Bangladeshi farmers find zucchini’s high yields & low costs palatable

  • Though long considered “foreign” to Bangladeshi farmers, zucchini squash is now cultivated among growers who value its high productivity, lower production cost and short growing time.
  • Farmers living in dry regions and river islands prefer to cultivate this vegetable, where watering the plant is an issue.
  • Bangladesh Agricultural Extensions expects more zucchini squash cultivation in the coming days based on farmers’ enthusiasm and growing local demand in the market.

For long, cucumbers and pumpkins remained the only popular squash vegetables in Bangladesh. When Bangladesh Agricultural Extensions introduced zucchinis to farmers in the late 1990s, there was some confusion among both farmers and consumers regarding the cultivation and uses of this new type of squash.

However, zucchini squash has now gained popularity among farmers in Bangladesh as a short-duration crop. Farmers feel secure cultivating this vegetable because it requires less water, requires lower production costs, has higher yields, and a growing market demand.

Shithi Rani is a farmer from the northern district of Nilphamari, which is crisscrossed by many rivers and naturally generates many river islands. Consequently, most of her arable lands remain flooded during the monsoon season, June through October.

For her, the remaining months are crucial, as she needs to use the lands properly to manage the livelihood for her 5-member family. Considering this, five years back, she dared to cultivate the unknown-to-her vegetable, zucchini squash, following one of her neighbors.

This year, Shithi Rani is cultivating about half an acre of zucchini squash and has already produced around 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) of the vegetable.

“Squash is being sold at 25-30 taka ($0.22-$0.27) per kilogram in the local market, and till now, I received 130,000 taka ($1,184) after spending 50,000 taka ($455) as production cost, which is a big profit for me,” she told Mongabay.

Zucchini squash, also called courgette, has long been known in other parts of the world to be a delicious and popular vegetable. But in Bangladesh, where it’s a new introduction to the local people, it is a high-value vegetable crop whose cultivation is expanding in relatively less fertile lands. Especially in the Teesta, Dharla and Brahmaputra River basins in North Bengal, many people have become self-sufficient by cultivating the squash. Most of them are from Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Rangpur, Nilphamari, Thakurgaon and Gaibandha districts.

A zucchini squash farm in Bangladesh.
A zucchini squash farm in Bangladesh. Image by Farhana Parvin.
Farmers feel secure cultivating zucchinis
Farmers feel secure cultivating zucchinis because it requires less water, requires lower production costs, has higher yields, and a growing market demand. Image by Farhana Parvin.

Agricultural topography

According to the National Char Alliance, about 10 million people in Bangladesh live in 109 char lands — river islands that naturally flood during the monsoon (June to October), making agricultural activities impossible — in different coastal and river areas where they face regular flooding. This eventually creates huge financial losses as well as loss of agricultural activities, which is the major option to ensure their livelihood.

The char lands cover around 10% of 32 districts across the country, including Kurigram, Tangail, Jamalpur, Rangpur, Lamonirhat, Sirajganj, Nilphamari, Bogra, Gaibandha and Pabna.

After the monsoon, from October to March, the rivers and char lands dry up. The land is mostly covered with sand, so it is unsuitable for crops.

Explaining the situation, former director-general of the Department of Agricultural Extension, Md. Hamidur Rahman, said, “Many farmers tried to cultivate different crops on this land but failed. For instance, once, they tried sweet pumpkin and became successful. However, the problem is that the crops take time to harvest. Meanwhile, the rainy season starts, and the entire river fills with water. Then, they thought of trying a new way out, which would be less time-consuming. Here, they got zucchini squash. It is a high-value crop that takes less time than sweet pumpkin.”

Considering farmers’ interest, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) has recently released a high-yielding variety of zucchini called Bari Squash for the winter season cultivation.

“This newly released variety has good potential for commercial cultivation in other parts of the country. Bari Squash-1 is a high-yielding variety that can be harvested only 15-16 days after pollination. Its average yield per hectare is 45 tons,” the former DAE chief added.

Zuccini plant
In Bangladesh, where it’s a new introduction to the local people, zucchini is a high-value vegetable crop whose cultivation is expanding in relatively less fertile lands. Image by Farhana Parvin.

Hopes for the light

Md. Sharaf Uddin, senior scientific officer at BARI, said though the Bari Squash-1 was developed from an Australian squash variety, it has already been adopted in Bangladesh, and more importantly, both the demand and supply sides have already been created.

The advantage of zucchini cultivation is that the crop can be produced quickly and at an affordable price. Moreover, each acre of land can grow twice as many zucchinis as pumpkins. Moreover, a full-grown zucchini plant takes up less space.

“Each plant of squash produces 8-10 fruits. It is ready to eat within a few days. It is in demand and has good prices in domestic and foreign markets,” he added.

According to the latest data from the Department of Agriculture Extension, zucchini cultivation covered about 58 hectares (143 acres) of land in the current fiscal year only in the Rangpur division, comprising Rangpur, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat and Nilphamari districts.

A study suggests Bangladesh’s agriculture is highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. To tackle the future projected food crisis, the country needs to adopt crops that require less water, are drought resilient and are short-duration.

Banner image: A squash farmer next to his crops. Image by Farhana Parvin.

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