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A Bitter Gourd Journey in Bangladesh

Posted On: January 12, 2023

Key farmer Taslima Akter and her husband, Ayub Ali, in their bitter gourd plot
Key farmer Taslima Akter (right) and her husband, Ayub Ali, in their bitter gourd plot.

When EWS-KT Director Stuart Morris visited Bangladesh in late October 2022, Technical Field Officer Bibi Sumaiya brought him to the beautiful bitter gourd demonstration plot managed by key farmer Taslima Akter and her husband, Ayub Ali.

Taslima and Ayub live in Subarnachar, in the Noakhali district, which is in the southern part of Bangladesh. This was their first season implementing EWS-KT techniques, and they are eager to learn more.

Visitors at Taslima Akter's demo plot
EWS-KT Director Stuart Morris (second from left) and others visit the demo plot.

A First Glimpse of Bitter Gourd

Taslima and Ayub’s EWS-KT journey began with Ayub’s encounter with a home garden supported by EWS-KT. One day, he went to buy vermicompost from some other farmers and noticed their home garden. There were four crops—okra, bitter gourd, yard long bean, and bottle gourd—in the small garden, but Ayub was captivated by the bitter gourd. The size, color, compactness, and yield! Home gardener Anima Rani and her husband told Ayub about EWS-KT, and after attending the home garden Field Day, he contacted Technical Field Officer Bibi Sumaiya about learning how to cultivate bitter gourd using EWS-KT techniques. 

Because Bibi Sumaiya is a woman, Ayub talked to Taslima about becoming a key farmer with EWS-KT. He knew that Taslima would feel comfortable working with a female trainer. “My husband is very positive and supportive about working with KT,” Taslima said. “We have been working together in the field since our marriage, and we are still working together, including in the KT demo plot.”

New Techniques to Try

At the field visit in October, Ayub took the lead in sharing their experience with the demo plot, and he explained some of the differences between EWS-KT techniques and the local practices they used to follow

For instance, they didn’t previously use seed trays in a shaded nursery; instead, Ayub said, they sowed seeds directly in the field or in a polybag—and in each hole or polybag, they sowed two seeds. With high-quality seeds and good germination rates, though, one seed is enough. “The KT techniques are good in reducing seed costs, because they taught me to use single seedlings or one seed in the seed tray,” Ayub said. He added that following this practice reduced their seed cost 50%. Similarly, changing from a large single application of fertilizer to a smaller split application of fertilizer reduced their fertilizer costs, while giving the plants nutrients at the right times.

Ayub told the visitors that he and Taslima used to transplant two seedlings into each hole. But this year, they maintained EWS-KT’s recommended plant distance and transplanted one seedling per hole. The plants now have enough space and are getting proper sunlight and good air circulation. The seedlings also started out in better condition. Ayub compared the seed tray seedlings to the polybag seedlings and said the seed tray seedlings are very healthy. 

Following EWS-KT’s guidelines for trellising and pruning has also made a difference. Before, Ayub said, they used a low trellis to support the plants, but they found that the high trellising recommended by EWS-KT makes it much easier to care for the bitter gourd plants, treat them for pests and diseases, and harvest the fruit. 

Ayub Ali holds up harvested bitter gourd fruits
Ayub Ali with some of their harvest, under the high trellising.

Inspiring Others

Several neighboring farmers were also present at the October field visit. They explained that they became interested in adopting the EWS-KT practices in their own fields because the benefits were already visible in the demo plot: stronger seedlings, healthier plants, and better-quality fruit. These farmers attended EWS-KT training at the demo plot, and some have already started replicating the techniques in their own fields. 

Taslima and Ayub’s bitter gourd demo plot is not only bringing in extra income but also providing extra nutrition; they eat some of what they cultivate, and they sell the rest in the market. Their work with EWS-KT has had social benefits as well, increasing their stature in the community. Neighboring farmers increasingly come to Ayub for his valuable advice. Farmers visit the demo plot and ask him questions: “How do you prepare seedling media?” “What basal dose of fertilizer should I use?” “What is the right distance between plants?”

Sometimes farmers also ask Ayub to visit their field. “I am leading four farmers in my area with KT techniques,” Ayub said. He monitors those plots like a Technical Field Officer would. Taslima, too, shares EWS-KT techniques, passing on her knowledge to women farmers who visit the demo plot. 

“This is our first season with KT. We are learning, we are getting benefits, we want to learn more in the next season too.”  
— Ayub Ali

Bitter gourd fruit