Keeping it natural

Mahfuzul Haque meets a group of young agriculturalists who are bringing pure food to city-dwellers

011When consumers are struggling to find pure food in marketplaces, filled with adulterated and laced food items, a group of young graduates have taken an initiative to inspire farmers to cultivate agricultural products free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which they supply to the consumers.
The platform called ‘Natural agriculture’ has its office in the room of a house in Lalmatia where they bring fresh produce every Friday, which is then distributed to consumers in the capital. ‘It is not a traditional kitchen market; rather it is an attempt to channel the natural agricultural products grown by some farmers of Tangail and Jhenidah to the consumers of the capital,’ shares Delowar Jahan, a core member of the platform.
Every Friday, the bazaar starts at 9:00am to meet the demand of the consumers from different parts of the capital and the sale finishes within a few hours. It also remains open on other weekdays to sell items like egg, rice, and seasonal fruits. Alimul Islam, a resident of Rajarbag in the capital, often comes to the bazaar with a large sack to buy the items. ‘I come here to buy safe items for my children as the kitchen markets are flooded with poisonous food,’ Islam says.
‘Natural Agriculture’ offers various vegetables, fruits, rice, honey and other such items.

The journey
While studying Communication and Journalism during his first semester in 2004, Delowar Jahan discovered that he could not relate his internationally written textbooks to the communication patterns used by the locals. Then Jahan, now a graduate of Chittagong University, along with some of his fellow students decided to research on the methods of communication used by locals.
Initially this was confined to group discussions at the university. After graduation they moved to Dhaka to earn a living and to pursue their research. ‘Initially finding a method that would allow us to analyse the communication pattern of the masses was indeed challenging,’ Jahan recalls.
‘Then we chose to approach farmers as they are the larger section in the community and also because agriculture remains a core contributor to the national economy,’ Jahan says. The young graduates then formed a platform called ‘Subaltern Communication Research Centre’ in 2012.
In 2013, they took lease on a piece of land at Amtali village of Daulatpur upazila of Manikganj to cultivate vegetables on their own. The group members worked on the land during weekends. Unfortunately, land erosion by the river destroyed that piece of land the very same year.
Later, they found a piece of land in Kaliganj of Jhenidah where they resumed their cultivation. Their goal was to find out how the crops respond to the use of organic fertilisers and to educate the grass root farmers on this method.
Tapu Rayhan, another member of the group, went to Kaliganj in 2014 after quitting his job as a journalist to join the ‘Natural Agriculture’ firm.
‘We go to the villages and talk to the farmers about the problems they face. We discuss these issues with the farmers and ask them to find possible solutions. Then we add our ideas to the mix to come up with solutions,’ Jahan shares while discussing their approach.
At the initial stage, the volume of production using organic fertiliser is comparatively low as the fertility of the land had decreased due to excessive use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides. ‘If the farmers do not get fair prices they will get demotivated, so we took the initiative to set up a centre for selling their produce in Dhaka,’ he says.
They have recently expanded their initiative to Ghatail in Tangail. ‘While we were there we found that the pineapple farmers do not eat their own produce fearing health hazards from the use of various types of hormones that are detrimental to health,’ Jahan says.
‘Then we arranged a group meeting with some of the pineapple farmers who said that they were doing so to avoid incurring losses as hormone treated pineapples grow larger and stay fresh for longer periods of time,’ Jahan shares. They also shared that they actually did not want to continue this practice.
‘So we understood that it is the fear of incurring losses that render the farmers to spray poison on the pineapples and hence we thought we would help them distribute their produce in order to avoid this,’ Jahan says.
‘We assured them that we would help selling their products at the centre in Dhaka if they refrained from using the poisonous spray,’ he says. The farmers have already formed a group called ‘Ghatail Farmers’ Society’. The farmers now meet once a week to discuss their activities and progress. A voluntary group of students of Mawlana Bhasani Science and Technology University in Tangail is also working with the farmers.
A group of 10 farmers from Ghatail recently visited Kaliganj farmers to learn the process of making organic fertilisers, such as compost fertilisers, worm fertilisers etc. They also have shared their experiences and ideas with one another.
‘Around 250 farmers from 11 villages of Kaliganj upazila have joined the movement in the meantime,’ Rayhan says. And around nine bighas of land are now being cultivated under the ‘Natural Agriculture’ farm in Kaliganj, Rayhan adds.
The construction of a natural agriculture firm is underway at Pachgram of Araihazar in Narayanganj that will be a model to the farmers to demonstrate how cows, goats, chickens and other agricultural produce can be cultivated naturally, Jahan says.
Some consumers from Uttara in the capital have requested to set up a centre there, ‘but we advised them to take the initiative on their own and we offered to help them communicate with the farmers and find a channel for their produce,’ Jahan says.
Jahan shares that the platform has no commercial plan. ‘Our movement is to inspire farmers to work for life, not to kill others by using chemicals,’ he informs.

Natural Agriculture
6/3, Block-A (Opposite to Lalmatia Water Tank), Lalmatia, Dhaka