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19 October, 2017 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 18 October, 2017 11:56:15 PM
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Young Farmers

By Sheikh Iraj
Young Farmers

These days, different types of farming are becoming quite popular among the youth in Bangladesh. A sense of eating organic and natural foods, and with that the realisation of producing more food locally, is inspiring many young people to get involved in farming. But our overcrowded capital city of nearly 17 million people has very little space for planting crops or rearing domestic animals. That is why many youths are opting for rooftop farming or hydroponics, a method where plants are grown without soil in water rich in nutrients and minerals. On the other hand, many youths who come to study in Dhaka are choosing to return to their hometowns after graduation to take up farming as a profession or business venture. On the occasion of World Food Day on October 16, this week Y&I spoke to some students and experts who are associated with different forms of modern farming. They talked about their work and how farming can meet economic demands and ensure food security.

Ahsan Rony, 29, is a well-known name when it comes to rooftop gardening in our country. Rony and his team are working with different organisations to promote home farming. “At the moment, there are 16 people working for Green Savers. Besides our paid staff, we have 3,000 listed volunteers, who pay Tk 100 to become a member of our organisation. Most of our members are young and within the age of 35. After they work with us for a few months and acquire some knowledge about basic plant care, we provide them with volunteer identification cards,” he said.

“In Dhaka, there are about 450,000 rooftops, and only two percent of those are used to grow any type of vegetation. We have a big opportunity to make Dhaka a green city, if we only decided to utilise these rooftops. We have established some 3,100 rooftop gardens and we are providing direct services to 400 or more families. We do not want to give service by just sending our staff or volunteers to water the plants and check on them. We want everyone to give time to their own gardens. If the owners cannot spare time, then their family members or domestic helps should learn how to grow and take care of the plants. Through rooftop gardening, many of us can meet the demand for everyday vegetables. Except for a few crops, like potato or rice, nowadays we have the means to grow any fruit or vegetable above ground. We conducted a survey and came to a conclusion that growing vegetables on rooftops not only ensures natural taste, but it also costs less. For example, I found that today, except for potatoes, most vegetables cost Tk 60 per kg on average, green chilly costs Tk 200 per kg! Besides, just to earn a little extra, farmers and wholesalers often use chemicals on their produce, which is really bad for our health. We can very easily grow chilies and other vegetables without any harmful additives in our own homes,” Rony said.

“For example, with only two or three green chilly plants one can meet the demand of a family of five, for example. This fact is also true for most vegetables and fruits we eat. Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, radish, beans, gourds, cucumber, brinjal, tomato, red amaranth, etc, can be grown on the rooftop. When it comes to fruits, we are able to grow most of them, too,” he added.

Afroza Khanam, who owns an export-import business, first became interested to start a rooftop garden after learning about Green Savers through social media about a year ago. Right now, she has a roof garden of 2,000 square feet at her mother’s house. It cost her Tk 30,000 to cover the whole roof with different types of vegetable plants. “Every day, someone from our family waters the plants. We have four beds for vegetables and various types of fruit plants, like lime, mango and papaya. We are a family of four, and through this garden, we are able to meet our daily needs. For example, from one of the vegetable beds every three or four days, we get 250 grams of ladies’ fingers. We are looking forward to growing more types of fruits and vegetables in the coming winter,” she told this reporter.  

AFM Jamal Uddin, a professor at Department of Horticulture, Sher-e-Bangla Agriculture University (SAU), told Y&I: “We cannot only depend on the farmers to save us. We need to introduce precision farming and we need the youth to come forward. Many students from some reputed universities in our capital come to us. The best thing about farming is that one does not have to have a lot of information to start growing vegetables or raise livestock. Our youths have the potential to make the whole country green again. They have the opportunity to grow trees and leave a green world for our future generations. I even know a student who studied at Jahangirnagar University and later moved to his hometown in Jessore, he is now running a profitable flower business.”

“Today, we have too much carbon dioxide in the air and we all know that is very bad for us. On the other hand, carbon dioxide is food for trees and plants, so they are able to grow more but they no longer contain the same nutritional values as before. That is why we are eating so much, but our body is telling us we need more. Another reason is our soil is losing its natural fertility, as minerals like sulfur are no longer present there. We all know that we are using extra fertilisers and pesticides in our fields,” Jamal Uddin explained.

“There are some financial institutions that give loan facilities for agriculture. Now, an educated youth can understand what they are offering and can make the best use of loans available. Farmers who work in the fields don’t use smartphones as young people do. There are some mobile apps that help farmers, like Krishoker Digital Thikana, Agriculture Info Service, Krishoker Janala, Modern Farm and Mobile Krishi. The government also has to provide support, like better market information and transportation for fresh produce. Many youths are doing exceptionally well in this field. Most of the farmers who are not young and have had no education do not care about the quality of food they are growing. But a young, educated farmer has the option to choose and cultivate without the use of harmful chemicals,” the professor said.

“On a regular basis, we organise different types of workshops. We target young people and homemakers, as they normally have more time on their hands. Last year, more than 600 women participated in our workshops and many of them have started farming. These days, we also do not give much time to our family. It is because we do not have any activity that can bring us together. Gardening can give us that opportunity. One can spend quality time with the family in their garden. I believe this is the right time for youths to become more involved in farming. Youth means positive thinking and they are the ones who can make a greener Bangladesh. There are many agriculture universities in our country and many educational institutions offer diplomas in agriculture. Jessore Agriculture University is being built and some universities are planning to open agriculture departments. Every year, we have to import seeds which cost us a huge amount of money. We are working on producing some of those seeds in our country, so we do not have to import anymore. We are also very much interested in farming with LED lights. We have seen that with a certain colour of light we are able to double the production of vegetables (like lettuce). The most interesting thing is that through this technology, we will be able to grow vegetables indoors,” Jamal Uddin added.

Tariq Ahmed left the city and started an organic farm in his home district some 10 years ago. “I always found myself more comfortable surrounded by nature. Ten years back, I decided to start an organic dairy and vegetable farm on our family’s land. Organic farming can be a long process. Right now, we have about 100 cows, but we started with only a dozen or so. We fatten the cows and sell them, and the dairy products we get from them are sold in the local market. Our farm, called Farm Utopia, is located about 20 kilometres from Rajshahi city. A tribal village is situated alongside our farm. When we first started farming, they helped us a lot and they still do. They taught us some traditional farming techniques. For example, they would use local herbs to cure cattle diseases, and we taught them to prepare a better feed. We have a contract with Deshi Meat and we provide them cattle that are raised in an organic way. We use cow manure for the vegetables that we grow. When we first came here, there were hardly any trees around. I have planted more than 4,000 trees. We have a mango orchard and trees that are valuable as timbre. At the moment, we are able to produce 75 percent of the daily feed we need for our cattle,” Ahmed said.         

M Etheshamul Hoque, 34, is a businessman who lives in Old Dhaka. He started his rooftop garden in a very small space and his father was his inspiration. “I started rooftop gardening because of my father, he likes gardens. I have a small rooftop, but I have managed to grow various types of flowering plants. I am also the admin of Green Garden Society. It is a public Facebook group and we have more than 100,000 followers. People from our country and from abroad contact us when they need any help with farming. We also distribute plants and seeds free of charge to our members. We do not have an office, but we meet where we feel comfortable and where others can see what we do, for example, we often meet at TSC on the Dhaka University campus,” Hoque said.

 Rakib Ahmed, 23, is a student of BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT). “I have had a soft corner for trees since my childhood. Now, I have 15 fruit plants and I grow vegetables according to the season. Although my rooftop garden doesn’t provide us with everything that we eat, I can grow some vegetables like brinjal for more than three months. Seeing my passion for farming, many of my friends have started planting trees, too. Of course, many of them live in the city and do not have their own houses, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love gardening. They grow small plants on their window sills and in the verandas. My neighbor, Parvez Sarkar, 30, had a rooftop garden, but he was not able to take care of it. After looking at my success, he decided to ask for my help and now he has a wonderful garden again,” he said.

Urban Roof Gardeners Society is an online group which started its journey three years ago. Ehteshamul Haque, the group’s founder, works at Bangladesh Bank. He started rooftop gardening in 1999: “I always loved trees. I am 49 now, and I believe anyone can start farming at any age. We started our group with the goal of restoring abandoned gardens in Dhaka. Many of our members are young students. We give advice on our Facebook page and we always inspire young farmers to use fewer chemicals. Besides local fruits, I also grow foreign ones like dragon fruit and plums. At the moment, we have 600 paid members and 20,000 members online.”

Photos: Courtesy, Internet

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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