Summer fruits like watermelon sell very well during normal times, when sweeter and vibrant coloured fruit varieties usually sell better. But this year's summer is like no other.
Even a succulent watermelon with a punch of yellow coloured flesh did not stand a chance this summer when the country has remained under the grip of Covid-19 pandemic fear.
Alauddin Muhammad Tawfiq, a master's degree holder, who introduced this yellow-fleshed variety to Srimangal this year, said he lost around Tk 4 lakh to the pandemic despite a bountiful harvest.
With the hope to sell most of his harvest to customers he had lined up in Dhaka, Alauddin spent Tk 7 lakh to plant seven thousand seedlings of the Thai watermelon variety, known as 'Kania'.
His yellow watermelon garden is spread out on eight bighas of land in Isabpur village of Moulvibazar's Srimangal upazila.
But by the time all the hard work and money he invested on the garden, Covid-19 got a hold over the country. And the time to harvest the watermelons came amid various precautionary health measures -- including restrictions on public transport -- imposed across the country.
Alauddin eventually lost the prospective sales in Dhaka and the ripe fruits started rotting in his garden as local fruit traders also turned away from buying the fruits from him.
He said even the most hesitant person who tried the yellow watermelon from his garden liked it very much, but the local fruit traders did not show any interest in buying it from him due to the pandemic fear.
As such, Alauddin has been selling the produce below its cost of production in an effort to keep the losses to a minimum. Now he is selling each watermelon, weighing between five and six kilograms, for Tk 100 to Tk 360 to local individual buyers.
When he first undertook this farming project, his primary plan was to recover the investment mainly from sales in Dhaka. He would later on concentrate on local sales for additional earnings.
With that objective in mind, he learned grafting techniques at local agriculture office and produced all the yellow watermelon seedlings by himself. After about 75 days, the plants started bearing fruits.
Selling the fruits online did not cross Alauddin's mind as he had confidence in the sales prospect he had developed with wholesale traders in Dhaka. But plummeting demands in Dhaka due to the Covid-19 restrictions ruined everything for him.
Afterwards, his attempts to entice the local traders into buying the yellow-fleshed tastier watermelon also failed as none of them were even procuring the native watermelon over the past few months, Alauddin said.
Sales volume of any commodity will not increase unless out-of-town wholesalers and tourists start visiting different growers across the country, he said adding that regardless how much obstacle the nature throws at him, he will grow the yellow-fleshed watermelon again next year, said a resolute Alauddin.
Rathindra Deb, deputy assistant agriculture officer in Sreemangal, said when educated youths like Alauddin get involved in farming, educated but unemployed locals also get inspired.
Soil in Srimangal is suitable for watermelon cultivation and the agriculture office in Srimangal upazila helped Alauddin with necessary advice when he expressed his intension in cultivating the yellow watermelon, a new variety of the fruit for the upazila, said Nilufar Yasmin Munalisa Sweety, agriculture officer in Srimangal.
While it is expected that under the changed scenario of pandemic scare, government departments concerned would come up with effective online initiatives to help grassroots farmers connect with buyers in different parts of the country, the activities of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) seem to be limited only in issuing travel passes for vehicles transporting produce to Dhaka or other towns during travel restrictions.
Asked what they were doing for farmers like Alauddin, who does not know how to find buyers for his produce, Kazi Lutful Bari, deputy director of DAE in Moulvibazar, said they have been helping farmers sell their produce in upazila towns and, if anyone needs to transport their produce to Dhaka, they issue travel passes.