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May 13, 2013 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on The Fortress Built Near Water

The Fortress Built Near Water

Bangladeshi expatriate farmers in Oman, Qatar, Palm Desert region of USA and in different Middle East countries and across the world, have revolutionarily shaped green revolution. It is unimaginable that an individual Bangladeshi farmer has turned into an institution. Agriculture sector is becoming huge and food security is being ensured through their relentless efforts, in home as well as in abroad. Today, I’ll share with you the story of Abdur Razzak, who lives in the agricultural town, called Wafra in Kuwait. He’s an inspiration, a great revolution in the farming sector of Kuwait.

 

During last summer, I visited Kuwait along with Hridoye Mati O Manush team. Having heard so many good things about Bangladeshi farmers working in Kuwait, I really felt it’s a must to visit the country and look closely what really our Bangladeshi sons are doing on the fields and producing ever so abundantly. As planned, we landed on Kuwait, more known as ‘the fortress built near water’.

Kuwait, with a total area of 17 thousand 820 sq. km., is a country of heritage, enrichment and wealth. The oil-ruled country is composed of 2.6 million people, where 1.2 million are Kuwaiti. There are large groups of Arabian expatriates. South Asians are next in this line to reside in Kuwait. It was an ideal summer time of the year, scorched heat all around.  

Kuwati agriculture sector is based in Wafra, which is known as the agricultural town. We started our journey towards Wafra without any delay. Wafra is located at the southern part of Kuwait. Agriculture is quite expensive in all over Kuwait. Doing agriculture here means certainly so different than doing it in Bangladesh. For the last four decades, farming is being done in Wafra infrequently. Farm labourers were then, Egyptian, Pakistani, Afghan and Indian. When Bangladeshis started moving around the world with the labour skills they have, they captured the global labour market.

For the last fifteen years or so, Bangladeshis engaged themselves with farming in Wafra. They are leasing local lands for their farming. Since Bangladeshis joined the farms in Kuwait, it was tough for Egyptian, Pakistani and labourers from other countries. Because, no one else can do better farming than Bangladeshis. As Bangladeshis are producing with their merit and indigenous knowledge, the produce is becoming huge every year.

‘Loo’ wind was blowing outside- extremely hot and dry it was. The entire Kuwait dressed up with an extreme weather condition. It was pretty hard even for the tires to survive on the extreme heat of the road.  

Weather Office says the temperature goes up to 62 degree Celsius during summer! The country is different because the temperature falls down to minus degrees as well, in some parts! In 2011, in Wafra and Abdali, temperature fell down to minus. Due to climate change, the world is getting imbalanced, going out of controle, rather.  

   

Sandstorm is the key feature of the natural disasters in Kuwait. We basically drove through a sandstorm. Even the aircrafts can’t fly during sandstorms. If it rains during the sandstorm, it becomes muddy as the raindrops get mixed up with sands when they fall down. You can guess, against so many natural severities, farmers are growing food in Kuwait.

It took us almost two hours to reach Wafra due to moderate sandstorms. It was 55 degree Celsius when we reached Abdur Razzak’s farm in Wafra. Razzak was waiting for us and came out greeting our team with a happy smile. He has the biggest farm in Kuwait. There are many Bangladeshi labourers in the farm. Razzak came to Kuwait 19 years back from Pirozpur’s Mothbaria.

  

“What crops do you have here?”

“Tomato, cucumber, chilli, capsicum, potato, eggplant, barbati (long yard bean) and many more.”

 

Kuwait is not an agrarian country, however the government of the country has special attention on existing agriculture sector. Since the ancient time, the country had no heritage of farming. Only the desert trees were the tools or examples of agriculture- date palm and zaitun (olive) trees. Kuwait government has given importance to each of the planted trees in the country. Whatever is going on by the name of agriculture in this country is controlled by artificial light, heat, temperature etc. I stepped inside a shed of Razzak.

“What is the size of one shade here?”

“Eight metres in width and thirty-five metres long.”

“How many shades do you have here in the entire farm?”

“1400.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

 

This is really surprising, isn’t it? Abdur Razzak implemented his own ideas and strategies to make the desert green. He converted the dead land of gravel to an ideal land for producing crops. The State of Kuwait has given him special support, in this regard. Though farming is quite expensive in Kuwait, but Abdur Razzak didn’t face that much stress.

 

I spotted water pipes in each and every rows inside the farm. Razzak says he’s also converting the saline water into fresh water and pouring it to a new water house. He has fifteen water tanks, each of them can convert 12000 gallons of saline water into fresh.

 

You can imagine how much expensive is farming in Kuwait is. All these plants can never grow with saline water. The whole Kuwait has saline water under its soil. They’re converting the salt water to fresh water again. Then, they are irrigating their lands. Undoubtedly, very expensive!

   

Over the year, the farm is busy from dawn to dusk with diverse activities inside- harvest, packaging and then sending products to market. Bangladeshi farm labourers are also happy to work under Abdur Razzak. I talked with Nasir, a farm labourer.

 

“How long have you been working in this farm?”

“Ten years, since I arrived in Kuwait. I spent Tk. 80,000 for coming to Kuwait. I used to earn only 30 KD (App Tk. 9000) when I joined. Now, I get 210 KD.”

“How much can you send back at home?”

“The entire salary. We are also paid for the overtime.”

“And, the food?”

“It’s owner’s responsibility. I can call to Bangladesh with the overtime earning. I can earn extra money which makes it easier for me.”

 

Wafra has a demand of around 30,000 farm labours. However, if the Kuwait government doesn’t lift the ban on VISA, then it’ll become tougher to produce.

 

Why was the VISA banned?

 

The labour market is being ruined because of internal clashes. Moreover, internationally some people are doing spiteful politics to ruin our impression so that the Bangladeshi labour market is shattered forever.

 

Bangladeshi Ambassador to Kuwait Mr. Shahed Reza is also informing us that Kuwait has a great demand for skilled and semi-skilled labourers of Bangladesh.  

 

“We don’t have professional or highly skilled Bangladeshis working here. What Kuwait government has done, they have formed a committee, which is the combination of members from Social Welfare Ministry, Interior Ministry and Parliament. The committee is reviewing specifically that how many people Kuwait actually wants.”

 

“They will hire people as per their evaluation. The number of original Kuwaitis is 1.2 million. And, we the expatriates are just double in number. Now, the committee aims to recruit manpower only where they need”, added the Ambassador.

 

This farm of Abdur Razzak is really a pride for the Bangladeshi expatriates in Kuwait. Abdur Razzak is a farmer’s son and his mind is engraved in the prospects of farming sector. To make the land of gravel and sands fertile, his efforts are really praiseworthy.

 

People who spend their time with crops and soil in abroad, they are actually the real representatives of the farming community of Bangladesh. The world now sings the glory of their revolutionary deeds. This success can help bridge meaningful relationships with any country, across the world. Likewise, for the sake of our motherland, we can achieve even greater goals.

 

Bangladeshi farm entrepreneurs achieved success in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and everywhere around the world. However, in a wealthy country that has the highest valued currency, Abdur Razzak’s success is supreme and makes Bangladesh ever so proud. It’s impossible to walk the entire farm of Razzak in one day. I have tried to highlight some of his important works inside the farm.  

 

This is a great achievement, a great pride! We have to look at the success in a greater way. If Bangladeshi government can ease the process of migration of Bangladeshi labourers in countries across the world, Bangladeshi farmers would also be able to contribute to the global food security.

May 13, 2013 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on The Silent Killer

The Silent Killer

Today, I’ll tell you of a killer weed, very harmful one that is spreading quite fast in the country. Specially in all around Rajshahi district, the situation is really alarming. This is harmful for farming, food chain, human health and also for livestock animals. Farmers don’t care much about the weeds. Farmers feel that the plant is kind of a protection for their lands, cattle won’t enter lands and that’s why they don’t generally cut, burn or uproot these weeds. And, they don’t know what severe threat is entering their arable lands!

 

‘Parthenium’, a new threat to Bangladesh, the killer weed of which I was telling you at the beginning. Among six dangerous toxic weeds, Parthenium is one. In India, 0.4 million hectares of land couldn’t produce anything at all because of this killer weed. The weed reduces crop productivity by 40%. We hear many death stories, caused by this harmful weed. In recent times, the weed is spreading very fast in Bangladesh. Nobody can tell specifically of its origin. Wherever you see Parthenium, beside it, no other plants can make its place. It grows really fast. Bangladeshi farming sector is certainly standing in front of the new predicament, called, ‘Parthenium’.   

We notice these kinds of weeds beside the roads and even in forests. Scientists say, this herb has entered Bangladesh not long ago, may be a few years or so. The nature has many unknown herbs, weeds and flowering plants. There are many useful medicinal herbs/plants as well. We don’t find or see many of those now a days. ‘Parthenium’ has some real fear factors. In case of producing maize, it reduces the productivity by 30%. Besides, it also decreases production of paddy, chick pea, mustard, wheat, eggplant and chilli. It can be easily referred to arsenic, a dangerous threat to human health. You may add bronchitis, asthma and many other critical diseases, which is very well caused by Parthenium. Even the livestock animals are getting affected due to this toxic weed.

 

People of Bangladesh know very little about this killer weed. College Teacher and founder of ‘Shah Agriculture Library’, Shah Jahangir Hossain found Parthenium’s severe effects in Rajshahi district. I had the privilege to talk with him regarding this little-known weed. He learned about Parthenium from a workshop, conducted by an Australian Professor in Manda region. He also said that it’s been only two years that the weed is growing and spreading fast in Bangladesh.  

 

Meanwhile, Jahangir has taken initiatives to uproot the weeds from beside the roads while informing the local administration.

 

“You have also tried to uproot the killer weeds from beside the roads?”

“Yes, but, it’s spreading very fast.”

“What are the bad effects of Parthenium?”

“Skin disease, bronchitis, mouth diseases of cattle…even their milk becomes bitter if they eat too much of the weed.”

“That means the milk becomes toxic?”

“Certainly”, added Jahangir.

 

Pollination of eggplant, tomato, chilli is hampered. It seriously damages the pulse crops as well.  The general people of our country barely know anything about the weed. Even the farmers don’t know about the harmful features of Parthenium.

 

I wanted to ask some general farmers whether they have any idea on Parthenium.   

 

“Do you have any idea what this weed is?”

“We just know it has a smell.”

“Okay…what else?”

“It has a foul smell that brings in vomiting tendency. It brings itchy feeling to my body too”

 

I tried to aware some people, telling them to uproot the weed wherever they find it. However, I noticed the weed is no more on the roadside, it has entered the arable lands as well. It’s a great barrier against healthy cultivation.

   

Parthenium is originated in Mexico. But in time’s course it spread in USA, Africa, West Indies, India, Pakistan, China, Nepal, Australia and then in Bangladesh. In different districts of Bangladesh, we can now locate Parthenium. In some regions the weed is locally known as, ‘Nakfuli’. It’s mostly found in Jessore, Faridpur, Rajshahi, Natore, Dhaka and in Mymensingh districts. The weed can shift its place quickly with the help of water and seeds. That is why new localities are being affected. In India, Parthenium is a big threat. There, it’s commonly known as ‘Carrot Weed’.

 

In India, the Parthenium weed had spread quite enormously. In 1975 alone, it had spread over 5 million hectares which is equal to one-season arable land in Bangladesh. In 2010, Parthenium had spread over 35 million hectares, which is at least fourfold to our arable land. Scientists say, Parthenium was first found in India’s Maharashtra in 1956. Since then, it spread all over India. The plant scientists are very much worried about this toxic plant.

  

A Parthenium weed can give birth to around twenty-five thousand micro seeds. One plant lives up to three to four months. In these months, it gives flowers as well as seeds for three times. These micro seeds basically spread with the cowdung, muds under the wheels of cars, shoes and sandals, irrigation water and even through air.

 

Professor Dr. Rezaul Karim from Bangladesh Agricultural University’s Agronomy Department, meanwhile, has conducted research on Parthenium. He gave me more reasonable explanation on the growth and threatening expansion of the weed.  He has conducted couple of researches on Parthenium with the Masters students of the Agronomy department. One of the researches included the ‘Allelopathic Effect’ of parthenium over different crops, specially how it reduces germination and growth. Dr. Karim says that the weed spreads so fast like ‘wildfire’, as it burns the forest in a flash. So, you can guess how fast it may spread.  

 

“Two years back, I went to Sirajganj and found very few Parthenium weeds. A month back, I went there again and found so many of them”, said Dr. Karim.

“It’s even beside the households and people are still unaware of its very harmful effects. They’re probably touching it, having smell of it without knowledge”, added Dr. Karim.

“They don’t even have any idea on the toxicity of the weed. It’s spreading really fast. There will be a time when awareness won’t even work”, the worried professor stressed in this manner.

 

Parthenium decreases growth of grasses as well as of the cattle feeds severely. This toxic weed is very dangerous for human and animal health. If people go near the weed, there’s a probability of being affected with asthma and skin disease. And, there are many other severe diseases which are well caused by the killer weed. The most heartbreaking news is in India, so far, at least 12 people died due to the toxicity of Parthenium.

 

Research Center for Weed Science, situated in India’s Madhya Pradesh at Jabalpur conducted research on Parthenium for 20 years and they are prescribing some key factors. While uprooting the weed, one has to wear gloves. No one should just cut it down for permanent destruction. A chemical for weed controle may be used.

 

The bio-controles are always environment-friendly to wipe out Parthenium. In this respect, Mexican leaf-feeding beetle ‘Zygograrama Bicolorata’ can be used for a better result, stressed the experienced scientists.

 

Scientists have clearly mentioned that there is no second dangerous weed than Parthenium. Regarding the issue of food security, Parthenium is a silent killer. It is also a massive threat against public health, livestock animals, farming sector and environment. If we don’t take effective measure to wipe out the killer weed right away, we would never be able to tackle even bigger disaster in future.

 

We expect farming related public and private organizations, research and extension departments will take an immediate initiative to aware the general people and definitely farmers about the killer weed, Parthenium before it’s too late.

May 13, 2013 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on A Farewell to Tobacco

A Farewell to Tobacco

 

 

Farmers of Rangpur gradually stepping out of tobacco farming

Rangpur, an ancient tobacco growing region in Bangladesh. This region has been cultivating tobacco for a long time. Because, it’s still the cash crop for the local people, farmers know that they have certain market for tobacco. The tobacco companies buy tobaccos directly from the farmers. Many a times, they pay in advance. As a result of crop diversity, in recent times, people are gradually stepping out of tobacco cultivation. Now, they’re doing potato, corn, IRRI rice and also fish farming.

 

Farmer says at the beginning they made profit with this cash crop, but now, they are not making good profits anymore. They can’t even get out of this cultivation easily. Tobacco farming needs lots of fertilizers and pesticides and it needs a lot of hard work as well to produce. They gave priority to profits more than the food crops.

It’s been quite long that peace has flown away from the agricultural regions, located by the Matamuhuri riverbank of Chittagong. Tobacco farming in every household has become the biggest enemy against agricultural production and rural life.

 

In Bandarbans, in the mountains of greenery, no doubt you would find the kingdom of tobacco. You wouldn’t understand the real picture from the main highway. The more you go inside, you find more and more tobacco lands. The arable lands where farmers used to grow IRRI and Boro rice, have now become landscapes of tobacco. I climbed up on a little mountain to see the real picture of tobacco farming. As far as my eyes could see, I only saw tobacco lands, gradually grasping the rural arable lands, ruining them.

 

Likewise, by the Jamuna riverbank, in Tangail’s Kalihati and different agricultural regions of Bhuyanpur, Tobacco comprehensively captured the arable lands.

 

The health impact of tobacco farming is severe, specially for the ones who are directly working with tobacco leaves at the chimneys. The health difficulties are caused by the smoke and others. Most of the time, the labours and farmers feel sick. Their hair becomes gummy and hands bitter. Even if they use soaps, they can’t wipe out the bitterness.

 

Even the most agriculturally enriched region of Bangladesh, Chalan Beel (Wetland) could not get rid of the curse of tobacco farming. Paddy is the only beauty on these lands during Boro season. This has been the same for ages. Boro is the major crop for the farmers of this region. They get good crop as Tarash and Sirajganj are agriculturally enriched region. Right beside the croplands I noticed an entirely contradictory image. Some specialized houses were there and not familiar to everyone. Farmers burn tobacco leaves in these houses.

 

Tobacco was the major crop in most of the regions of Rangpur, specially in Gangachara and Kaunia upazilas, by the riverbank of Tista. Still marginal people of Gangachara heavily depend on tobacco farming and it’s easy to read what they have achieved and lost so far. I went to Uttar Panapukur region. There is not a single farmer who’s not cultivating tobacco here. Farmers are only victims to the certainty of market price.

 

Tobacco is all around but I found a potato land in the middle. In recent times, Rangpur is growing potato extensively. I talked with a potato farmer who used to farm tobacco in the past. Now, he’s not doing it anymore and making good profits from potato. It’s obviously true that tobacco farming needs a lot of hard work than doing any other crop. From this aspect, many farmers are thinking to leave tobacco farming.    

 

It’s true that an unseen battle between food crops and tobacco has already started in the region. Farmers are now considering- food or tobacco…poison or food? And, food crops are the winner in this battle, for sure. I talked with the local farmers and one of them was very confident about leaving tobacco farming.

 

“Will you increase tobacco farming?”

“I will reduce it down for sure as I’m not getting good price now.”

“So, what’s the alternative?”

“I’ll grow potato and rice.”

 

Farmers now have a clear conception on how they’re losing everything as they’re not getting good price for tobacco. And, how their hard work and investment goes in vain. Unsold tobacco will not meet the hunger.

 

Dear readers, Rangpur farmers are now stepping out of tobacco farming. This is a positive sign for our farming sector. I believe, farmers will stop tobacco farming and grow food crops and other alternative crops. However, they should be informed on cultivating alternative and profitable crops. If BARI (Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute) and DAE (Department of Agricultural Extension) take effective imitative, farmers will definitely reach their destination- that’s what I expect earnestly.    

 

       

 

 

                  

May 13, 2013 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Gifted Wetlands

Gifted Wetlands

Bujimari beel (Wetland), situated in Jamalpur district’s Dewanganj upazila, a region very close to Jamuna river. River erosion has shattered everything around the area. Thousands of sufferers are now living on river dams or highlands. As a result of river erosion, people have become ‘ultra’ poor. However, they indigenously adopted a farming system in this wetland as water is their key most resource for farming. Let’s go deep into the story along with me.

The fruit looks like Singara. That’s why it’s locally called, Singara. As this is grown in waters, it’s often called, ‘Water chestnut’, locally known as Paniphal. Before Bangladesh was liberated, a non-Bengali named Siddique experimentally grew water chestnut here in Dewannganj. Since then, its farming has expanded. When Bangladesh had a small population without river erosion and comparatively less waterlogged lands, people used to voluntarily farm water chestnut. Who knew that this fruit would become the means of livelihood for the marginal people of the region, one day?  

 

Readers, it’s a doomed community in a remote and a deprived part of Bangladesh. As days go by, number of extreme sufferers of river erosion is increasing in Dewanganj. Once who had lands and power, now most of them have nothing at all. People, living in the clustered village over the dam, pluck or farm water chestnut to pass their days somehow. This is how things move on.  

                  

Farmers were plucking water chestnuts. I had the opportunity to talk with Abdus Salam, a farmer from Dalbari village who explained the reasons behind doing this uncommon fruit and also about their livelihood status, circling around the ever-grasping river erosion. He’s been growing water chestnuts for more than twenty years.

“The river has grasped everything we had. There’s nothing left for us except water chestnuts”, said frustrated Salam.

“What about financial sustainability”, I asked.

“We’re not entirely satisfied, but is there any option left for us”, replied Salam with much dejection.

When growing the fruit is only meant for survival, some farmers have started commercial farming. Commercial farmers have helped the extension of water chestnut farming. They have chalked out profit in growing water chestnut. Farid Uddin, a commercial grower was very glad with his farming.

“My production cost per bigha is only Tk. 3000 but I can sell at up to Tk. 10000 to 12000”, said the pleased farmer.

“So, you’re making a good profit”, I congratulated.

“Yes, it’s quite good”, replied an even happier, Farid.   

The local people say, water chestnut first came to Jamalpur from Bogra. The experiment was good and since the experiment was successful, the fruit is long been grown here in Dewanganj of Jamalpur district.   

Ramzan Ali was a wealthy man. Jamuna river swallowed everything he had. Now, he belongs to the community of ‘ultra poor’ and water chestnut is his only hope.

We’re river eroded people. People who previously had 200-300 bighas of land, now all of their properties went down under the water. The owners of lands have become street beggars”,   the ill fated farmer expressed the miserable past.

 

Sawdagar (Merchant), another farmer and one who bears such a name also had plenty of lands and assets. Now, it’s only the name that he has with him, nothing more.     

Water chestnut farming is a natural farming system, adopted by the local farmers. Even the agriculture department wasn’t aware about it, couple of days back. They didn’t have any clear picture. Recently as the farming expanded and has changed the agro-economic scenario, agriculture department is now keener towards water chestnut. I talked with Dewanganj upazila agriculture officer, Sultan Ahmed regarding the problems, possibilities and about the extension of water chestnut.      

 

“Does the agriculture department have any detail guideline on water chestnut?”

“It hasn’t come up in that way. I’m sure there will be clear guidelines and booklets very soon.”

“What about the extension?”

“Last year in Dewanganj upazila, farmers have done it on 70 hectares of land. This year, the farm area will increase up to 75-80 hectares.”    

In the region, sorrows are being compiled as days go by. Few years ago, the dam had a distance of 15-18 KMs from Jamuna river. Within four or five years, the river has grasped most areas of the three unions of Dewanganj and knocking the doors of the dam. River eroded people say that the area of the beel (wetland) was huge and it produced plenty of water chestnuts. People can’t grow water chestnuts like before. In many areas, it has stopped.

  

I also encountered children plucking water chestnuts for their livelihood. I was shocked listening to one little girl there, named Ashia.  

“Government is not supporting us the way we want. The former chairman gave us shelter at the school during the flood. Now we don’t have any place to stay. We used to work at houses, and now we don’t get work. Aren’t we worse than dogs? To feed our stomachs, we have come down in the water since morning.”

 

“My mother doesn’t stay with me.

“Where’s your father…?”

“He’s not with me as well…they left me.”

“Where do you stay, then?

“With my grandmother.”

 

I requested Ashia to tell me what she wants and that I’ll convey to the concerned authority of the government.

 

“During the floods, we could get shelter at the schools, but now, we don’t get that facility. We don’t get work at any home where we could at least stay over at kitchens. Where should we go? Should we be left on roads? Are we dogs…or cats that we’ll live a life like this…you tell me? We see many people living happily, eating well, have buildings to stay. But, why it’s so different with us? But, others are having their life”, said Ashia who left me thinking from then on.

 

Ashia’s father and mother left her and still the girl wants to survive with all she has.  But, shouldn’t we come forward with our own consciences to bring a bit of smile on her face and for the community where she lives?   

Nobody has ever thought about development possibilities of the farming sector or the communities in the region. Can’t we see a fisheries project on the flood plain where the entire area is filled with water for almost throughout the year?

 

There is a nearby market where the farmers send the water chestnuts. Many a times, the wholesalers also come to the farming area to collect water chestnuts. I went to the water chestnut market, which is quite old in Dewanganj. From Dewanganj bazaar (market), it spreads across all over Bangladesh.  

 

I talked with a wholesaler who’s making huge profit whereas farmers, like always, can’t make profit as he expects.

 

“Where will you now send these water chestnuts?”

To Dhaka…Bokshundor, Sherpur…

“How much will you earn?”

“Tk. 1000.”

“You bought per maund at Tk. 400 from the farmers and will sell it at Tk. 1000. So, per maund profit is Tk. 600.”

The conversation with the wholesaler tells us the story how badly farmers are beaten at the market.  

Dear readers, water chestnut is nowhere near the list of agricultural crops of Bangladesh. However, many people still live on this fruit. The marginal farmers can’t grow it, even though they know its commercial aspect. They somehow pluck it and send these to market to earn some money. Also, they’re fulfilling their food demand. Research is needed to find out the nutrient qualities, industrial and commercial aspects of the fruit and what more could be produced from water chestnuts. At the same time, based on the livelihood diversity of the agricultural and marginal people of the region, effective measures could be taken in hand. We sincerely expect that all the burning issues in the region including finally stopping the river erosion, will be significantly evaluated by the government.

 

 

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