Ajwa Dates in Bangladesh:
Silencing the Skeptics
I have been following an extraordinary man for the last eleven years with the team of Hridoye Mati O Manush. This bizarre and incredibly self-confident farmer from Mymensingh's Paragon village had a weird dream that kept me curious. He used to live in Saudi Arabia and then returned back to Bangladesh, not with money, gold or luxury goods for his family, but with some date-plum seeds! His wife thought her husband has gone crazy, and so did the neighbours. With all his efforts and perseverance, the protagonist rose like a burning sun and did a miracle- he actually gave birth to an empire!
Perhaps you will recollect the very first episode of ‘Hridoye Mati O Manush’, aired on 21st of February, 2004. It was the story of a dream that was told, the very first day. Many thought it was all about 'high hopes', but the ladder was there to climb up the dreams. Today, the protagonist of this story is Motaleb who lived in Saudi Arabia for around four years, and couldn't cope with the Saudi labour system. Finally he returned home, in Bangladesh carrying with him date seeds worth 3,600 Saudi Riyal equivalent to around 75,000 Taka. The Riyals were his six-month salary which he spent on date seeds.
It was in early 2001, Motaleb simply put all his earnings on the line. He sowed the date seeds. He didn't want anything other than to grow Saudi dates on Bangladeshi soil. There were many skeptics, but meanwhile flowers started to bloom on the tree. The jealous filled enmity of the villagers halted him to reach his long-desired dream. Whenever the flowers grew on the trees, the enemies snatched those away in deep dark nights. At one stage, they took away Motaleb's shallow machine from the orchard. ‘Hridoye Mati O Manush’ kept on narrating these stories over the years.
“They snatched away my shallow machine”, said Motaleb. “They did it because of enmity?” I was curious.
“Yes, they didn't want Saudi dates to grow in Bangladesh”, replied Motaleb.
Motaleb in his Ajwa date orchard
A frustrated Motaleb almost stopped eating and sleeping. He became so adamant that if he didn't see dates on the trees, he wouldn't even have food on his plates. He started living inside a hut in his orchard.
“I used to come in the orchard to visit him. I asked him whether this is the life he really wanted. He used to reply saying when Allah will give him fruits on the trees, he'll eat that day”, told a local. It was simply utter madness- that's how the locals thought.
Some of his best date seeds cost 5 lakhs taka
In 2006, finally the skeptics had to leave the back of Motaleb. Quite surprisingly and in reality, the trees were filled with healthy and bigger date-plums – the varieties were so special, the 'Ajwa' dates of Saudi Arabia. Those who tried to ruin Motaleb's dream, their evil intention ended at last.
Motaleb's orchard in 2006, the date trees full of fruits. The sizes were big, but was it really a complete success? Motaleb needed to give some more time and labour so that he can achieve the ultimate success. On 12th of August, 2012, looking at Motaleb's orchard in Paragaon village during early dawn was surprising – so many things had changed. Knocking at Motaleb's doors, he came out with a smiling face. The small home of Motaleb had turned into a building. There was a smell of success. It was thrilling to hear the story behind the success he had achieved.
His orchard was painted with a completely different image – filled with success and enrichment. Yes! His orchard was filled with many date-plums. Motaleb had finally found success. With different kinds of seeds, big date tress, the orchard was nothing but success.
Motaleb now has around eight to ten thousand date seeds. He has already sold more than five thousand and producing more. Prices start from two hundred taka to five hundred. Like any other commodity, there are some which are even more expensive. There are even seeds which cost five lakh taka.
“So far, what's the highest price you got, Motaleb?”
“Three seeds for four and half lakh taka.”
“You are not kidding, right?”
“Not at all.”
The jewel of his success is a bit deeper into the orchard – the famous and rare 'Ajwa' date tree, the biggest tree in the orchard. Motaleb has grown stronger and sustainable with this tree.
“I was so desperate to grow this venerable tree. I always felt it has the connection with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)”, said Motaleb. The medicinal quality of Ajwa dates is narrated authentically by Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) true companions. Still, the price seemed really high but Motaleb has his reasons.
“A single Ajwa date tree can produce dates for around two hundred years”, said Motaleb.
Motaleb's wife thought his husband had gone crazy when he came back with Ajwa dates from Saudi Arabia. She became angry and frustrated and left him for a while, but now, everything has changed. She knows her husband is the creative maestro behind the making of a great revolution in the agricultural sector of Bangladesh.
Motaleb is simply a man of emotion, but is a realist. Agriculturist and Director of government's Integrated Fruit Development Project, S.M. Kamruzzaman has been to Motaleb's orchard, and commented regarding extension of Ajwa dates in Bangladesh. He said, for vast extension of Ajwa dates, we have to bring the seeds at a reasonable price, thus making it available for the mass. There are not many people who can buy seeds, paying a such large amount of money.
“There is an alternative called tissue culture. You can produce so many seeds in a very short time. If that is done, you can definitely spread the seeds all across the country. This is the advanced way of farming in all around the world”. We can produce millions of seeds by tissue culture from this mother tree. The world has this advanced technology, however, we haven't been able to start it in Bangladesh, said Mr. Kamruzzaman. “We're trying with the help of agriculture ministry, to use this mother tree for tissue culture to produce millions of date seeds”, added Mr. Kamruzzaman.
Motaleb believes, if he is assisted by the ministry of agriculture, he would definitely visit different locations of Bangladesh to train other interested farmers.
Motaleb is the name of a revelation. His success has uprooted doubt, enmity and skepticism of many. When the tree grew big, many said it won't grow any bigger – once it grew well and stood firm, many said there won't be any fruits. Once the fruits came, many said, probably one tree has some fruits, but all the trees can't produce Ajwa dates. Now, when all the trees started producing fruits, there are no skeptics, and certainly there are plenty of Motaleb's dates in his orchard.
Cover art by Ujjal Ghose
(R) thedailystar.net 2012