Maswood Alam Khan from Washington DC, USA
Organic food products which are also known in America as ‘whole foods’ are growing in tremendous popularity all over the world. North and South American farmers, producers and processors of foods are turning to certified organic farming systems since “organic standards” were enacted by the US government a few years back under the aegis of the United States Department of Agriculture. American entrepreneurs in food businesses are increasingly finding organic farming as a potential way to lower costs, decrease dependability on nonrenewable resources, grab high-value markets at premium prices and boost their business profits.
Organic farming involves the application of agronomic, biological and mechanical methods and relies basically on ecology-based practices such as traditional and biological pest management, elimination of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones in crop and livestock production. Organic farming also applies conventional land management techniques such as soil-conservation measures, crop rotation and the use of green manure and mechanical methods.
Bangladesh has a huge potential to grow organic crops and export the same to developed nations because Bangladeshi farmers were used to such mode of agricultural cultivations for ages. The most important aspect of organic food involves ‘certified’ organic agriculture. To brand Bangladeshi organic products and win confidence of the consumers at home and abroad it is imperative for our parliament to pass laws and regulations that require products to be certified by specialised agencies, especially by those agencies who are internationally recognized, before they can be sold or exported as ‘organic’, ‘biological’, or ‘natural’.
Not many years back our farmers in Bangladesh did exactly what nowadays the farmers in America and other developed and developing countries are doing to cultivate their agricultural products organically. Bangladeshi farmers used for ages cow dung and composts of decayed hyacinths, leaves, plants and foods as manure to help their plants and crops grow. They used to kill pests manually and let the wild birds devour the pests and insects that were harmful to plants. They never used synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Bangladeshi people were healthier in those times and we did not hear of the diseases like cancers and those weird gastronomical ailments when all our foods were organically produced.
But now the whole of cultivable lands in Bangladesh is under synthetic cultivation and in turn has been poisoned with massive use of synthetics and chemicals to cultivate high-yielding and genetically modified varieties of crops and livestock at the expense of our health, vitality of cultivable lands and importation costs of synthetic inputs. Our farmers have tragically been forgetting their old practices of organic cultivation while the buyers around the world are searching for food products that are organically produced.
Mom is a sweet name connoting mother. The signboard of a local outlet with the word MOM attracted me on the very first day when I visited the shop at College Park in Maryland at a walking distance from my house. Later, to my amazement, I found out that MOM interestingly stands for “Mom’s Organic Market”. I have been so dependent on MOM for my drinking water, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds that if I now have to move elsewhere I must see whether there is an outlet of MOM nearby where I would be moving to.
For the last six months whenever I went for shopping at the outlet of MOM, and for that matter in any shopping mall, I felt like screaming in frustrations wondering—or perhaps daydreaming— why Bangladeshi foods, fruits, nuts and seeds were not on display there when food stuffs from California and developing countries of South America and also from India and Pakistan always decorate the shelves of the aisles in the American markets. The other day I almost cried in agony thinking how we had neglected seeds of fruits in our country when I found an elderly American man pouring from a hanging glass nut-dispenser in MOM’s, about half a pound of seeds which, as I examined closely, were actually the seeds of ash gourd (seeds of what in Bangladesh is known as ‘chalkumra’) and the price was US$12 per pound.
Any Bangladeshi, like me, must have cried in pain when he had to buy at high prices the vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds that are so cheap back in our country.
Our farmers would have been richer, our food industries could make tons of money and the Americans would have bought all our vegetables, herbs and spices if only those could be cultivated in our country organically, certified as organic food items by the US National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and exported to America. Any American who had ever tasted our fruits like mangoes and vegetables like snake gourds must vouch for their quality. Bangladesh can easily export to America—not for only Bangladeshis living in America but also for non-Bangladeshi Americans—all the cultivated food products like bottle gourd (lau), bitter gourd (korolla), ash gourd (chalkumara), snake gourd (chichinga), ridge gourd (jhinga), eggplant (begun), carrot (gajar), a variety of beans (sims), okra (dherash), hot peppers (kacha morich), drumstick (danta), holy basil (kalotulsi), nigella (kalonji), coriander (dhoney), cumin (jeeraa), sesame (teel), fennel (mouri) and fenugreek (methie), to name a few, and hundreds of other Bangladeshi fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, seeds and nuts either fresh or processed in cans.
I guess some of the readers, after reading what I have mentioned above, are perhaps deeming me to be a daydreamer. Some will say a Bangladeshi businessman will find his business house fully ablaze with ‘red lights’ of losses if he ever follows my advice and takes a venture of exporting Bangladeshi organic food products to the USA, given the tragic fact that our people often mix up formalin with fish and fruits and our government, infested with corrupt functionaries, rather gives shelter to adulterators of foods if they are somehow affiliated with a particular political party. True. We are too inefficient to regulate discipline and we do not have much reputation of honesty in the world market. Yes, some readers must be laughing on the other side of their face at my dream of finding ash gourd (chalkumara) and their seeds at the MOM’s shelves in America. Okay. Let me stop daydreaming, then.
But mind you, during my three and a half year-tenure in Malaysia as Chief Representative of Agrani Bank I, on an occasion, also laughed on the other side of my face when a Malaysian friend of mine named Puasa Osman, who used to work in Bank Pertanian Malaysia, was beaming with pride as he was describing the shape, taste and flavor of ‘durian’, their national fruit. I was silent as Puasa was priding himself on his national fruit.
After eating one pod of their ‘durian’ fruit I felt like vomiting, but suppressed myself out of courtesy. “Why don’t you take more pods, Mr. Maswood? Don’t you appreciate our ‘durian’?” asked my friend. After a silence for a few minutes, I said: “My friend, have you ever tasted Bangladeshi jackfruit?” “No, what is that? Is that as tasteful as durian?” he replied. I answered, maintaining my proud composure: “Yes, Jackfruit, our national fruit, looks exactly like your durian. But there is a difference: Our jackfruit is at least ten times bigger than your durian and—please don’t take offense—if a neutral culinary judge is asked to rate a jackfruit and a durian and if he gives 70 marks out of 100 for a Bangladeshi jackfruit, he would not give, I am afraid, more than 3.0 marks out of 100 for a Malaysian durian”. My Malaysian friend had pulled a very long face and promised that he would taste a jackfruit if he ever pays a visit to Bangladesh.
Bangladeshi jackfruit is way superior to Malaysian durian. But nobody in the world knows the fact. The Malaysian government, with a view to branding their national fruit, built a multi-storied building in Kuala Lumpur looking exactly like a durian in its color and shape. Their embassies around the world distribute durians for free to intoxicate the foreigners with the taste of their national fruit; they organize pompous exhibitions of durians in Europe and America during the season when ripened durians are harvested. On the other hand, we Bangladeshis feel shy to talk about our jackfruits while talking to our foreign guests and rather beam with pride while flaunting and eating foreign fruits like an Australian apple or a kiwi from New Zealand. We frown at and deem jackfruit as a fruit for the poor and feel squeamish in presenting pods of a jackfruit to a guest of honour. This is the difference between a Bangladeshi and a Malaysian.
Will you laugh if I now propose to export jackfruits to America or to Malaysia? You will certainly not say that our jackfruit trees are fed on water mixed with synthetic fertilizers for their long and deep roots to seep, will you? Can’t we brand jackfruit, our national fruit, around the world as a delicious and a 100 per cent organic fruit and make attempts to ornament the shelves of MOM’s in America?
Again, some readers are perhaps still deeming me a daydreamer! Some may even say that when we cannot transport tomatoes from one district to another in fresh condition inside Bangladesh due to shortage of freezer vans, a proposition of exporting jackfruits to the United States is just like building an ?lys?e Palace in the air of Bangladesh. Well, maybe I am still daydreaming! Then, let’s forget about exporting fresh jackfruits to America.
But, believe me please, I made an American friend of mine simply crazy after I had offered him to taste a few fire-roasted seeds of jackfruit that I collected from a Bangladeshi shop in America. My American friend said that never ever in his life did he taste such a seed! He deemed jackfruit seeds more delicious than even pistachios and cashew nuts. Maybe, my friend flattered me a little bit out of courtesy. But after I had seen with my own eyes an elderly American man purchasing ash gourd seeds (what we Bangladeshis call ‘chalkumarar bichi’) at $12 a pound, I can bet the last dollar in my pocket that our jackfruit seeds will win the tongues and hearts of Americans who are of late very conscious about their health. It is now proven that the best foods are those organic and green vegetables, fresh or dried fruits, seeds and nuts that are good for human health and longevity as these are the foods our genes demand and our ancestors had taken for thousands of years before we started playing God in modifying foods genetically.
I have already corresponded with the office of the US Department of Agriculture asking them whether the US government would grant permission to import jackfruit seeds from Bangladesh. They replied: ‘there is no reason why the jackfruit seeds as organic stuffs cannot be imported to America’. I also enquired to a representative of MOM whether they would agree to adorn their shelves with roasted jackfruit seeds. The representative advised me to bring in some fresh jackfruit seeds in their raw forms for them to send for laboratory tests. Of course, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the MOM rep said to me, will check whether jackfruit seeds from Bangladesh meet their National Organic Standard.
Do you, the readers, think that I am still daydreaming? I am not, believe me. But I am not a businessman to undertake the job of exporting jackfruit seeds from Bangladesh to America.
Is there anybody in Bangladesh, like M. Noorul Quader of Desh Garments, who will not deem me a daydreamer and undertake a venture to export to America at least seeds of jackfruit, our sweet national fruit, in normal containers, if not fresh and ripen jackfruits in freezer containers?
(The writer can be reached at e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org)