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July 11, 2003

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Farming the natural way

Avik Sanwar Rahman

Photo:Syed Zakir Hossain

Less than an hour away from Dhaka, on the way to Chandra from EPZ Savar, is a scene that stands in sharp contrast to our dusty, crowded, hectic capital. The eye soothing greenery of the farmhouse 'Ananya' on 30-acres of land is a place of absolute tranquility. Here and there butterflies fly among the flowers while grasshoppers hover over grass and rice fields enticing birds searching for their sustenance for the day. White clouds float above the head and birds glide gracefully in the sky scenes, which only enhance the quietness of the farmhouse.
But there is more to this farm than just being an oasis of serenity. The farm uses an innovative technique of agriculture that consciously excludes the use of any kind of chemical component.


The farm runs smoothly thanks to the hard labour of its owner Fazley Elahi and his family. Fazley Elahi is a civil engineer who served in the gas sector for 30 years before he retired as the MD of Rupantorito Prakritik Gas Co. Ltd. in 1998. After retirement Fazley Elahi wanted to start a venture where he could commit himself as seriously as he had in the gas sector. “Gas is the only precious thing produced by this country. Other than gas, farming could be a challenging venture for Bangladesh if done properly. America is feeding the world from farming and has become the super power”, says Elahi.

Chickens fed on organic feed. Chicken droppings mixed with Effective Micro-Organism (EM) is used as organic fertilizer for crops.

The engineer thought he would set an example for the educated people regarding farming. “Educated people are more of absentee landlords and less caring about production. Even the graduates from Agriculture University prefer to work as executives in the offices rather than take farming as venture. Whereas our farming needs intelligent people”, said Elahi.

Fazley Elahi started his farm applying conventional inorganic farming. Antibiotics, vaccine and conventional poultry feed sold in the market were essential for his poultry. But as time passed on even antibiotic and vaccine could not save his farm chickens from disease and ultimate death.
“I have started poultry with eight thousand chickens(broilers) and applied conventional inorganic methods. For six months everything was going fine but after that various diseases started to attack the poultry. Even vaccines and antibiotics could not prevent them from dying”, said Fazley Elahi.

At such trying times his friend Hasibur Rahman, the Executive Director of Acme Laboratories Ltd., offered his help and applied a biotech formula called Effective Micro Organism (EM) from Japan on five hundred farm chickens. Fazley Elahi expanded his efforts to see the results from the experiment. Eventually organic farming got ground. “We found his chickens were not dying and giving better results than mine”, says Elahi.
Fazley Elahi and Hasibur Rahman carried on with their EM venture and applied it to poultry, agriculture and fisheries. The EM has started a miracle, and Elahi's farmhouse 'Ananya' has earned a name for organic farming.

“EM is mainly a mix culture of beneficial or effective micro organism, primarily photosynthetic and lactic acid bacteria (which helps to form bacteria in curd) - namely yeast, fermenting fungi and actinomycetes. The biotech EM is actually 'pro biotic' and opposite to antibiotic. Antibiotic kills bacteria, whereas 'pro biotic' preserves friendly bacteria that is good for health ”, said Hasibur Rahman.

Hasibur Rahman, a friend who applied the winning formula(L),Fazley Elahi, promoting the natural way of farming(R).

Biotech fertilizer requires the droppings of farm chickens to mix with EM. But these droppings are not organic if poultry feed is bought from the market, which contains grain produced with chemical fertilizer. To get the fruit of organic farming Fazley Elahi started to produce corn on his soil with organic fertilizer EM. In terms of poultry feed corn is a better grain than wheat.

Hasibur Rahman produces organic poultry feed mixing it with crushed corn. Now the chicken droppings with organic feed could be used for organic fertilizer. Rahman and Elahi had established the base for nature farming from where they could start their experiment.

To raise organic poultry without giving them antibiotics and vaccine, Elahi fed his chickens with organic feed. He also sprayed EM on farm chickens, which proved effective as they did not suffered from any disease. "Even mosquitoes are rare around the poultry because of the EM spray”, says Raihan, Elahi's son.

“With antibiotics, vaccines and inorganic poultry feed, it required 28 days to raise 1.5kg weight farm chickens. Action of antibiotics and vaccine lasts another seven days. This means a farm chicken that is less than 35 days should not be taken for food. Ironically 1 to 1.5 kg farm (broiler) chickens are in greater demand in the market”, said Fazley Elahi.

The organic kitchen garden. Farming organic vegetables that do not use chemical fertilizers are a healthier and more sustainable option.

Without antibiotics, vaccine and inorganic feed, it takes 45 days to raise a mature, free range (deshi)chicken weighing 1.5 kg. A poultry farmer might suffer losses as the number of days increases, but certainly gains from the number of chickens that survive as well as the savings from not using antibiotics and vaccine. Besides, a farmer can get high quality organic fertilizer from the broiler litter, which he could use for cultivation.
Chicken droppings and straw are mixed with EM in airtight polythene for three weeks. One can use cow dung instead of litter. The main thing is to mix EM with a ratio of 1:2 of zoo-plankton and phyto-plankton.

Now the platform is set to introduce organic farming in agriculture and fisheries. Organic farming helps to bring back bio-diversity which inorganic farming destroys. Inorganic fertilizer and pesticide annihilate many useful insects, which help in the pollination of paddy. With organic farming, eventually, different types of grasshoppers start to roam around the rice field of the farmhouse because of not using pesticide. Grasshoppers and different insects attract Magpies (Dhan Shalik), (Doel) and other birds in the rice field that act as natural pesticides.

The yield from the IRRI 28 and 29 using inorganic fertilizer like Urea, Tripple Super Phosphate (TSP), Muriet of Potash (MP) and pesticide was four hundred kg per bigha. The yield doubled after using organic fertilizer. Cost of production also came down as Elahi was able to save money as he got rid of inorganic fertilizer and pesticide.

Fazley Elahi has included fisheries in his paddy field. “The water required for rice plantation is also appropriate for fisheries. Three feet deep water is ideal to allow photosynthesis, which creates phytoplankton as food for the fish. The organic fertilizer (chicken droppings with EM and straw mixture) is kept on one side of the rice field, which germinates worms and become zoo-plankton for the fish. Fish also eats up whatever life form found at the root of the paddy plant and helps to keep the plant healthy”, said Fazley Elahi.

New-born China ducklings a delightful sight for city-weary eyes.

Fisheries also bring in profitas the cost from fish feed is significantly lowered. “Last season I spent Tk.45, 000 for fish feed and recovered Tk.38, 000 from the sale. This season I spent only Tk.2, 000 for fish feed and already sold fish for Tk.7, 000 in one day. As the costs go down profit goes up”, said Fazley Elahi.

The inorganic feed like Urea and (TSP) are used for fisheries as a conventional way of farming. The inorganic feed 'khoil' (mustard seed waste) and 'bhushi' (wheat husk) also used for rapid growth of fish.

Inorganic fish is called 'Chasher Machh' or 'farm fish'. Inorganic fish is not as tasty as organic fish. Therefore, the price of inorganic fish is lower than organic fish. The low price of big sized Indian and Burmese 'Rui' is an example of the difference in price in the fish market. There are allegations that the Indian and Burmese fish are preserved with formalin, a chemical originally used for preserving biological specimens in the laboratory.

“Like the farm chickens, inorganic fish also contains hazardous chemicals, which is not healthy for human beings,” said Fazley Elahi.
But people have no other choice, as natural habitats of fish are becoming inhabitable due to using inorganic methods of farming.

The Organic Fertilizer with EM mixture packed in airtight polythene bags generate heat. The fertilizer takes 21 days to mature.

“The haors and baors were the major suppliers of fish in the country. Inorganic farming and pesticide for IRRI and BORO cultivation in haors and baors, in the dry season, made these places inhabitable for fish. Rivers and oceans are the main source of big fish in our country, which do not need inorganic chemicals. The erosion of topsoil wash away inorganic matter down the river only to destroy the habitat of fish in the rivers”, says Hasibur Rahman.

Organic vegetables and fruits are becoming rare nowadays. With people becoming more conscious of the health hazards of consuming inorganic vegetables and fruits Fazley Elahi started his kitchen garden with organic fertilizer. He has produced fresh and healthy winter and summer vegetables in his kitchen garden. The water of the paddy field enriched with EM mixture serves the purpose of fertilizer for the kitchen garden. “I have earned Tk.25, 000 from vegetables last season and hope to recover the capital cost invested in the kitchen garden by next season”, he said.

Experts all over the world have come to the conclusion that nature or organic farming requires less water than inorganic farming. Today's world uses seventy per cent water because of inorganic farming. Inorganic farming of pesticide and chemical fertilizers like Urea, TSP, MP reduces organic materials in the topsoil, which needs hundreds of years to form.

Decreasing organic matter in topsoil has caused soil erosion as organic matter holds soil together. Soil erosion is the reason for filling up of the rivers as the riverbed goes up from it. Ground water is also contaminated from soil erosion because of inorganic chemical fertilizer. “Nowadays harmful pathogens like arsenic are found in ground water for this reason”, said Hasibur Rahman.

“It is ideal to have five per cent organic matter in topsoil. But in many places in Bangladesh it has become even zero per cent”, said Hasubur Rahman.

A serene lake adds to the beauty of the farm.

Though Bangladesh saw 89 per cent increase of rice production within 20 years, according to a research of Bangladesh International Rice Research Institute (BIRRI) the yield per acre decreased within ten years of using inorganic fertilizer.

The world population is turning to organic farming because of the unsustainable nature of inorganic techniques of farming. People believe in the philosophy that “healthy soil produces healthy food, and healthy food develops healthy people”.

Organic farming is a solution to unsustainable inorganic farming. To fight against the population growth and hunger the world has had to turn to inorganic farming to boost food production. But the chemicals and pesticides used in inorganic farming have caused the deterioration of the organic matter in topsoil. Organic matter multiplies and mixes with topsoil through time. But chemical fertilizer and pesticide destroys organic matter in topsoil and does not multiply in itself. Therefore, to get the same yield as before the amount of chemical fertilizer needs to be increased with time.

Organic fertilizer like Effective Micro Organism maintains the pace of production as well as produces good tasting healthy food. Organic farming also helps to restore bio-diversity of the area, which is destroyed by the chemicals, used in inorganic farming.

Fish farmed organically taste better and is a healthier option.

But to survive with organic farming, farmers need a policy from the government. Most of the profit is eaten up by the middleman in this sector. If the producers cannot sell their produce at market price the venture might perish without notice.

Hasibur Rahman and Fazley Elahi's passion for farming have made them join hands to save Mother Nature from destruction. If they get the market rate for their farm products they can actually make their venture a commercial success. Fortunately, for this enterprising duo, the demand for organic food is on the increase as people are becoming conscious of its benefits. From the consumers point of view, eating organic food is just plain common sense.


The uses of Effective Micro organism EM

1. One liter EM spray is diluted with 100 liters water to spray on crops for higher growth.
2. EM is sprayed in the mixture of one is to two proportions of chicken litter or cow dung and straw, and kept for three weeks to make organic fertilizer.
3. EM spray on crops increases beneficial micro organism at the root zone of growing plants and increase fertility.
4. EM fertilizer and spray accelerates residue breakdown and releases nutrient to following crops.
5. EM reduces adverse effects of continuous cropping and prevents putrefaction products formation during residual break down.
6. EM used in drinking water and feed act as digestive for the live stock.
7. EM decreases odour in barns and poultry farm and eliminate E'coli.
8. EM spray decreases putrefaction in the ponds and lakes and helps fish from decompose.








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