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Organic farming supported by Marie Claire and Vivienne Westwood

SEHD organic farm

[05 May 2011]
The project that Marie Claire and Vivienne Westwood are supporting is all about improving environment and economic conditions of communities in forest villages in Modhupur. Women (Garo and Koch) in particular will be involved in all project activities in sustainable and organic farming, which will also bring them income. Initially the organic faming practices remain limited to few villages, but gradually everyone, particularly Garo and Koch women living in Modhupur will benefit from the project activities. The forest is severely degraded and its ecological damages are alarming.

The Modhupur sal forest, the third largest forest patch in Bangladesh and home to matrilineal Garo indigenous community, has been thoroughly degraded. In its effort to create models for the protection of forests and sustainable agriculture, SEHD has been providing training in organic farming practices for the Garo women in Modhupur, teaching them how to organically cultivate medicinal plants and raise organic vegetable gardens and how to make a sustainable living from organic crops. It is also establishing a learning centre to educate everyone in the region about organic practices, indigenous culture, and the value of the natural forest.

The Garo women organized by SEHD under the umbrella of Simsaga (stay alert) are the managers of all project activities. The mother garden and nursery that SEHD has organized in Rajghati Village will be further strengthened and expanded so that it is able to supply enough seeds/seedlings and plants to all who want them.

Depending on the support, the maximum number of households possible will be provided with seeds, seedlings and cows (used for dung) to set up their organic garden of vegetables, medicinal plants and fruit trees. These households will play the role of catalysts in organic and sustainable agriculture and income generation through home gardening and by raising cows. They will be trained in savings in order to form a cooperative and help others in their villages. The operation will develop a model of sustainable agriculture and organic farming.

SEHD has already trained a group of villagers, especially women, in organic farming skills in order to develop nursery of saplings, to make naturally rich compost (pit compost, quick compost, green manure, vermi compost, and liquid manure), to set up a bio-gas plant, etc. The participants have also been introduced to different types of medicinal plants of commercial value that SEHD has been raising at its garden. With additional support, the training will be provided to women of as many forest villages as possible.

Women directly involved in organic farming will demonstrate their work to others and eventually become trainers for others in other in forest villages. They will also periodically organize exchange visits, meetings, and cultural programs to make organic farming popular in the area.

A community learning/knowledge centre, which will keep the participants of the project connected and anchored, will be formalized. A library will be set up within the centre for use of everyone in the locality. The knowledge developed by participating households will be documented in participatory method and made available for everyone else. The community centre will function as a meeting place for the villagers.

Impact of the project: The majority of the project beneficiaries are women who belong to the matriarchal Garo society. This has a particular significance. In Bangladeshi, women’s contribution in general is not recognized. Contrarily, in the Garo society, women have a strong voice, they are visible, and a role model to the rest of the country. They are the ones who can make a big difference in Modhupur. Their engagement in organic farming will improve the soil quality; make use of compost popular; make people aware of the adverse effects of excessive use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and hormones; contribute in reducing the use of chemical fertilizers; make people aware of the significance of the natural forest patches and local species; and engage people in collecting polythene and plastic containers and dispose of them safely (a small action that will provoke larger thoughts).