Published: Saturday, March 30, 2013

Farmers’ Voice

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.

fv01During 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 is 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 certainly means very different than doing it in Bangladesh. For the last four decades, farming is being done in Wafra infrequently. Farm labourers were then, Egyptians, Pakistanis, Afghans and Indians. 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 greater 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 said that 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 control, rather.

Sandstorm is the key feature of the natural disasters in Kuwait. We 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.

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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 ago 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 is 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 12,000 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.

fv03“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.

Photographs by Aditya Shaheen