Uncategorized

Women behind silent agri revolution

International Women’s Day was observed throughout the world on March 8. The theme this year, set by the United Nations, is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” while another theme titled “Be bold for change” got popular in the social media. Continue Reading

August 24, 2015 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Jackfruit yield aplenty, but scant profit for farmers

Jackfruit yield aplenty, but scant profit for farmers

Alongside the road from Bhaluka in Mymensingh to Tangail are many jackfruit orchards and, as at a few days ago, there were thousands of ripe jackfruits on the trees. Although the fruit is ready for harvest, growers are not proceeding due to low market prices. Continue Reading

August 17, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Guti urea, the source of high yields and low costs

Guti urea, the source of high yields and low costs

Few days back I went to a village in Mymensingh out of sheer interest – the name drew me to it: Guti Village. Those of you who know about fertilizers, guti (granular) urea is a very effective and cost-saving fertilizer and a much appreciated agricultural input. After coming to guti village, it reminded me of the early stages of guti urea extension.

During the 90s, I started the campaign of guti urea on Mati O Manush, which aired on Bangladesh Television. But at that time, Bangladesh had no fertilizer crisis and naturally the Department of Agriculture didn’t show any interest on this new fertilizer.  Moreover, many have said no farmers will be interested to use this technology. It was 2007-2008 when the country faced extreme crisis of urea fertilizer along with other fertilizers. I came down to the field with massive awareness programmes on guti urea with IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center). During that period, government ordered the district administration across the country to get engaged in guti urea extension.

image

And the result now shows in the name of a village itself! Govindabari village, situated in Mymensingh’s Muktagachha upazila’s Dulla union is known as the guti village. There is not a single piece of land here where you won’t find granular urea. Farmers are using granular urea on their paddy lands as well on vegetables and fruits.

Price hike at the international fertilizer market was locally addressed by using this technology, which is also known as ‘Urea Deep Placement’ or UDP. If farmers use this technology, they can save about 30-40% of the urea. Usually Bangladeshi farmers spread urea on the field but UDP means the fertilizer is placed beneath the surface of soil after five to seven days of paddy plantation. The granular urea is compressed in small machines and the size of it is made 1.8 grams and 2.7 grams. These compressed ones are called briquettes and has to be placed at the centre of four hills having space of 20 cm X 20 cm. Farmers use urea three times throughout rice season, whereas the use of guti urea only once throughout the growth season of paddy plants is enough.

Many farmers across Bangladesh started to benefit by using guti urea. They are getting higher yields with reduced costs. This extension programme of guti urea turned into a social mission. Although the extension work was hindered almost all the time. Because urea fertilizer secures a strong position at the global market of agricultural inputs, intending to reduce the use of urea fertilizer means you are hurting its global business. That was a headache for many. Still, the farmers were real enthusiasts who kept on using the guti urea instead of the urea fertilizer. Hridoye Mati O Manush has kept on working hard for a long time for proper extension of guti urea.

image

Two months back, I went to Rwanda and also seen how the small East African country is moving ahead using guti urea, the successful technology of Bangladesh. Guti urea use is increasing in Bangladesh over the years. IFDC and DAE says during the past boro season farmers in 62 districts have used guti urea on 1.2 million hectares of land, 0.2 million more than before. More importantly, farmers are now using it on the vegetables and fruits, not just in the case of paddy.
I went to a women farmer organization, CIG (Common Interest Group) in Mymensingh. Mamtaz Begum, the coordinator of this group, is managing the guti urea production and marketing. Through these associations women are commercially producing guti urea, doing the marketing and using it on fields.

“How do you get paid? For example farmers bring sacks of fertilizer which you convert to guti, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”
“How much do you get?”

“We charge Tk. 100 per sack.”

Farmers are also using the ‘applicator’ a latest technology for applying guti urea. It was during the late 80s when IFDC first started campaigning on guti urea. I still remember that in Comilla I showed on TV how to apply it. Guti urea was a very new concept for Bangladeshi farmers back then. Many farmers complained about the process needed to apply it. Many thought that this technology won’t be popular. USAID also assisted the Bangladeshi farmers in many ways to promote this technology. Farmers from Tangail’s Poujan apply guti urea as if they are machines; they are extremely specialized in it. Still, we thought if there is a technology for guti urea application, it will be really good. A farmer from Mymensingh, Abdul Hai also invented an applicator to make the use easy. Later on a scientist from Bangladesh Agricultural University, Dr. Abdul Wahab, invented another applicator.

image

I spoke to local farmer Anwar Hossain Akash regarding the success of guti urea in Govindabari.
“Do the farmers know about the benefits of guti?

“Yes. They also know if they use it once, everything will work fine.”

“Okay, how do you apply it on vegetables?”

“We sow four briquettes around one vegetable plant.”

Last season, farmer Kamal Mia got very good result using guti urea on wheat.
“On one pakhi of land how much fertilizer do you use?

“Previously we used to broadcast urea that took at least a maund. But, guti urea saved a lot of cost for me. Guti urea also yields more.”

Farmer Mohammad Ali first started using guti urea on vegetables in Govindabari. He’s a creative farmer.
“I couldn’t use urea on my cabbages. Then I thought of using guti urea. I got a bumper yield! Then I told my fellow farmers that they can also apply guti urea on vegetables.”
“Who taught you this technique?”

“Selim Reza did, he’s the SAAO (Sub-Assistant Agriculture Officer).”
During the Aman season, the use of guti urea is low. As you know, the boro rice uses 2.7 gm size briquette and the Aman uses 1.8 gm size briquette. To revive the soil quality and health, farmers want to curb the use of chemical fertilizers. Most farmers across the country are now well aware that guti urea is an effective technology. To keep the soil health steady, we’ll see more public and private initiatives in enabling farmers to take up modern technology and methods in the future.

The government, through the Department of Agricultural Extension and International Fertilizer Development Center, has been extending this technology. From my field experience, I recommend farmers to use guti and also request the government to take the technology to as many farmers and regions as possible so that they save money and get more yields at the same time.

August 17, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on The food safety dilemma

The food safety dilemma

The importance of finding the right method to ensure food safety in Bangladesh

Apart from food security, ‘food safety’ is equally predictable. It has become a great concern to all around the globe, including Bangladesh. In the age of globalization, producing and exporting crops to the international market along with importing fruits and other agricultural products is definitely a key factor.

Recently the country has seen mobile courts busying themselves with the drives to detect formalin in produce. The courts destroy the foodstuff, but the devices they use leave them in a state of serious confusion. My family along with everyone across the country are in a state of panic, as health is surely a great concern and nobody wants to fall sick because of eating harmful food products. So, what is the story within?

The imported fruits, especially apples that come from Brazil have high levels of preservatives in them. The importers say the fruits are monitored at a field level and get certified twice, first in the country of origin and then at Chittagong port. “What many people do not know is that it takes fruits from Brazil 40 days to reach our country and 55 if imported from Chile” says an importer from Badamtoli bazaar in Dhaka. The packaged fruits are sent in a refrigerated container (0-5 degrees Celsius) and are laden with preservatives to ensure they survive the long journey.

After the products are released from Chittagong port, they are then fit to be sent across the country. This is done using trucks and motor vans, which lack temperature control. And now, the question pops up: How can these fruits survive the heat and still remain edible when they reach the market? This is where the concerned authorities should be probing to find faults.

In addition, Bangladeshi farmers (as we all know) maintain international rules and regulations when exporting vegetables to Europe and some countries in the Middle East. These exporters are assisted by our government to ensure that the farmers follow organic methods and grow their produce in an internationally accredited pesticide free environment.
What most people are not aware of are the complaints and questions of retailers and farmers against the Formaldehyde Meter Z-300 machine, which has been used for the past two years to detect formalin in fish, fruits and vegetables.

Food scientists say this machine/kit is meant to measure chemicals or gases in the air of laboratories, not in food items. Therefore, skilled personnel, up to date with technological advances are crucial at the moment of detection or else it will be an injustice to ruin famers’ produce and deny them profits, in the name of formalin. 

The holy month of Ramadan will start in just a few days and we know consumers like muri (puffed rice), cucumbers and eggplants for Iftar. I urge consumers not to buy the white puffed rice as it’s injected with urea, but will they buy the red ones instead?

My suggestion to the mobile courts is to use the IPM (Integrated Pest Management) properly in the field first and then move to the market, it would be best. It will definitely help the farmers more. And will also result in the mobile courts finding out who is insisting and forcing farmers to use pesticides and formalin.

I have spoken with farmers about these issues as we’re trying to promote an environment friendly cultivation system using bio-pesticides like bracon, tricograma, sex pheromones, vermicomposting under the initiative of ‘Grow Green’.

Another serious concern is the outbreaks of foodborne diseases, which have been documented and in many countries where the rate of illness increase significantly. Food safety is a public health priority and millions of people fall ill every year and many die as a result of eating unsafe food. We need a strong food safety system to ensure a safe global food-chain.  

Last but not the least, the government has to work more intensely to minimize health risks from farm to table; consumers should be more aware and finally, the monitoring should start from the point of origin and extend to the core of the crisis, not where it ended so that farmers and traders don’t face difficulties.

June 17, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on For the love of football

For the love of football

Rural community of Bangladesh welcomes the biggest sporting event of 2014

What does football really mean to Bangladeshis? Is it only a game or is it a festivity that has reached even the remotest corners of the country?
 ‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death’, said the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. ‘I can assure you it is much, much more important than that’, he added. 

Football is not only a game. Over the past two decades, the sport has undergone a renaissance that spread across the globe. During the 80s, football became a very popular game in Bangladesh; however, with television broadcast reaching more and more people, it was communicated to more and more people during the 90s.

At the age of private satellite televisions, cable and the internet, now, people have access to all and any global event and they barely miss anything.  

Tomorrow, 2014 FIFA World Cup will have its first match; the country has been dressed in different colours since last week with the most loved teams’ flags flying all over. But, is it only happening in the cities? Is football fever constrained to cities, is it entertainment for urban dwellers? I must say it’s much more than that.

My profession as a development journalist takes me to the heart of Bangladesh, to the rural landscapes and its people. As you know, I have been filming outdoors since the mid 70s, I have seen the desire for entertainment of the rural people, mostly farmers who live across the country including in remote corners of Bangladesh.

The scenario has completely changed since the year 2000. The audience just got bigger and better in Bangladesh – the demand for entertainment rose significantly. As I was filming a few days back at a village in Chandpur, I saw young and old farmers working in the fields wearing Brazil and Argentina jerseys! It really amazed me. When I approached them, they could easily recognize some players from the international squad of these two heavily popular teams and said, ‘My colleague is now my rival’.

‘Maradona will always be my favourite player’, said Jamal, a Brahmanbaria farmer. At this age of globalization, farmers are very keen to watch all the games. Though electricity is a big problem, it will not stand in the way of entertainment; they are fully prepared with batteries.
‘We’ll stay awake the whole night and watch the game’, said a Dinajpur farmer, Jamal.

‘Even if it’s hard to work at day time?’ I asked.
‘Definitely’, boldly replied Jamal.  
 ‘I’m a diehard fan of Brazil and love their Samba play’, said farmer Nurul Islam from Jamalpur. I requested him to dance a bit for the team, but he was very shy. Business is also going good and people are buying new TVs at the villages ahead of the games.

‘I support Brazil as they have green in their flag and my paddies are green’, said a farmer named Tajul from Bogra. I couldn’t help but appreciate the simplicity of the farmer’s thoughts. ‘Even the political leaders are now supporting the same team’, said scholarly, intelligent farmer Rahman from Feni.  

         
Farmers could easily recognize Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo- at least these three; a few other football fanatic farmers could also recognize the names of Marcelo (Brazil) and Di Maria (Argentina). The young farmers even know the playing style, ‘Tiki-taka’. I was so surprised to learn this from a young farmer named Lutfor.

I can remember I could only remember ‘wall-passing’, but I haven’t heard this style of football anywhere, but only learned about it from a young rural hard-working lad with a big smile on face who cannot wait for the World Cup to begin.

Deep inside my heart, I always had my dream to do something for the farmers, specially when they are in any sort of crisis. Entertainment programmes made for them is all about cheering them up. I kept on thinking how we can better produce TV programmes for farmers, the rural people, and for those who have relentlessly made efforts to ensure production of food for the people of Bangladesh amidst various environmental and economic odds. This is where the idea for ‘Krishoker Eid Ananda’ (Farmer’s Eid Celebrations) sprang from.

Eid is the most illustrious festivity in our country and I noticed that the three-day Eid special programmes on television channels were chiefly focused on the urban audience and neglected the rural people. Since then, I always wondered why there were no special programmes for rural people. So, I decided to create one. I must share my experience of airing Farmers’ World Cup Cricket in 2011 where farmers from Mymensingh’s Charpuliamari came up with their own indigenous ideas and prepared the entire field on their own.

 

The enthusiasm of farmers for football is simply heartwarming. I made a documentary during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, but in the last eight years things have remarkably changed, and a few days back I went to Sirajganj and arranged a football match between two symbolic teams, composed of farmers, calling the teams Brazil and Argentina.

This match will be aired on Channel i very soon. This game is not just a game, but a great achievement of the farmers I thought. Because the game was organized for them to have fun, for their entertainment, instead, they entertained us more than anything else!

I believe these enthusiastic farmers will keep on producing and harvesting crops regardless of the challenges they face, perhaps like the ‘Tiki-taka’ style, while they quickly ‘pass’ and ‘move’ around the ‘short’ changes in the season, working their skills to ensure that crops are produced, because only they have ‘possession’ of the ability to feed nearly 160 million mouths of Bangladesh. At the end of the day, whether we city dwellers realize it or not, the ball is always in their court.

May 31, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Rising salinity limits food production in the South

Rising salinity limits food production in the South

I recently visited the southern belt of Bangladesh, the Aila affected regions, to film the recent farming developments there. The heat was extreme and I could easily notice that I have never felt this much heat on the field.

I wanted to learn about people’s access to safe drinking water and salinity on the crops, and specially wanted to find how rice production and farmers are being affected. I went to Shyamnagar in Satkhira. When almost the whole of Bangladesh is filled with crops on farmlands, here I saw the opposite – landscape of barren lands, hundreds of bighas of barren lands.

image

Salinity has caused this severity. But the mother of this rising salinity is climate change. It was impossible to stand on the rice field where there was nothing – no crops, no sign of greenery. I was planning to move to another field, when some farmers came forward to meet me.

“We can’t farm anymore as the salinity is too high in soil and water”, said one farmer.  “The situation has made our survival impossible”, said another farmer.

Global warming has made disaster prone areas even more vulnerable. High temperatures greater than 35 degrees Celsius during the reproductive stages reduces rice production will hamper yield as rice flowers becoming sterile in high temperatures. The result is output of less grain or no grain at all. Higher night temperatures during the ripening stage also decrease rice yield and grain quality.

Even at the vegetative growth stage, heat stress can causes leaf yellowing and accelerated development, leading to low yield potential in sensitive rice varieties. Both yield and grain qualities are adversely affected at the flowering and ripening stages of rice plants.

A research of International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) indicated that temperature of one degree Celsius rise in night time may reduce rice yields by as much as 10%.

It’s very difficult comprehending the agony that has spread over these lands – it’s even more difficult to explain how badly salinity has shattered the lives of these rural southern people whose lives were dependent entirely on farming. Some of them told us that there is a nearby reservoir of water but that only has extreme saline water with which nothing can be produced, forget about drinking! It reminded me of the great poem by S.T. Coleridge, ‘The Rime of Ancient Mariner’,

‘Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.’

As a result of climate change, rice yield will decrease by 15% in developing countries by 2050 and consequently rice prices will increase by 12%. Impact of climate change on rice production is negative. As rice is cultivated in low lying areas, the rising of sea levels would make rice production vulnerable to climate change. I planned to look for other places where we could at least find some green lands.

On my way, I saw a crowd and stopped there for a while. People were standing in a spot with water carriers of different types- here they have a house water tap which gives them underground water, filtered as safe drinking water.

“Is this healthy for you?” I asked. “We have to preserve this water at home for one day and then we can drink it”, said a farmer. There is foul smell in the water and by drinking this, people are suffering from various diseases. The lives of these people are so tough that finding a good solution seemed impossible. I could easily understand it would be really difficult to find any arable green land around this region, if it at all exists in the region.

After being severely massacred by Aila in May 2009, farmers of the South could not harvest anything because of high salinity intrusion in their crop lands. Farm households in coastal-belts are now ultra-poor and not unable to feed themselves properly. These are mostly subsistence farmers living in coastal areas. Once salinity strikes, they can no longer grow food in coastal areas and thus they can’t afford to buy food either.

Climate experts already pointed out that sea level rise will cause the country’s landscape to become barren. In terms of the impact of climate change, Bangladesh is the most vulnerable country in South Asia. With higher sea level, more areas would be affected by cyclone surges while inland fresh water lakes, ponds and aquifers could also be affected by saline water intrusion.

There are some saline tolerant varieties of rice which has lost its strength and some are gaining new strength, say experts. Finally we started getting good news. Binadhan-8 and 10 have showed very good performance, says the local agriculture authority. But we need to keep on working on inventing the right varieties focused on saline tolerance. Massive programs are needed in the next Boro season on these newly developed salt-tolerant rice varieties in the coastal area.

In this connection, seeds of these salt tolerant rice varieties need to be collected immediately from the current Boro season, otherwise seeds will not be available later.

In the end, I found hope from a man named S M Abdul Wahab, who approached me and told me that his organization ‘Shushilon’ has found freshwater, 240 feet below the ground. They have already ensured safe drinking water at the Harinagar village in Shyamnagar for 200 families.

image

He hopes that by next year, his organization would be able to ensure safe drinking water for 2000 families. I felt so hopeful that there are some people helping others in the area and there are ways to find solutions. The right policy invention at the field level is key to saving these people. The future of Bangladesh lies in the hands of these poor farmers, for they are the spine of our economy and the guardian of our food security.

May 31, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Jahangir’s library for farmers

Jahangir’s library for farmers

The source of light for hundreds of farmers

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Rural Bangladesh is a world of fields beset with crops. Everywhere, we work to bring a sustainable change. This is our soil. Bangladeshis rise from within the soil. We have taken great strides with agro-based improvements and productions. But, how far has the same community come in terms of access to education and information?


Farmers sacrifice their life for cultivation. Soil and crops bestow upon them the necessary elements of life. But, farming or otherwise, the world moves ahead with information and contemporary education. But Bangladeshi farmers are stuck without any direct access to knowledge. Academic learning, advanced info-technologies are very important in unlocking the full growth potential of any sector. Nevertheless, in the competitive crowd of info-business, farmers are mere participants. Today, I will tell you a story of a true exception.


Today, I’m taking you to a source of light in rural Bangladesh, a library set in rural Bangladesh. It’s situated in Kaliganj village in Naogaon’s Mandah upazila. Two years back, a local entrepreneur, Jahangir, established this library, and named it Shah Agriculture Information Centre. Farmers often find themselves in crisis due to the lack of information while they cultivate.

This man has established the library where farmers will get all kinds of information. He firmly believes that a farmer has to be educated, regardless of what kind of work or farming he is involved with. His library has books of different genres, including agricultural books. Farmers can also find books on education, health, sports and other necessary books.

Wherever he went, he collected books for his library. Farmers come to his library to take advice and they take books home to read. Many illiterate farmers are learning how to read and write as well from their peers.

Everyone in the region knows about the library. There is a farmers’ school on the extended veranda. Inside the hut, the library awaited. Some elders were reading inside. Many come here from far-flung areas in search of knowledge. And I engaged in conversation with one of them.


“What are you reading?”


“A book on raising ducks and chicken.”


“Do you use the knowledge that you get from the library?”


“Definitely!”


I talked with another farmer who was reading intensely.


“Why are you here, sir?


“This library has helped me a lot. I have learnt so much. I am here to keep learning.”


Educated mass and successful farmers rush to the library to learn something new. This small clay-hut is a knowledge-hub for villagers.


“I received the best fish-farmer award in this upazila,” a farmer told me.


“I am very glad to hear that. Did you become a member of this library?
“No. There is no membership requirement.”


“Do you need to pay?”


“No.”


They not only read here but take books at home. To take a book home, all one has to do is sign his name. Often taking part in school-learning, farmers have opportunity to learn the letters. The library has a tremendous impact on farmers and on their production.


“I have been able to get better yield from my farm using the knowledge I acquired from the library.”


“Tell us more.”


The way I used to produce crops, it has certainly increased now as I’ve gone through books…learned about new technologies. In the past, I used to get 10 maunds of rice from one-bigha land, now I’m getting around 14maunds from the same land!”

“That’s really great to know!” I exclaimed.

  
Jahangir Alam Shah, is a devotee of agriculture and education. He is behind the making of successful farmers, and is the man who has illuminated the lives of farmers with knowledge. This century-old clay hut belongs to Jahangir’s ancestors. The old hut has awakened with the light of knowledge.


They come here to take books, owing to their passion for education. I spoke with Jahangir about his noble initiative.


“I am a farmer since my childhood. I couldn’t solve my agricultural problems as I couldn’t go to any experts. I also searched for books- to know and learn better. But, I failed.”


Then, he met Professor Moyeenuddin of Rajshahi Medical College. He learned from him that books have solution to everything. And that is what kindled Jahangir to begin collecting books.


“I started off at the agricultural library to quench my thirst for information”, he added. Jahangir Alam Shah, teacher of Rajshahi Collegiate School, been thinking about the crisis of knowledge at the grassroots.

He has always given emphasis on the issue of farmers’ learning and closely observed how people become defenseless due to lack of education and information. Seeing the reality, Jahangir established this school-cum-library in a remote area like Kaligram.


“I want to establish a full-fledged agro-info centre. I want to make sure that farmers will get new information”, that’s the objective of Jahangir. 

   
The school looks animated each day, abuzz with people. To educate the illiterate farmers, Jahangir has appointed teachers at his own cost. In a short time, farmers learn to read and write. It’s simply outstanding! Many farmers like Azahar and Shahanara take lessons. Every day, the number of literate people increase in the village.


There are many initiatives to inspire farmers towards education. Jahangir regularly hands out 50 pens among his students. Farmers can only get a new pen while giving back the old empty one – an innovative incentive mechanism to boost farmers to write.

Meanwhile, Jahangir organized seventeen agro-based seminars. Farmers were highly benefited from the knowledge disseminated at these events.

The library has enabled farmers to think in new avenues which they never considered before. Jahangir’s library is the ideal instance of the engine that has powered a knowledge based farming community. Like the education and agro-entrepreneur Jahangir, if at least one individual comes forward from each of our 70,000 villages, then, very soon, the dream of a truly illuminated Bangladesh will become a reality.

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
X-NONE
X-NONE

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

Rural Bangladesh is a world of fields beset with crops. Everywhere, we work to bring a sustainable change. This is our soil. Bangladeshis rise from within the soil. We have taken great strides with agro-based improvements and productions. But, how far has the same community come in terms of access to education and information?


Farmers sacrifice their life for cultivation. Soil and crops bestow upon them the necessary elements of life. But, farming or otherwise, the world moves ahead with information and contemporary education. But Bangladeshi farmers are stuck without any direct access to knowledge. Academic learning, advanced info-technologies are very important in unlocking the full growth potential of any sector. Nevertheless, in the competitive crowd of info-business, farmers are mere participants. Today, I will tell you a story of a true exception.


Today, I’m taking you to a source of light in rural Bangladesh, a library set in rural Bangladesh. It’s situated in Kaliganj village in Naogaon’s Mandah upazila. Two years back, a local entrepreneur, Jahangir, established this library, and named it Shah Agriculture Information Centre. Farmers often find themselves in crisis due to the lack of information while they cultivate. This man has established the library where farmers will get all kinds of information. He firmly believes that a farmer has to be educated, regardless of what kind of work or farming he is involved with. His library has books of different genres, including agricultural books. Farmers can also find books on education, health, sports and other necessary books. Wherever he went, he collected books for his library. Farmers come to his library to take advice and they take books home to read. Many illiterate farmers are learning how to read and write as well from their peers.

Everyone in the region knows about the library. There is a farmers’ school on the extended veranda. Inside the hut, the library awaited. Some elders were reading inside. Many come here from far-flung areas in search of knowledge. And I engaged in conversation with one of them.
“What are you reading?”


“A book on raising ducks and chicken.”


“Do you use the knowledge that you get from the library?”


“Definitely!”


I talked with another farmer who was reading intensely.


“Why are you here, sir?


“This library has helped me a lot. I have learnt so much. I am here to keep learning.”


Educated mass and successful farmers rush to the library to learn something new. This small clay-hut is a knowledge-hub for villagers.


“I received the best fish-farmer award in this upazila,” a farmer told me.


“I am very glad to hear that. Did you become a member of this library?
“No. There is no membership requirement.”


“Do you need to pay?”


“No.”


They not only read here but take books at home. To take a book home, all one has to do is sign his name. Often taking part in school-learning, farmers have opportunity to learn the letters. The library has a tremendous impact on farmers and on their production.
“I have been able to get better yield from my farm using the knowledge I acquired from the library.”


“Tell us more.”


The way I used to produce crops, it has certainly increased now as I’ve gone through books…learned about new technologies. In the past, I used to get 10 maunds of rice from one-bigha land, now I’m getting around 14maunds from the same land!”

“That’s really great to know!” I exclaimed.

  
Jahangir Alam Shah, is a devotee of agriculture and education. He is behind the making of successful farmers, and is the man who has illuminated the lives of farmers with knowledge. This century-old clay hut belongs to Jahangir’s ancestors. The old hut has awakened with the light of knowledge.


They come here to take books, owing to their passion for education. I spoke with Jahangir about his noble initiative.


“I am a farmer since my childhood. I couldn’t solve my agricultural problems as I couldn’t go to any experts. I also searched for books- to know and learn better. But, I failed.”
Then, he met Professor Moyeenuddin of Rajshahi Medical College. He learned from him that books have solution to everything. And that is what kindled Jahangir to begin collecting books.
“I started off at the agricultural library to quench my thirst for information”, he added. Jahangir Alam Shah, teacher of Rajshahi Collegiate School, been thinking about the crisis of knowledge at the grassroots. He has always given emphasis on the issue of farmers’ learning and closely observed how people become defenseless due to lack of education and information. Seeing the reality, Jahangir established this school-cum-library in a remote area like Kaligram.
“I want to establish a full-fledged agro-info centre. I want to make sure that farmers will get new information”, that’s the objective of Jahangir. 

   
The school looks animated each day, abuzz with people. To educate the illiterate farmers, Jahangir has appointed teachers at his own cost. In a short time, farmers learn to read and write. It’s simply outstanding! Many farmers like Azahar and Shahanara take lessons. Every day, the number of literate people increase in the village.


There are many initiatives to inspire farmers towards education. Jahangir regularly hands out 50 pens among his students. Farmers can only get a new pen while giving back the old empty one – an innovative incentive mechanism to boost farmers to write.

 

Meanwhile, Jahangir organized seventeen agro-based seminars. Farmers were highly benefited from the knowledge disseminated at these events.

The library has enabled farmers to think in new avenues which they never considered before. Jahangir’s library is the ideal instance of the engine that has powered a knowledge based farming community. Like the education and agro-entrepreneur Jahangir, if at least one individual comes forward from each of our 70,000 villages, then, very soon, the dream of a truly illuminated Bangladesh will become a reality.

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

April 20, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Vermicompost reviving soil quality

Vermicompost reviving soil quality

Organic farming is becoming more and more significant in respect of soil and production quality and in ensuring a better, sustainable and a healthy life for all. Vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner.

Vermicomposting has the scope for an individual, a family and even a community to be involved and better their lives. Hridoye Mati O Manush’s new initiative, ‘Grow Green’ is reemphasizing the value of bringing back the soil quality. 2014 has been announced (by the UNFAO) as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) that aims to raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farming by focusing world attention on its significant role in eradicating hunger and poverty, providing food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, managing natural resources, protecting the environment, and achieving sustainable development. At this outset, vermicomposting can unite families and communities to make them financially stable and produce what is best in order to revive the soil from overloaded chemical fertilizers. 

      
Since Bangladesh has a mammoth population, the farmers had to farm HYV rice and other diversified crops, and varied harmful chemicals were used in the process which degraded the quality of the soil.

Vermicompost can bring back the purity of the soil. An individual, a family or even a community can make the organic fertilizer themselves, spending only an hour or two from their regular work. Moreover, if they produce in plenty, they can also create a market for their product.
Few years back, Hridoye Mati O Manush featured a private vermicompost project, built by Shafiur from Comilla’s Burichang.

Many farmers were inspired watching another episode on vermicompost, spread by Selina Jahan in Shoikarchar, situated in Narsingdi’s Sivpur upazila. She was awarded the Channel i Agriculture Award for her remarkable contribution in promoting organic farming.

We captured the village of Maheshwarchanda, situated in Jhenaidah’s Kaliganj upazila. Rural people know the usefulness of vermicompost and its commercial significance.  If you enter Fulpur upazila, you would hear many stories of vermicompost. I spoke to a farmer from Bakta.  

“I produced really well with vermicompost. There is barely any pest attack. We use very little pesticide. The produce is also good for health”, said another farmer.  

 We went to the home of a marginal farmer, Abdul Mannan in Bakta village. His wife Fatema Begum is the producer of vermicompost. Destitute Fatema changed the fate of her family within two and half years producing vermicompost.

“I went to a training where I learnt about vermicompost. They gave me 150 earthworms with a Chari (earthen pot). This was all I had started with.”
She kept on working hard and soon got 16 maunds of vermicompost in a month. Now, Fatema has 13 earthen pots from which she can get 35 maunds of organic fertilizer selling each maund at Tk. 400.
I could see with my own eyes the colour of paddies where organic fertilizer was used. And, the one where chemical fertilizer was used. The organic one looked comparatively fresher and greener. Local farmers can easily guess the presence of organic matter on soil following the movements of the earthworms. 

image

   
Vermicompost has spread across the homes in Bakta. The women of the cooperative has understood that if you can protect the soil, the soil would also take care of your family. Ozifa Begum is another successful entrepreneur.  
“Two years back, I didn’t have anything. My husband was a van driver. That was the only source of income. Now, I have bought four katha lands.”
These women are doing two things. First they are becoming financially stable through commercial vermicompost production and people who buy from them and second, they can use it later to make the soil more fertile and make farming more environment friendly. This is addressing an urgent need of our farming sector. More importantly, one woman is replicating another’s work, and thus vermicomposting is spreading from one village to the other. Nurjahan is another successful entrepreneur who could help her family in many ways. 

“What is your income now?”
“I can easily bear education costs for my four children. One of my sons attended SSC exam this year. He got a Golden A+.”

Healthy crop land and soil health are keys to sustainable farming and food security. In different parts of the country, through entrepreneurs, farmers and development organizations, the concept of production and use of organic fertilizer is spreading quite fast. To take this initiative ahead, development organizations should come forward. The Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) should run campaigns on organic fertilizer among farming communities. With all our efforts, the soil’s fertility can definitely be restored. This is our unified objective. In that expectation, we call on all farmers to, ‘Grow Green’.

April 20, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Selim Reza: The one man agro think tank!

Selim Reza: The one man agro think tank!

Being a development journalist for three decades, I’ve had the opportunity of meeting many dedicated officers who stand by local inhabitants and farmers.

But today, I’ll introduce you to a Sub-Assistant Agriculture Officer (SAAO) of the Department of Agricultural Extension who really stands out amongst the lot. He’s a very creative officer who is truly committed to the growth of rural farmers – his communication with them has to be seen with one’s own eyes to be believed. Fourteen years back, he thought of building a pest diagnostic centre. Farmers would then be able to learn about unknown pest attacks as well as varied crop diseases, along with friendly and enemy insects. Now, at the Union Parishad building of Dulla Union, in Mymensingh’s Muktagachha, he now has that centre. When he came here, the Chairman gave him a small room and then he built this centre gradually over time.

image

A small room, 12 by 12 feet, is a room of prospect and admiration. What is not here in this room? A place where samples of different plant diseases and the pests which affect the plants, are kept in bottles and a library as well. Collection of colourful butterflies, arrangement for measuring the quality of fertilizer and identifying adulterated ones. Agricultural learning and strategies- all takes place in this little room. All these initiatives are for farmers and for farming. A man who loved farming throughout his life, with all his dreams, hope and efforts, Selim Reza, one dynamic Sub Assistant Agriculture Officer (SAAO) among 13,224 others across the country.

After we met and exchanged greetings, the inevitable question popped up: Why this initiative and how did he manage to put it all together?
“I took the decision of starting a pest diagnostic centre. I started spending Tk. 200 from my salary every month. I could have taken a Tk. 50 lunch. Many people know, still I spend only Tk. 15 behind my lunch, eating yogurt and chira (flattened rice). I saved some and spent it behind the centre”, replied Selim and I started to feel even more honoured sitting right in front him. Some NGOs were interested and offered him to take some classes for an honourarium of Tk. 500. He invested that amount for the centre as well. This centre truly is the result of months and years of his love and passion.  

image

 
Life cycle of plants, friendly and enemy insects – all these cycles circle around the life of Selim Reza. He can fluently name all the diseases and pests and attributes of the plants and pests. Every year, farmers use approximately 50,000 Mt. tons of pesticides, fungicides, miticides, weedicides, spending Tk. 50,000 crore collectively. Farmers are using these without having full knowledge and sometimes they are forced to do so. This is making the farming environment vulnerable, not to mention making the farming output and food vulnerable as well. But, with Selim Reza’s farming solution centre, you can find answers to any question on crop disease or pest attack. “Farmers don’t have much knowledge on pesticides.

They don’t know whether they should use miticide, pesticide or weedicide. They only look for quality seeds”, says Selim. “Farmers also come here with affected leaves”, added Selim. “They just show me the bottle and I can identify the disease and give the solution instantly matching both the leaves”, replied Selim. Everybody is concerned about the environment. Specially after using too much pesticide and adulterated fertilizer, soil is losing its fertility. IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is the best solution out of this scenario, according to Selim.

image

He has also collected local varieties of paddies. And he also has managed to collect all the rice varieties released from BRRI (Bangladesh Rice Research Institute). With his effort and perseverance, he could master all the information on the characteristics of these varieties. Not only chemical fertilizers, he has developed a system here to measure the qualities of vermin-compost. Selim Reza has all the necessary farming related books in his library.  He also has advanced agro-technology and machineries. He is continuing his experiments throughout the year.

“What inspired you to become who you are today?” I asked.
“I have been inspired by the farmers”, replied Selim. “Farmers can’t express the problems they face and it was becoming tough to understand them. I started thinking of a different strategy to communicate and learn about their problems”, added Selim. Everyday farmers come to visit the pest diagnostic centre of Selim Reza. Beside attending to the farmers who come to the centre, he also makes field visits to reach out to the farmers. I had the luck to accompany him on such a visit.

“Selim Bhai, have a look on my mango flowers”, requested a farmer.
“This happens due to mango malformation. It’s a fungal disease. You need to dig soil and put it under. Secondly, you have to dissolve five naphthalenes and then spray on your tree”, answered Selim.
“The papaya doesn’t have a good shape, right?” asked Selim to another farmer.
“Yes”, replied another farmer.
“This only happens when the land is lacking boron”, adds Selim.
“If you can apply boron worth Tk. 5 on your plant, you’ll get very good result”, solves Selim by giving a simple answer and the farmer is instantly overjoyed.     

When farmers don’t get any answers to their problems, they rush to Selim’s centre and find solution to their problems and I was lucky to be a witness of the impact of Selim’s great work.  

Selim Reza is giving advice for free. It’s a noble effort undoubtedly. This man has many features: he is an agro-scientist, extension officer, a think-tank of farming, pest attack specialist and above all, a farmer himself. Overall, he is a farming devotee. He’s following his father’s ideal and direction of passing a life of a committed human being. His father’s words are most inspirational and powerful to him.

There are 13,224 SAAOs all around Bangladesh who are employed at 12,640 blocks. They were promoted to Second Class Government Officers in 2004. Among 4549 UPs, LGED has offices in 2584 UPs. In these buildings, SAAOs have a place to sit and do their job. But, nowhere in any UP room, is there such an enriched room like Selim’s. There is no government allocation for such an initiative. This man is doing this with his efforts; this is his passion. And he is truly an inspiration.

image

There are many complaints against thousands of SAAOs who never visit farmlands. On the other hand, it’s impossible for one SAAO to give service to 1,700 farm families. Then, what is the way-out for agricultural extension? How can they best serve farmers? I firmly believe, Selim Reza has been able to answer that vital question. Following the model of his agro-centre, in each union, other SAAOs can start their own information and technology hubs. More than thirteen thousand SAAOs can stand beside farmers just like Selim Reza, offering farmers a true helping hand and support, triggering an agricultural revolution in Bangladesh towards sustainable farming.

March 5, 2014 Shykh Seraj Comments Off on Enlivening the heritage of Laal Chini

Enlivening the heritage of Laal Chini

Farmers of Fulbaria making good profit from red sugar

I went to visit sugarcane farming in Bakta, situated in Mymensingh’s Fulbaria upazila recently. Here, farmers make sugarcane gur (molasses) with the local supports they have. There are no sugar mills nearby. The one they have is in Kaliachapra, far from Bakta. However, some farming families of Fulbaria still hold on to an ancient profession. They boil the sugarcane juice and filter it following an indigenous method to make red sugar, not molasses.

The reason why I termed it ancient is because farmers have been making sugar from sugarcane and date juice using this method from a time when sugar mills did not even exist! This process is probably nowhere to be found around the world right now. But, the farmers of Fulbaria are still using it and they call it ‘Laal Chini’ (Red Sugar). I don’t know where else in Bangladesh red sugar is made, if any. Bakta is the only place we found where the red sugar is still being made. Fulbaria upazila in Mymensingh district is certainly an exception. Gafargaon people from Mymensingh are the major customers of red sugar.

 In the rural fields or on the front yard of a farmer’s house, they grind and process sugarcane. This open place is called, ‘Khola’. In some regions, the primary work of grinding sugarcane is known as ‘Gaach Otha’. The room in which the juice is boiled is called, ‘Jalaghor’. You certainly know about hand-crusher or power crusher used for sugarcane grinding, and that is exactly what is used here.

image

I talked with an elderly farmer to learn about the history of Laal Chini.  

“From when do you think the region is making red sugar?”
“People are making it before I was born.”
“You learned making it from your father, right?”
“Yes. It’s our family profession.”
I was eager to know what foods they make with red sugar. One of them is definitely sweets, but how tasty are the products when you make it with red sugar?
“What foods do you make with the red sugar?”
“Pitha, also, Payesh (age-old sweet dish) but the taste is so unique.”
Ajmat Ali, a farmer, is proud to keep the heritage of making red sugar alive.
“It’s an age-old heritage that we’ve kept alive.”
“But, why have you kept this alive?”
“Because it’s profitable. Price of red sugar is higher than the white one.”
“Do you use hydrose in the sugar to make it white anyway?”
“No. We don’t need to make it white. Red sugar has its own market.”

 
One issue is well evident that red sugar producers of the village don’t worry much about profit and loss. As micro village enterprises, they are never in the red! They are keen to ensure that the heritage lasts forever. Wad, another farmer said there are merely any other crops produced in the region. So, farmers are likely compelled to grow sugarcane. So, that’s an issue to worry about too.   

The process of making red sugar from sugarcane juice is certainly indigenous knowledge. It’s also true that to succeed in using the process, local and sustainable technologies are used frequently. An iconic farmer, Nurul Haque from Soyaitpur village, gave us very interesting information.

“When the sugar is white, some customer won’t buy it.”
“Why?”
“When it’s red, people are more attracted to it and then know no chemicals were used in the production of the red sugar.”
“Where do you use this red sugar?”
“We use it to make naru, moa, pitha, kheer (sweet products) etc.”

We wanted to delve deep into understanding the commercial production of red sugar and how profitable sugarcane farming is for farmers. As the land price is going up and cultivable land is decreasing, the farming of sugarcane is also falling. Price of red sugar in Fulbaria is very high. Per maund red sugar price is around Tk. 3,000. If a farmer grows paddy on 1 katha (1.65 decimals) land, it will give him four to five maunds of paddy which will give approx. Tk. 3,500. On the same land, a farmer will get ten maunds of sugar. If a farmer sells per maund even at Tk. 2,000, he’ll get Tk. 20,000. The Fulbaria farmers are holding on to the heritage proudly. Farmers are making good profit as well.   

             
In every market all over Fulbaria upazila, red sugar is available. It would be a wrong guess to believe whether the red sugar is still popular where there are existing white sugar brands. In these markets, based on taste, significance and price, red sugar is way ahead than the white ones. I learnt more at Abdul Majid’s store in Bakta bazaar.
“This is locally known as ‘Shaabchini’ (Sugar for dignified people or white sugar), isn’t it?”
“Yes.”
“Which one is more popular?”
“Red sugar.”      

 image

     
In every region of our country, there are hidden agro treasures, which not only bring unique tastes and flavours, but speak volumes about how rich our history and heritage is. Although local people are keeping these alive, they have only been able to do so because the financials make sense and they have incentives – we can only guess for how long they will continue to exist. While we’re trying to hunt down more profit, we might forget our heritage, our roots. We pay our deepest respect to those who have kept alive these precious traditions against diverse difficulties. It is our hope that these indigenous processes remain alive forever.

Scroll to top