Dr. Martin Lo just returned from a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignment in Bangladesh and shares his thoughts in today’s blog post:
“Bangladesh, a place that feels like home! –Not only is this the heading on my first slide above the Bangladesh map when I delivered a seminar on Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs) at the Cold Chain Bangladesh Alliance” (CCBA) office in Dhaka the day before my departure, but it is also my true feeling about this lovely country, despite the fact that I was constantly reminded how populated it is whenever I hit the road. This was my third visit to Bangladesh, a country that has the most beautiful farmland in all 30+ countries I have visited.
The most important message I delivered was: ‘Thank you all for choosing farming as your career, which is among the most difficult professions a person can get, but it is the future of human beings. Whoever knows how to grow food to feed their people is going to be the leader of the world.’ Agriculture in developing countries like Bangladesh has always been about the crops; however, in my humble opinion, it is the people who should be the center of agriculture. No healthy and happy farmers, no quality and nutritious agriculture commodities!
Farmers are not getting the profit they deserve. Example: in January 2015 a head of beautifully grown cabbage was valued at an unbelievably low 2 Taka, whereas the same month during my visit to Taipei such a cabbage is priced at almost 80 Taka (slightly higher than US$1). I wish I could have extra luggage to carry all the cabbages to Taipei to make a fortune, but I shouldn’t be the one making the fortune. No one other than the farmers deserves to profit from the beautifully grown produce. I was glad to hear that a bridge is being built to connect the Jessore area to the east, which can provide better transportation for the produce to reach major cities in the country.
I also showed a figure where Bangladesh was ranked no. 8 in the world for mango production in 2011, then the next figure showing the top 10 data for mango exportation during the same year, and Bangladesh was nowhere to be found on the list. Why? Many farmers, scientists, and NGO employees attending would argue that it was because of the huge population in country, so no extra mango to export. However, if you dig further in the news and literature, it is not difficult to find reports that some farmers are using calcium carbide to ripen mangos; others are using formalin to preserve mangos. A few suspect that growth hormone might be used in some locations. That’s why the country needs a systematic management scheme that could reduce and eventually eliminate misuse of harmful chemicals during cultivation and post harvest.
It was intriguing when one farmer told me he wears a mask when spraying agrochemicals but unfortunately the mask was a loaner that day to another farmer. I insisted that I wish to see the ‘legendary’ mask and won’t leave until I see it. Finally the mysterious mask showed up. It was more like a decorative piece of makeup, I said. A simple fabric with two loops that go around the ears. That’s it. I took a picture and used it for all subsequent trainings and seminars. It was this picture, along with the ones showing how farmers spray pesticides into the air without protection gear that helped me convince a big food processing company in Dhaka to donate personal protection equipment (PPE) to their contract farmers. The company also agreed that social entrepreneurship is the way to go, and they will use their textile and plastic business to produce low-cost and effective PPE to supply to farmers in the country.
There is no magic in upgrading agriculture practices. It won’t happen overnight. But if we don’t do something today just because it seems so difficult, it can only be more difficult tomorrow. I specifically pointed this out when talking to all parties involved and/or interested in establishing GAPs for Bangladesh. When something is difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I was so glad to gather positive feedbacks from all attendees to my seminar before departure. All agreed that it will take two to three phases of efforts to implement GAPs here. During Phase I, as proposed by me, one needs to demonstrate to the farmers the benefits of GAPs so they can focus on the most critical aspects to reduce immediate food safety and health threats. Once the farmers could see the cost reduction when going with biological control such as pheromone traps instead of spraying chemicals, then they could generate some cash flow to improve their facilities. The bitter gourd farmers proudly told me they were able to save up to 70% production cost by using pheromone traps throughout their fields. Such good news should be of interest to all, and the extension educators need to help out.
More work to be done, and that’s why I am coming back in September 2015 to continue the efforts.”
[Thanks much for your efforts, Dr. Lo!]