Organic farming: Islamabad pastoral

Published: August 26, 2011

Natural, organically grown fruits and vegetables without the sour taste of artificial fertilisers or pesticides are grown on Chak Shahzad farms. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/ EXPRESS TRIBUNE

Natural, organically grown fruits and vegetables without the sour taste of artificial fertilisers or pesticides are grown on Chak Shahzad farms. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/ EXPRESS TRIBUNE Natural, organically grown fruits and vegetables without the sour taste of artificial fertilisers or pesticides are grown on Chak Shahzad farms. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/ EXPRESS TRIBUNE Natural, organically grown fruits and vegetables without the sour taste of artificial fertilisers or pesticides are grown on Chak Shahzad farms. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/ EXPRESS TRIBUNE Natural, organically grown fruits and vegetables without the sour taste of artificial fertilisers or pesticides are grown on Chak Shahzad farms. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD JAVAID/ EXPRESS TRIBUNE
ISLAMABAD: 

Ever taken a bite out of an apple only to have your palette assaulted by the sour taste of chemicals? Or even worse, selected a mango that looked perfect and unblemished, too good to be true, only to discover that it tastes more like your garden variety of nail polish remover than fruit? If so, chances are you have been a victim to produce grown with the aid of harmful pesticides and growth hormones to yield the sort of crop that’s ideal for wholesale, but terrible for the customer who simply doesn’t know any better.

Which is why — and as the world turns increasingly health conscious — organic farming has set itself up as a major agricultural and lifestyle trend.

Soil, in itself, is a delicate ecosystem — a living, breathing entity of separate component parts essential to the whole. Organic farming poses a monumental challenge to interested farmers: to utilise benign methods that refrain from degrading the soil and tampering with the natural order of things.

Organic farming took off officially in Pakistan when chairman of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council (Parc), Dr Zafar  Altaf established Directorate of Organic Farming on August 22, 2008 to help small farmers (because soil erosion/degradation due to the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers, was bad for business and affected yield) and introduced innovative technologies like biofertilisers, biopesticides and bioherbicides.

According to Parc, it is expected that 33 per cent of Pakistani farmers are already producing mixed organic crops. At Chak Shahzad farms, more and more privately owned farms are adapting to the practice of organically growing fruits and vegetables through age-old crop rotation techniques, natural pesticides like neem and garlic, green fertilisers, mulching (a protective cover placed over the soil to retain moisture, provide nutrients and suppress weed growth) and encouraging useful predators that actually eat pests.

The idea here is to synthesise modern techniques to work with nature and not against its grain. This is true for Chak Shehzad, a farming-cum-residential area some 15 minutes beyond the capital, where the foliage grows wild and good husbandry practices ensure that livestock roam free and unfettered. It’s not exactly glamorous — with the overpowering smell of dung and narrow roads flanked by nothing but hectare upon hectare of cultivated land — but it certainly is beautiful. Islamabad pastoral, as author Phillip Roth would put it.

Our first stop: a gated house with ample farmland behind. Outside, a ceramic plate reads: “Organic Pakistan, Centre for Agriculture and Urban Planning.” Meet Bilal Hussain, Organic Pakistan’s marketing incharge, who braved the intense monsoon humidity (exacerbated further by the bucolic environment), to spare a few words about the business. “We’ve been up for a month now and are growing kavas (a dioecious shrub) of all kinds,” he says.

Hussain explains that their produce is 100 per cent organic, meaning pesticide- free (“It’s an old practice”), and prioritises the health benefits for consumers above everything else.

A few streets yonder, Abdullah Vegetable Farm employs similar methods for its diverse yield. After honking at the gates for a good 10 minutes, Ibrahim, a farmer, emerged from the bushes, cloth sacks of vegetables in hand. He peered through the iron bars a little suspiciously at first but eventually warmed up to the idea of answering a few questions. “Jee, all organic. We grow okra, zuccini and all kinds of salad leaf (to name a few).” When asked about how the scourge of pests is kept at bay, Ibrahim clarified that constant crop rotation prevented such problems; parasites tend to pick on one variety at a time. “Also, no artificial fertilisers are used.”

Interestingly enough, it’s not just Chak Shahzad farmers that employ organic practices. Fond of growing their own produce, area residents have transformed their backyards into veritable cornucopias.

“I work with my gardener to grow fresh tomatoes, turnips, basil, lettuce and beats. We use totally natural methods and have set up a barter system with other residents, one produce for another,” says one resident, requesting anonymity. She adds, “There’s nothing like waking up in the morning knowing that my next low- calorie and pesticide-free salad is growing right outside my kitchen window.”  

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2011.

Reader Comments (13)

  • Aug 27, 2011 - 12:11AM

    Wonderful! recently I visited chakshehzad farms and stayed with Mr. Nadeem Iqbal who also owns an organic farm and have worked together with parc and narc to promote organic farming too. http://www.vegegarden.net/ is a great website for anyone who wants to learn more about organic farming.

    I am absolutely loving it that tribune is publishing more and more stories about farming :)

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  • Aug 27, 2011 - 5:33PM

    Actually, “ORGANIC PAKISTAN” Centre for Agriculture & Urban Farming is the same place that Zahra is referring to. Just a month back we established this centre though we are the pioneers in doing organic farming. We started farming formally about well over 6 years.
    I wish I could have met the team of Express Tribune who visited our place. I invite you to please visit again so that I show you more about organic farming.

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  • RK
    Aug 27, 2011 - 7:04PM

    @M. Nadeem Iqbal: would love to do a follow-up on Kava– the strains you grow, methods, a little history etc. I’ll be in touch.

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  • tanoli
    Aug 27, 2011 - 9:01PM

    @ M N iqbal
    its good to hear some body working on this field too i have a question that area from pindi
    to hari pur is very suiteable for olive trees and also for Grapes is there any thing going on
    or not because i have land in hasan abdal area and i put it olive trees this idea works well

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 12:20AM

    Tanoli sahib, You are very much right, the areas you mentioned are excellent for olive plantations. Some years back; A pilot project was done by NARC at Muree road near toll plaza. I was also involved with that pilot projet as advisor to the then Chairman Dr. Zafar Altaf. The pilot was a great success but you know our government sector is good only in doing pilot projects and always failed to disseminate the knowledge and information. Looking at this weakness we initiated “ORGANIC PAKISTAN” Centre for Agriculture and Urban Farmin… that is Pakistan’s first of its kind initiative; our objective is to become a knowledge centre.
    We will be pleased to assist you in establishing your olive plantation project.
    In case of any quarries please right to; mni@mni.org.pk.

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 12:22AM

    @ RK; you are most welcome to join us on any convenient date and time. Please write me on: mni@mni.org.pk to fix appointment.

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 12:27AM

    Dear All,
    Here I would like to make a clarification for record purpose; that we are doing organic farming since 2006 under the name and style of VEGEGARDEN. When Directorate of Organic farming was established much after in 2008. We being advisor to PARC on organic Farming have the honour of conducting training workshops for NARC/PARC scientists with an objective to broaden their vision of organic farming.

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  • Aug 28, 2011 - 12:07PM

    Dear RK,
    Thanks for this piece. Please do follow up pieces. There is so much to be learned from their experience. :) all this discussion about organic farming is making me so haaapppppy!! :)

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  • B Shah
    Aug 28, 2011 - 12:35PM

    I am so happy to note your projects in Organic Farming.Please keep me informed of the developments.

    As regards myself I am Organic Gardener, treating plants with Herbs and Spices

    An Apple Orchard approached me that his apples have fungus in the seed core,
    there is no pesticide that could reach in the seed.

    I did it for him, just organically

    Another Maize Grower that the Corn is small, I did it just as he wanted.It grew 22 inch longer with bright bigger beads

    I have much more, l.would like to join and learn more
    .

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Aug 28, 2011 - 8:53PM

    @ Nadeem Iqbal
    Thank u iqbal sahab for answering my question my cousin will contact you guys and happy
    to learn about project been done on olive trees in that area thank u guys and keep it up.

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  • Claus Euler
    Sep 12, 2011 - 12:20PM

    Dear Rayan Khan,
    It is high time that the advantages from organic farming or gardening are highlighted and I was happy to read your article!
    My request is, though, that there should be an emphasis on the small-scale spaces, rather than the large farmhouses in Chak Shazad, from where products seldom – if at all – reach the weekly markets in Islamabad.
    Almost every house has a flat roof in this country of plenty and seldom do I see it used for growing veggies !
    I have been growing vegetables in my garden first and then expanded to the roof since many years, have a round-the-year compost cycle and had veggies of different kinds all the year around: till now, there are eggplants, paprica, chillies, lady fingers and “Karela”, before my new cycle starts again in October.
    This is what everyone can easily do and such efforts should be promoted, when we talk about “fighting hunger and poverty”.
    Unfortunately, the website of “VegeGarden” is almost completely “under construction”.
    Greetings
    Claus Euler

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  • Shahid
    Sep 16, 2011 - 12:23PM

    Miss Zehra, i donot see anything on the site u have mentioned for
    informatoion.

    ShahidRecommend

  • Sep 17, 2011 - 10:12PM

    We have developed “Guidelines to Fight against Dengue”. A complete Organic Solution. Please send mail to mni@mni.org.pk with DENGUE GUIDELINE in subject line to get this paper.

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