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Watermelon cultivators of Sonitpur seek support

By Correspondent

TEZPUR, Jan 31 � Despite lacking adequate facilities for boosting agriculture, some hard-working Bodo, Adivasi and Muslim youths of greater Barbil and Saraka areas have been able to set up an example in the last few years by cultivating watermelon on hectares of silted land along the banks of the Gabharu and Belsiri rivers under the Bihaguri and Dhekiajuli development blocks in Sonitpur district. The Belsiri, Barbil and Saraka areas on the banks of the Gabharu and Belsiri rivers under the Dhekiajuli and Tezpur revenue circles in Sonitpur district have been able to gain fame due to the highest production of watermelons in the district. But even though the farmers have produced bounteous crops, they have hardly received any help from the State Agriculture Department. The farmers have urged the Government to support them with requisite funds and facilities.

The rural educated youths in these areas under both the Dhekiajuli and Borcholla LACs have been cultivating watermelons on the banks of the Gabharu and Belsiri rivers as a viable way of income generation and livelihood. These farmers have turned hectares of unusable silted and barren land into lush fields. At present, about 30 sq km of land from the Belsiri area to the Brahmaputra river along the Belsiri river and about 50 sq km land from Kolakuchi to the Brahmaputra river, touching the NH-15 along the Gabharu river, have been teeming with a rich growth of crops like watermelons and vegetables since the last many years. Different kinds of crops including watermelons, chillies, beans, peas, pumpkins, bitter gourds, mustard, cabbages, cauliflowers, etc., are growing in the area.

Each of the farmers has a holding of about 10 to 18 bighas of the silted river land on an average. One passing by the NH-15 will notice the farmers and their family members toiling through the day on the fields along the banks of the Belsiri and Gabharu rivers. For the last many years, watermelon has been cultivated in the area along with other income-oriented crops with a view to meeting the financial needs of the farmer families. The watermelons produced in the area have been able to capture the market in the entire region. People of this greater area basically depend upon agriculture and since years back, farmers and educated youths here have prospered by undertaking watermelon cultivation according to their own traditional system.

Many farmers of the Barbil area stated that the silted land of the Gabharu and Belsiri rivers have nowadays become unproductive for many crops. So as an option, the people of these areas, realising the economic viability of watermelon cultivation on the land, have been growing the fruit over the years, thus registering remarkable economic prosperity. After a few days when the farmers start harvesting their crops, one will witness watermelons being sold on the roadside of the NH-15 from Keherukhonda to the Sivamandir area near here. One of the educated youths, when asked about the business of watermelon sale, said that during the season, he earns Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 by selling watermelons every day as there is high demand for it.

However, most of the farmers, ventilating their grievances over the alleged negligence of the department concerned, particularly the District Agricultural Department, disclosed that although many educated youths have been engaged in watermelon cultivation, no measures have been taken in this regard by the Government to encourage them. The farmers said that they have been facing tough challenges following the high cost of production, grazing cattle and lack of water supply facilities, fertilisers, financial assistance etc.

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