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Demand for organic food on the rise

Shanu Mostafiz
26 May 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 26 May 2022 10:27:24
Demand for organic food on the rise

Only a few decades back, Bangladeshi farmers cultivated all kinds of crops, fruits, and vegetables by applying organic fertilisers. With the increase in the population, it was becoming impossible to meet our demand by cultivating in this manner. There was the threat of food shortage in the country. Hybrid farming began extensively in the 1990s. And this was followed by the widespread use of pesticides so that insects do not decimate the crops.

At around the same time, food adulteration started to become common. Although the prevalence was low initially, the use of formalin and other adulterants increased gradually. A certain amount of formalin is mixed with vegetables, fruits, fish, etc., in almost all the countries, which is tolerable for the human body. But the amount of formalin that is allegedly mixed here is very harmful to the body.

Physicians say it has a detrimental effect on our bodies, especially on the heart, liver, and kidneys. The number of heart, liver, and kidney patients in the country increases daily. People are becoming more health-conscious day by day, trying to eat healthy foods. Many are trying to avoid potentially harmful foods. We can say that people are becoming increasingly interested in consuming safe food. For these reasons, many people are leaning toward organic food. But organic food is not widely available, despite the demand. It is not easy to find. Cultivation of organic food is also quite a hassle. Despite all these problems, many people are opting for organic food.

What do we generally understand by organic food? Generally, we know that the crops, products, or foods produced devoid of pesticides, artificial chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics are called organic food. However, there is a universal definition that helps us to understand the matter clearly.

Organic food refers to the method in which crops are grown in the soil where there are no prohibited toxic synthetic substances produced without chemical fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, artificial food additives, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Livestock raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products can be termed as organic if antibiotics, growth hormones, animal by-products, non-organic, and GMO feed have not been added to their feed and medication.

Organic food is safer, healthier, and more nutritious than conventional food, as proven by scientific and medical research. A recent French study has found evidence suggesting that organic food and products strongly reduce cancer risk. People who eat more organic dairy, meat, and crop-based foods have 25 percent lower cancer diagnoses, particularly lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer.

Another report published in The Journal of Nutrition has concluded that organic fruits, vegetables, and salad consumption are positively related to higher sperm count, better semen quality, and higher fertility status in young men.

There is a consensus on what kind of food we call organic. The term ''organic'' can also cover animal products. For example, eggs certified as organic are free-range rather than from caged (battery) hens. Types of organic foods available in Bangladesh include dry fruits and vegetables, dried fish, grains, meat and meat products, dairy foods, eggs, honey and some spices, medicinal plants, and some processed foods.

Among the most readily available organic foods in Bangladesh are dried fish, among the meats organic varieties of country chicken, hill chicken, country duck, golden chicken, turkey, etc., can be found. Organic peanuts, cashews, guava, papaya, date, apricot, plum, etc., are available among the fruits and nuts. Among the kinds of honey Sundarbans' organic honey, honey of mixed fruits, black cumin honey, mustard honey, litchi honey are considered organic. Among the grocery items, organic sesame oil, olive oil, varieties of spice powder, semolina, rice, brown flour, different seeds, rice flour, vinegar, molasses, etc. are available. Among dairy products organic varieties include milk, clarified butter, cheese, yogurt of Bagura, etc. Among medicinal plants– triphala, fenugreek (methi), black cumin, palm sugar, liquorice (yashtimadhu). Also available are different types of jelly, pickles, and chutney. These are called safe food or natural food as well.

How can buyers get these easily? These organic products can easily be found online even if we don't get them in nearby stores or the kitchen markets. There are some shops in different areas where organic food is available. Those shops have ''Organic food is available'' written on their signboards and banners. There are several online platforms where organic food is available. Some farmers cultivate chemical-free vegetables, rice, and fruits. Many people contact them directly and buy those products. An organic food market has been established in Bagura. Organic vegetables, fruits, fish, etc., are available there.

However, in this case, a question remains. A vast majority of food items in Bangladesh are adulterated, and a lot of formalin is added to fish, fruits, and vegetables. Safe food is at a premium here. Is what is being sold here under organic food labels really organic? Online platforms, general stores, and other outlets that sell these products guarantee that their products are organic. They also ask us to believe them. So the buyer has nothing to do here but take their words at face value and buy them based on good faith. Buying their goods is the only way to know whether the claims regarding these products are genuine or not. It isn't easy to verify their authenticity.

So it can be said without hesitation that there are some challenges regarding organic food in Bangladesh. The challenges include lack of awareness, ecological consciousness, consumers' trust, certification, quality control mechanisms, modern technologies, information literacy, storage capacity, and crop insurance. The names of ingredients are written on the cover or bottle of organic food abroad, and it has an approved seal. But in our country, there is wrong information on ordinary food covers. No one really knows what the actual case with organic foods is. However, many vendors sell organic food. People have to buy it believing them as there is no alternative here.

Is it possible to cultivate organic food in Bangladesh? Experts say that organic farming can be an option for economic and ecologically sound farming in Bangladesh. Because this is not practiced in the country (certified), the impact of conversion to organic farming on production yield, biodiversity, and soil fertility is not known.

Farida Akter of UBINIG has been working for a long time in organic food farming. She is producing several organic food items. They are sold in stores named ""Shashya Prabartana"". The Nayakrishi movement is also working in this connection. They are doing a biodiversity-based ecological agricultural movement. Nayakrishi says it is possible to cultivate organic food by investing there. They are also raising awareness about safe food. And people need this awareness.

Those who say they sell organic food need to be transparent while selling their products. The government can monitor it if necessary, and bringing it under accountability can benefit the consumers.

All the people of our country should be able to eat properly three times a day. The government is working to ensure a balanced diet for all. Many say that safe food, free from poison and adulteration, is needed right now. Moreover, if awareness about organic food increases, farmers and other stakeholders will pay attention more to organic farming. Then the issue of organic food will gain more prominence. Besides, enough research and investigation in this regard is essential in Bangladesh. This is because the effects of the frequent changes in the climate here directly affect agriculture. That will have a massive impact on the production of organic food. Another critical point is that the soil of our country is losing its fertility day by day due to massive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, artificial hormones, etc. This also harms organic food production.

The goodwill of the government is also needed. With the government's goodwill, it should not be a problem to eliminate all kinds of hassles regarding the adulteration of food and produce organic food on a large scale and bring it within reach of the people.


The writer is a freelance columnist. She can be contacted at [email protected]