parts of the year.
But Binoy and Pravakar wanted to try something new in their 30 decimals of high land that did not collect water during the winter months. For the last three years, they have been planting watermelon seeds in October, while the unconventional crop takes 3-4 months to yield harvests.
The watermelon is a high maintenance crop, requiring extra care as it is disease prone in winter along with fertilisers and irrigation at regular intervals. The Department of Agricultural Extension Khagrachhari provided the necessary training to take care of the plants, said Pravakar, who owns the land.
Last month, the duo sold 150 watermelons for Tk 220 each to wholesalers. They are still waiting to harvest another 400. “We expect to earn at least Tk 1.5 lakh this year from this crop,” he added.
“Cultivating this fruit is painstaking; we had to cover the saplings with large polythene sheets during occasional rains in winter and heavy fog,” said Binoy. “It is also a difficult commute to the field as rickshaws or vans do not want to ply the unpaved roads.”
Despite all the hard work and meticulous preparations, it is quite possible that the vines do not bear fruits. “This risk always remains for us watermelon farmers,” he added.
Omker Biswas, upazila agriculture officer, Mahalchhari, said they give training in the techniques of growing watermelons and preventing diseases. “Farmers in this region are quite zealous and have made the almost impossible possible.”
“Watermelons are typically planted at the end of January and harvested in summer. But these early watermelons need extra care for preventing diseases.”
Farmers in the area are eligible to receive loans to grow other conventional fruits, oilseeds and spices. If such a facility was available to produce seasonal crops like watermelon, it would help the marginal farmers out.
Abul Kalam, deputy director of DAE Khagrachhari, said, “We encourage farmers to grow a variety of crops, in addition to the main crops. Although there is a risk of the vines not bearing fruit, watermelons earn more money for the farmers.”