This week Panigram was host to Shafiqul Islam, a professor from the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. He came to assist the interns in refining the plan for the organic farming test plot. Professor Shafiq is well versed in the methodology and theory behind organic farming as he was actually an organic farmer before he became a professor.
About three weeks ago the interns held a meeting with about twenty local farmers to inform them of the plan to create a test plot to demonstrate organic farming. About half of the farmers were very interested in the idea of going organic and a few were very interested in helping the interns with the project. It became clear over the next few weeks that the idea of organic and all the benefits that come with the methodology are not well understood in the village. This provides an excellent opportunity to create a plan to educate farmers and villagers alike to the benefits to one’s health, environment, and food security.
Professor Shafiq helped the interns in determining the layout of an organic plot, border plants, companion plants, and how to create both bio-fertilizer, bio-pesticide, and different types of compost. Organic plots are typically arranged with beds 4.0 feet wide separated by a drainage ditch 1.5 feet wide. This arrangement typically allows two rows of crop to be planted with spacing between plants varying by crop type. In order to assist in repelling pests and attracting beneficial predatory insects specific plants are planted around the border of the entire plot. It was very encouraging to find that many of these border plants can be found in the surrounding woods and can be collected for free. In addition to the border plants to help control insect populations, specific plants must also be grown within the plot itself. Great candidates for the internal pest management include marigold and coriander. Marigold provides control of harmful soil-dwelling nematode populations and coriander emits a smell that many pesky insects dislike. In essence we are creating a living breathing pesticide. To take the place of fertilizer, legumes may also be used to enrich the soil with nitrogen. The plants do this through a mutualistic relationship between the plant roots and different types of fungus. The fungus is able to take Nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil. Finally those Biology classes are paying off in understanding the process at work and a use for all that nitrogen in the atmosphere (it makes up 78% of the air we breathe you know).
“Organic farming is love,” says Professor Shafiq. “You need to love the plants, love the earth, love nature, and love what you do; if you do this you will be successful.” Its cleat that Professor Shafiq loves what he does as all of the suggestions he was giving the interns were provided with a smile and a genuine feel that didn’t feel like a theoretical lecture but rather as a mentor giving well honed advice to an apprentice.
There is still much work to be done in preparing the test plot, but steady progress is being made. Stay tuned for more updates on the development of the plot, the creation of both quick and traditional compost, and educational programs for the villagers.