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January 27, 2021

New melon seeds a hope for farmers in winter


January 27, 2021

HYDERABAD: Hoping for higher yield and better profits, farmers in Sindh are cultivating a new variety of melon instead of okra despite dropping temperatures.

Growers in Tando Muhammad Khan district traditionally sowed okra in rice fields during December. However, they have replaced okra with melon for higher profits.

Similarly, farmers in other rice producing zones – Badin and parts of Thatta and Sujawal districts –also opted to cultivate a new variety of melon in winter. This product is expected to come to markets in the first week of March, and may continue onward till April and May.

Sajad Morio, working with a private seed company in rice producing Golarchi, Badin district, said this melon variety was first introduced in 2019 on a small scale. “But this year (2021), farmers seem to have taken a liking for this crop. Harvest is expected to start at the end of February or during the first week of March.” These new varieties of melon known locally include kolachi and golden. It a small-sized melon that is sweeter than normal varieties, he added. “The fear of rising cold persists, but farmers still risked cultivating melons in winter.”

Morio said before melon, farmers tried to produce tomato and chilli in areas designated for rice growing in Golarchi, but now they opted for melon, looking at its low input cost and higher rate of return.

Crops in rice fields do not need more water and usually grow on moisture. That is why farmers cultivate off season and short period crops, like melons to earn enough before cultivating the next long-haul crop.

Recalling the past, coastal farmers said Sakro, Keti Bunder and other areas were considered a melon and watermelon hub until hardly five-six years ago. Now, only a few farmers take the risk of cultivating melon on a small piece of land, despite fear of viral attacks at an adult stage of the crop, while abandoning watermelon all together.

Viral attacks on melon are one of the top most discouraging phenomenons in the coastal areas. Previously, many farmers used to cultivate melons on over 500 acres, now they put aside only a small piece of land for this crop.

Melon ripens in 80-90 days, depending on the season. For those who cultivate it in early December, the fleshy fruit gets ready after 90 days. While summer crops take 70-80 days to come to market.

This year, coastal farmers expect to start cultivating melon from February as always, keeping in mind the sales during the month of Ramazan.

Ghulam Hussain Khaskheli, a small-scale farmer in Kaloi, Tharparkar district said usually farmers in different climatic zones set their priorities to cultivate melon, thinking it might bring more profit for them. “This crop requires normal temperature to regain sweetness under the sun. Otherwise, the crop will lose its natural taste, aroma and sweetness.”

He said farmers near old Puran River areas in Badin and parts of Tharparkar always cultivate melon and watermelon on wide areas to earn more profit in the season-- mostly harvesting starts from March and April.

He believes that the newly emerging hybrid seed varieties of melon and watermelon have changed the scenario all around, even allowing to cultivate the sweet fruit in December. Recalling the past, he said there were organic crops, including melon, which did not need chemical input and more water.

This sweet fruit that belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family grows naturally on watering once. But hybrid seed varieties required more water and chemical input. It also depends on the situation, as farmers in the barrage area use more water and chemical input. However, higher chemical input does not save the crop from sudden viral attacks.

For example, some farmers of Kaloi, Tharparkar district cultivated tinda (apple gourd), using hybrid variety, which did not survive at the fruiting stage and they faced huge losses. Since then they have been careful, and cultivate hardier vegetables.

Coastal farmers grow melon in February and bring it to the market in April and May, to cater the demand during Ramazan.

Traditionally, there were two seasons for melon cultivation in Sindh; first February and the other September.

Elderly farmers believe that gone were the days when they used to preserve their indigenous seeds of melon, watermelon, apple gourd and other food crops for the year ahead.

Some aware farmers accuse seed manufacturing companies and dealers of providing adulterated seeds, which sometimes do not germinate or require more water and chemical input, increasing the cost of inputs.

Seed dealers inform farmers about the challenges of viral attacks at the time of sales, and also suggest particular pesticides for avoiding losses. This increases their per acre cultivation cost to Rs50,000-60,000 in normal season.