Wholesome foods
Courtesy to “Dawn”
Sadaf Siddiqui speaks to a couple of believers who are practicing organic farming
It is a sad state of affairs that even in an agricultural country like Pakistan, organic farming has yet to dig roots. Yet, there are few advocates of organic farming who, in their small way, are working towards the cause. Samia Mumtaz is one of them. Hailing from Lahore, Mumtaz has been an organic farmer since 1993, starting on an experimental basis for her family.

“I thought organic farming was the answer to everything that was wrong with our lifestyles. It promised good health and a healthier environment,” she says. Mumtaz was in her early twenties when, with the help of books, she began self-studying organic farming. She made compost for the first time and rediscovered intercropping. Eventually on her friend’s suggestion, Mumtaz transformed her passion into a business.

Mumtaz grows flour, rice, wheat, barley and seasonal vegetables on her field using the name of ‘daali earthfoods’ while educating any other farmer interested in organic farming as well. Growing only local produce, Mumtaz abstains from growing any exotic varieties. The farmer says that she uses no petrochemical fertiliser or pesticide relying on kitchen waste compost in her house complex. She even advises her neighbours to dump all vegetable remains in one place. Other fertilisers are prepared from cow dung manure, silt from the canal and dried leaves. For pesticides, Mumtaz uses either dried, grinded neem leaves mixed with water or else the ashes collected from the cooking area.

Mumtaz sows local seeds that are untreated and with no hybrid, unlike the seeds that are treated with chemicals. Talking about the time when she started organic farming, Mumtaz recalls that people did not even know what the word organic meant then. Although awareness on this topic has evolved now, it is mostly the educated class which knows about the organic foods.

“We need to educate people a lot in this aspect since our own cultural biases and inferiority complexes are posing obstacles for us,” says Mumtaz.

When for the first time in 1994 Mumtaz harvested vegetables, flour and mustard oil, people did not seem very impressed. But it requires knowledge and study to know the difference between organic and inorganic. Even the organic wild bee honey she makes is unlike those on sale in the markets, since the ‘golden clear syrups’ Mumtaz insists, is only sucrose. Take the case of tomatoes, she says, those sold normally may be big in size, but that is because they have a lot of water stored in them. And those grown organically may be small, but they come out with better colours and a superior taste since all nutrients are retained.

On the downside, says Mumtaz, it is disheartening to know that even organic farming has been mechanised to a large extent. She cited the examples of some fields where only machines are used, with no work for humans. Many a times, intercropping is not practised even in organic fields as they want efficient harvesting for an industry.

Yet another advocate of organic farming is Sarah Nasir Khan who co-owns an organic meat shop and deli in Lahore. Initially, Khan ventured in the trade by selling animals which were fed on organic fodder. Later, realising the need for healthy meat in the market, she opened up the shop.

Sarah admits that only a few people know the difference between organic and inorganic foods. The locals, she says, have less awareness on the issue since it is mostly those who have lived abroad or foreigners who appreciate this effort and who tend to buy from the meat shop. The products here range from beef, mutton, chicken, duck, turkey, fish and deli items

Both Mumtaz and Khan are struggling to introduce novel concepts in a sceptical world which needs time to understand what is good for it. Fortunately, if statistics are to be believed, the time is not far off.