Organic food is becoming popular among the consumers of Dhaka city.
Against the backdrop of a campaign against adulterated food during the past few years, many people are opting for food that are not produced or processed artificially, tainted with toxic chemicals that pose grave danger to the public health.
It has also become easier to find organic food in the city, which was once available only in rural bazaars and suburban markets on a limited scale.
Organic foods are produced without the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Animals are reared without the routine use of antibiotics, growth hormones and food from these animals are processed without ionising radiation or food additives.
Organic produce must not be genetically modified and has to be grown with environmentally non-intrusive methods.
NGO-backed ventures Shashya Prabartana, Proshika and some department stores started selling organic food at different times. With the number of health conscious consumers on the rise, the sellers reported a rapid increase in demand for such food.
“In the beginning only customers we had were our friends. It took a long time to make the public aware about the benefit of ecological agriculture and organic food. We now have many regulars who prefer safe food,” said Shahid H Shamim, director of Prabartana.
Various local species of rice including Kalijira, Kumari, Biroi, Binni, Tulsimala, Banshiraaj, Balam, Radhuni Paagol, Abchhaya, Modhushail, Chamara, Shorshori, Pakri, Shishumoti, Porangi, Begun Bichi, Shaheb Chikon and Digha, lentils, atta, spices, mustard oil, puffed rice, molasses, potatoes are their popular items.
Shashya Prabartana is the sales outlet of Ubinig (Policy Research for Development Alternative), which is among a few pioneer organisations working for popularising ecological agriculture and organic food in Bangladesh.
Their movement, known as the Naya Krishi Andolon (new agricultural movement), started in 1988 on a small scale. Products were available only in rural markets in the early stage. In 2002, it was first made available in Dhaka in its Mohammadpur outlet.
Today Ubinig has 10 production centres across the country including three main production centres in Pabna, Tangail and Cox’s Bazar and smaller centres in Kurigram, Sherpur, Chapainawabganj, Natore, Sirajganj, Kushtia and Noakhali. Around one lakh farmers are involved with Naya Krishi Andolon, half of them are women.
Organic foods, however, cost more than the average products and are still not within the reach of the common people. “Organic food still has limited customers, so production volume is still very low, which eventually increases production cost. The scene will change we hope as it is becoming popular every day,” said Shamim.
On average 160 customers now buy organic foods from Shashya Prabartana a day. The outlet also has home services at a minimal charge.
“This is a very small number compared to other commercial ventures. We would like to approach cautiously,” Shamim said. “Organic farming requires a sensitive natural balance. We don’t want to ruin the balance just to increase the stock,” he added.
The next big name in organic farming is Proshika, which started ecological agriculture before Ubigin back in 1978 and currently supplies vegetables and a small amount of fruits to different department stores in town. Marketing in Dhaka started in 2000.
Proshika has an outlet in Mirpur.
Qazi Khaze Alam, director of Natural Resources at Proshika, said, “The idea was to practise sustainable agriculture that does not degrade the environment.”
Organic farms do not release synthetic pesticides into the environment, some of which have the potential to harm soil, water and local terrestrial and aquatic wildlife.
Alam mentioned that a critical aspect of organic farming is its marketing which is beyond the scope of the farmers. “This is why we tried to build up a marketing chain so that the farmers can sell their produce,” he said.
Alam pointed out that a better link is needed between the consumers and the farmers and Proshika is still struggling to make it happen. Proshika has tried selling organic food items through hawkers but it did not work.
The NGO has farms in Madhupur, Ghatail and Shakhipur of Tangail district and in Belabo and Raipura in Narsingdi that mostly send produce to Dhaka. Every day around 2 tonnes of vegetables come from these centres.
Obtaining certification by the authorities for organic food is not yet mandatory in Bangladesh. “There is no way for the consumer to identify organic food. This will enable unscrupulous entrepreneurs to sell food that are not organic, terming them safe,” he said.
Alam pointed out that vegetables are perishable. Safe transportation of the goods and proper preservation is absent in the country. This is an area that needs attention.