A common misconception about watermelon is that it contains mainly water and sugar. In reality, it is a nutrient-dense fruit. Watermelon is an excellent source of antioxidants such as lycopene, and also contains vitamins A and C which help prevent cell damage, neutralize and remove free radicals and help fight off different kinds of cancers. Watermelon is also rich in potassium which helps maintain blood pressure to prevent diseases such as stroke, heart disease and also decreases the size of the kidney stones. It is frequently used for body detoxification as it contains a large amounts of water and it also helps in “cleaning” our kidneys. It is a fruit that is rich in an amino acid known as L-citrulline, which the body converts to L-arginine, an essential amino acid that helps relax blood vessels and improve circulation.
Watermelon was introduced in East Shoa Zone of Oromia region which is currently the only place where it is produced in Ethiopia. Though the exact date of its introduction in Ethiopia is unknown, farmers near Koka Lake in East Shoa explained that watermelon was introduced in their area in the 1950s by an Italian man who lived in Koka town. Today, production is limited to the lake shore areas of Koka, especially when the volume of the lake shrinks. So far, irrigation to produce watermelon is not common. Since there is quite a good demand for watermelon by consumers – who buy it from supermarkets as well as from fruit and vegetable shops – farmers are starting to give more of their land to watermelons.
Quality and yield are the main factors influencing watermelon production in Ethiopia. The quality of watermelons produced in Ethiopia tends to be low compared to elsewhere. According to tests at farm gate, road side markets and supermarkets, its average total soluble solids (TSS) content was found to be less than 6% Brix; the minimum TSS should not be lower than 9% Brix (world standard). The productivity of watermelon is generally low due to lack of awareness of producers about agronomic practices, time of harvest, and variety types.
So far, producers have not received extension services on watermelon production techniques and marketing from the government or NGOs in Ethiopia.
The common marketing system practiced is double transaction at farm gate (producers sell to to brokers and brokers to traders). All producers sell through the process of “terega” which means buyers collect all watermelons at the same time. Mature and immature watermelons are all harvested together, resulting in low quality of the produce.
After grading the watermelons at farm gate, brokers sell the immature ones to local retailers for roadside markets. The better ones are sold to traders from the central market for big supermarkets and hotels.
Watermelon production in Ethiopia needs significant improvement in the types of varieties, production techniques and marketing. Intervention opportunities for LIVES could be in terms of introducing adaptable varieties that produce good fruits, providing technical and practical training on production techniques supported by demonstration and establishment and strengthening of sustainable input supply and marketing linkages.
Written by Amenti Chali, with contributions from Abule Ebro and Nigatu Alemayehu