THE agricultural economy of the country has slowly started to manifest the negative impact of its short-sighted and ecologically insensitive policy for the sector. The introduction of high yielding seeds, mechanised ploughing and irrigation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides in our agricultural economy have left a lasting impact on the soil quality and disrupted ecological balance. In this context, a youth led initiative Prakritik Krishi started its journey promoting farming practices that are sensitive and respectful towards all living being, even the microorganisms, writes Nahid Riyasad
CALLS for immediate actions against climate change are a major issue worldwide at this moment and young school students have been spearheading the movement in countries across the globe. Perhaps not in the same intensity, many activist groups and individuals are advocating for a reform in the current agriculture practice that ignores the biodiversity and the balance of the nature by indiscriminately using chemical fertilisers and genetically modified seeds. The young environmental activists are turning to agriculture to popularise the farming practices that care for all the living beings.
In our part of the world, over the years, western practices of agriculture is gradually introduced which eventually meant harvesting a single crop in a land by using a number of chemical fertilisers, insecticides, herbicides and pesticides. Since 1960, such practices of mono-cropping is ultimately killing billions of micro-organisms and destroying fertility of arable land. So much so, one will be hard pushed to find a single piece of vegetable or food grain that has not been treated with chemicals at one point or the other in its life.
A simple example is sufficient to elaborate on the chain reaction of such chemical substances in agricultural lands. If a frog eats an insect which is killed by pesticide, the frog will eventually die of poisoning and the snake that eats the frog will die of the same cause. An owl that eats that snake will eventually die too. This is the deadly cycle of toxic chemical use in farming. Now assume how foods produced exposing it to chemical substances are affecting our body?
To address the crisis, Prakritik Krishi (cÖvK…wZK K…wl) is born. The thought of living a life which will respect all the living organisms was the key idea behind the initiative. This was the brainchild of a group of young dreamers, when they were pursuing their under-graduate studies in the University of Chittagong in the early 2000s. From there on, their journey can be categorised into three segments which have brought them eventually to the present stage — where Prakritik Krishi is now offering workshops on safe agriculture practice and dreaming of extending their initiative into an institute that teaches subsistence life and protecting biodiversity.
Subaltern Communication Research Centre
CONFRONTING the formal idea of knowledge and how it is distributed through university and institutional research, the group of youth indulged them into a uncertain journey of collecting knowledge that are passed through from one generation to another. Such knowledge are on the verge of being extinct. For example, in folklores of fishing communities in Kaliganga River, Kushtia, there are stories of monsters in pockets of deep black water in rivers where even the most courageous fishermen would dare to go. As a result, those places build reputation of harbouring monsters and some even heard sounds of them. In reality, as fishing in those places is minimal to none, fishes get chances to become gigantic and people mistakes their sounds for monsters. Eventually, the places turned into a sanctuary for fishes.
These knowledge are not written and published in a structured institutionalised manner, rather they travel through folklore, songs and stories — through oral tradition. Agricultural practice has been a definitive factor for our society for the last eight-nine millennium and a lot of knowledge has been produced in this time. Subaltern Communication Research Centre (cÖvšÍRbxq †hvMv‡hvM M‡elYv †K›`ª) wants to identify this knowledge because we, unlike the western stream of knowledge, never wanted to systematically and categorically compile our knowledge for the market. Oral knowledge exist in intangible form in people’s memory whereas the western and industry supported knowledge of agriculture is marketed widely. It ensures the domination of western thought and endangerment of local knowledge.
For example, a genetically modified crop might be tempting because it is highly productive and less prone to insects; however, it needs continual use of chemicals through each step of its lifetime. We do not have the data indicating hundreds of different local high-yielding breeds of that same crop that can be harvested without chemical excessive use of chemical fertilisers.
Imagine someone wants to live a subsistence life by producing his/her own food by keeping the biodiversity intact, but there are no source of knowledge. The knowledge that we have attained in the last eight-nine millennium through a continual struggle and co-existence with nature, that has been lost because we have severed our connection with such knowledge in allure of an arranged urban life and a life of dependency on agro-chemical industry.
Since 2004, Subaltern Communication Research Centre aims to collect such knowledge through collecting oral history. Initially, their idea was not to give it an academic form and that is where the next phase came in.
WHILE doing their field work to collect the oral knowledge of subaltern people, Prakritik Krishi team gradually felt that they need a space to implement the knowledge. Moreover, as they promote organic farming by protecting the biodiversity, they wanted to show that this kind of farming is still possible even in the days of agro-chemical industries dependent farming. In essence, they wanted to live a subsistence life.
As a result, Biodiversity Farm (cÖvY ˆewPÎ Lvgvi) emerged in 2012. In this farm, they are implementing the knowledge they have gathered during the eight years of field research. The group took a piece of land for crop-sharing from a farmer in Amtali village, Daulatpur, Manikganj and began their journey into the natural and eco-friendly way of life.
During field visits to the farm, New Age Youth find that another farmer, who practiced non-natural farming, used pesticide in his land and the empty plastic bag that contained the poison flew to Pranboichatr’s land. Delowar Jahan, one of the key persons behind Prakritik Krishi, pointing it out said, ‘Even organic farms are not completely safe for all living organisms as others are using chemical substances’.
The farm is situated in Manikganj’s Kautia village, on a road that took a sharp left leaving a 250 years old banyan tree on the right. There are no obstructive structures in the farm, upper floor of the single bamboo chalaghar serves as the house for farmers who live there; the lower space is used for local gathering and experience sharing sessions. During the visit, New Age Youth found small birds freely flying through the house, frogs sitting casually on the verge of a large water pot kept outside the toilet and hornets buzzing around. Wasps and hornets are excellent options of maintaining insects at an expected level.
A true sign of a biologically diversified place is the presence of predators who resides at the top of the food chain and feed on everything. Owl is such a bird that represents such predators because it feeds on from rat to snake. The bird is the transport for Hindu goddess Lokkhi, whose name translates to goodness; its presence of owl signifies that the nature is exactly how it should be. The farm has quite a few numbers of owls living in the adjacent wood-garden who came out at the evening in search of food.
The entrance to the farm is an archway which is thatched with different kinds of greens. A kitten, a dog named Tiger, a group of pigeon and a chicken with its chicks are the permanent residents, apart from billions of other insects and micro-organisms. During the field visit, at least fifteen different bird species were located. These birds play a huge role in maintaining the population of different insects — a brilliant substitute to chemical insecticides. In one corner, large clay pots and drums were kept under shade where organic fertilisers were in the making.
While doing their field research and producing their own crop in the farm, Prakritik Krishi faced a serious question — what to do with the crops? Farmers across the country have expressed their concerns that there is no strong market place for organically grown foods. To address that question, Prakritik Krishi embarked on their next journey.
Prakritik Krishi Marketplace
DURING Prakritik Krishi field research phase, they have befriended a lot of farmers across the country and gradually gained their trust. They suggested the farmers to start organic farming in a small piece of land, for their own family and through that process a network of hundreds of farmers was formed. When they got affirmation from different producers, they thought it was the time to start a marketplace as there are none for organic food.
Even though, Prakritik Krishi did not start with a view to market their produce, in 2014, they started their first ever storefront in Mohammadpur, Dhaka — cÖvK…wZK K…wl wecYb †K›`ª (Prakritik Krishi Marketplace). What started as a weekly shop offering a handful of products is now operating seven days a week with a large variety of non-chemical and non-modified products harvested through natural-agricultural practice. Their outlet is offering numerous variety of local breed full-grain rice, flours, oils from a variety of seeds, different kinds of honey, vegetables from across the country, organic spices, milk, organic poultry and fresh-water fishes.
Prakritik Krishi workshops and future
AS PRAKRITIK Krishi has been researching on natural agriculture practice and collecting local knowledge for nearly two decades now, they think this is the right time to offer their knowledge to those who want to learn. In a view to educate likeminded people, Prakritik Krishi is now offering a three-day course which starts with understanding human relation with the nature, basics of natural farming, substitutes of chemical substances, protecting bio-diversity and ultimately how to market the products.
Not only formal sessions, school and university students often take tours in Biodiversity farm to understand the process of safe agriculture. On November 01, a group of young school children from a group called Bratachari, visited the farm where children get to know the process of agriculture and understand how human being live amidst the nature by embracing it.
On April 2019, a group of architecture major students from Daffodil University, while working on a project about designing community space in villages, visited two villages in Manikganj. Their aim was to understand the dynamics of rural architecture. They also spent time with Prakritik Krishi team to understand their knowledge and perspective on environment friendly architecture for rural area. The group spent a day in the farm, introduced with the process of organic farming and collected their food.
Delowar Jahan, who is currently leading Prakritik Krishi, shared his future thoughts. ‘We are currently offering a three-day workshop but my dream is to extend that course into a year-long one. We want to turn our farm into an open-campus where students would come to learn how agriculture can be done without harming the biodiversity of the land’.
It can be argued that agriculture itself is a practice of manipulating the nature. In Delowar’s view, the form of agriculture they practice, it strives to keep the nature as much intact as possible thus the name Prakritik (Natural) came. Considering the overarching presence of agro-chemical industries even in the remotest of places, Prakritik Krishi’s task is huge.
At the end of the day, we are made of what we eat. Indulging on industrially produced genetically modified crops are toxic for human being and for the nature. The rise of cancer or kidney patients in Bangladesh could be a serious alarm to address these issues otherwise it might be too late — for us and for the nature.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team
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