“We have an economic council at the university that meets every month to plan new initiatives,” said Afshin Aimaq, the director of the university, the Kuhandazh Institute of Higher Education.

“This month, we realized the watermelon prices were very low — the supply was high, the demand very low,” he added. “We wanted to create excitement for buying the product, to help create a market, and to try a new experiment that could support the farmers.”

About 200 people gathered for the competition. For the women’s section, 20 teams competed in watermelon designs. Then 20 teams of men — each consisting of a watermelon eater, a slicer, and an umpire around a small table — went head-to-head in an eating contest. On the table in front of them were eight watermelons, weighing 10 to 15 pounds each.

The men’s competition went into a runoff between the top three contestants — all had eaten five watermelons in the allotted 20 minutes. The overall winner, who finally polished off eight watermelons in a total of 30 minutes for the two rounds, was Rahmatullah Quchqarzada, a 22-year-old second-year economics student and son of a government clerk.

“I have never eaten this much watermelon in my life,” Mr. Quchqarzada said. “But people were cheering me on. And I didn’t want to let down my father’s name.”

“I even had an exam afterward,” he added. “I took my exam after the competition, and leisurely walked home.”

Some saw the lighter side in the outpouring of support for the farmers.

One Facebook user, Hamim Jalalzai, wrote: “I have been eating watermelons instead of bread and water in the past few days. Even when the kids have asked for ice cream and biscuits we have offered them watermelons.”

In terms of a food to overeat in solidarity, things could be worse. As Mr. Jalalzai noted, “I just read that the country’s onion harvest this year is also abundant.”



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