Visitors making their way to Patuakhali’s Rangabali upazila are often greeted with the view of trucks loaded with freshly harvested watermelons. The recurring sight is a result of the recent boom in the cultivation and business of watermelons, catalysed by the inauguration of the Padma Bridge.
Before the Padma Bridge, the fruits would be taken to Dhaka via cargoes and trucks, which would take around 2-3 days, said Abdul Hannan, a Dhaka-based watermelon wholesaler.
“A portion of the fruits would rot within these three days due to heat; sometimes they would even attract rats and other pests,” Hanan told The Daily Star.
“Now, thanks to the Padma Bridge, watermelons can be bought, delivered and sold on the same day reducing the overall burden of costs,” he added.
It takes approximately 3-4 hours now to travel one-way to Patuakhali from Dhaka, which has opened doors for wholesalers around the country to directly purchase fresh harvest from the region.
“We also had to depend on local middlemen before but now I can just take a truck, buy the product and leave for the market without any hassle and also save the cost of commission,” he added.
The pastures of Patuakhali, which were previously fallow lands, are now being utilised and have generated a good yield this season.
According to locals, the sandy banks of the Bay of Bengal in Jahazmara, Maudubi, and Kalagachia areas used to be left idle until three years back, when the local producers decided to cultivate watermelons there.
Though harvest has spiked this season, producers in the region are still struggling to access freshwater needed for proper cultivation. The water available near the fields is salty, which means farmers need to dig up tube wells to irrigate the fruit plants.
“As the fruits are being cultivated in isolated lands, it is difficult for us to access freshwater for the produce. I have to dig big wells near the fields to ensure that the fruit plants receive the amount of freshwater they require,” said Julhas, a 45-year-old farmer who has been cultivating melons in the region for three years now.
“We need the local authorities to come to our aid in this regard,” Julhas told The Daily Star. This year, he had to invest Tk 1 lakh to cultivate watermelons on 3 acres of land.
Faruq Hawladar, another farmer in the region, has cultivated watermelon on 4 acres of land which has cost him around Tk 1.50 lakh. He has generated a good yield and has already sold 300 watermelons over the past few days, he told The Daily Star.
“Each melon, weighing around 5-7 kgs, have been sold for around Tk 280-300. Last year, similar sized melons were priced between Tk 230 and Tk 250. The price increased after the Padma bridge opened and traders started coming here to buy the fruits from various parts of the country, mostly from Dhaka. We still have produce worth about Tk 3-4 lakh left in the fields,” Hawladar added.
According to sources at the Patuakhali District Agriculture Extension Directorate (DAE), watermelons are being cultivated on 28,600 hectares — 11, 750 hectares in Galachipa, 8,262 in Rangabali, 3,131 in Bauphal, 2, 370 in Kalapara, 1,850 in Dasmina, 1,197 in Patuakhali Sadar, 120 in Dumki and 65 in Mirzaganj upazilas. Last year, the fruit was being grown on 22, 890 hectares of land.Among them, early watermelon cultivation is more prevalent in Galachipa and Rangabali upazilas. After Aman, the prime agricultural crop of the district — watermelons have now become the second choice for Patuakhali’s farmers. “Due to the favourable weather and other environmental factors, watermelons grown here are tasty and in high demand. We are expecting that each hectare of land will see a yield of 25-30 tonnes this year to further match the growing demands,” Mohammad Nazrul Islam, Deputy Director of DAE told The Daily Star. “The farmers are also happy as they are getting better prices for their produce as the Padma bridge is bringing in more wholesalers than the previous years,” he added. Watermelon harvest in the district is slated to end by April.