Broccoli is gaining popularity as an alternative to the traditional vegetables the farmers in Barishal grow, as it is letting them take home comparatively higher returns.
The green plant assisted the farmers at Jagua union in Barishal sadar upazila to rake nearly 1.5 times higher returns than pumpkin, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, papaya and mangetout.
In October last year, six farmers sowed broccoli seeds for the first time in the area in a separate land, which will be less than 1 acre in total, according to local growers.
The six earned about Tk 45,000 for every Tk 15,000 they invested on an average, whereas the profit would hit a maximum Tk 30,000 in case of pumpkin and others, they added.
The number of broccoli farmers is growing every day.
"All of us are targeting double the acreage next year," said Litu Sarker, a farmer of the district's Bamnikathi village.
The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) has no official data on broccoli farming in the zone, said Toufikul Alam, a deputy director of the government agency.
"The farmers have started broccoli farming for the first time this season. We will start collecting information once the acreage gets bigger," he added.
Sarker used a 20-decimal land to grow broccoli, which is high in many nutrients, including fibre, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and potassium.
He used to cultivate local bitter gourd, papaya, bottle gourd and pumpkin. "But this time I tried a new vegetable and it worked for me."
Sarker spent about Tk 12,000 on seeds, organic fertiliser and labour to plough and prepare the land for broccoli farming. He made a profit of Tk 40,000 in just three months.
It is a must to sow broccoli seeds by October. The vegetable gets ready for sales within two months and it can be sold from the land for the next three months, he said.
"When I planted broccoli seeds worth Tk 900 in a 20-decimal land five months ago, all of my fellow farmers discouraged me, as we had little knowledge about the vegetable," said Sheikh Munje Elahi Dulal, a farmer of Bamnikathi village.
But his hard work paid off when he started making profits: he earned Tk 10,000 in January. He has now another 200 broccolis left, from where he hopes to earn Tk 12,000 more.
Dulal was one of the first few farmers who came to know from the local doctors and agricultural officers about the health benefits of broccoli and its rising demand as a nutritious vegetable.
He made lower profits than his peers, as he used to give many broccolis for free to encourage people to go for its farming.
"Many people have visited my land to see how I am growing the vegetable. A lot of doctors have requested me to call them when broccolis are ready for sales," he added.
Broccoli is very good for health as it boosts human immune system, said Amerandra Nath Chakrabarty, an assistant professor of gastrology department of Sher-e-Bangla Medical College in Barishal and one of the regular visitors of Dulal.
It is a good source of lutein, a compound antioxidant.
However, there is no dedicated place to sell broccolis in Barishal, Dulal said. "The health-conscious people are my main customers."
He said he had no experience in broccoli farming, but found success thanks to the suggestions of Najma Begum, a sub-assistant agriculture officer for Barishal sadar upazila at the DAE.
And the use of low-cost organic fertilisers encouraged the local farmers to start its cultivation, he said.
All the farmers are now looking for advanced trainings on cultivation of this type of foreign vegetable, Sarker said.
"We are going to take an initiative to encourage more farmers into broccoli production, as the soil of the southern region is very suitable for it," said Alam of the DAE.
The farmers produced about half a tonne of the vegetables worth Tk 7,000 to Tk 8,000 a day for the last three months in Jagua union, according to Begum.