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The urban farmer who brings organic food to the table

  • Published at 03:08 pm July 11th, 2019
organic-farming_DT
Kakoli Khan, founder of Shuddho Krishi, discusses the importance of organic food with a first-time customer at Shuddho Krishi's Green Road outlet | Dhaka Tribune

The health hazards of adulterated food have become part and parcel of daily lives, prompting a shift to organic food

What is it that makes food, food? The capacity to nourish and sustain its consumer.  

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are no longer merely perceived as shortcuts to boosting crop production. Their health hazards have become part and parcel of daily lives, prompting a shift to organic food.

So when Kakoli Khan’s aunt-in-law died of kidney disease caused by adulterated food in 2008, she went on a crusade to prevent the same from happening to anyone again. Her lofty campaign was initially met with derision and scepticism. But Kakoli remained true to her path, and now runs a revered retail chain of organic food in Dhaka – Shuddho Krishi.

Kakoli, who describes herself as an “urban farmer,” made the first changes at her home, almost 11 years ago. It was hard to find chemical-free food, as she came to learn over the days. Her quest took her to the countryside, where the prominence of chemicals in farming stunned her.

In a remarkable display of prudence and foresight, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Kakoli sought out organic farmers and began purchasing from them. She set up Krishi School — a platform to share knowledge in organic agriculture —at her village in Kushtia. The platform benefited other farmers dependent on chemicals.

Over the years, Kakoli’s network had grown to such an extent that she decided to operate a supply chain. And in 2014, she launched Shuddho Krishi — an online organic food supply chain — which bought from organic farmers and sold directly to consumers online.

Day by day, the operation grew. Kakoli decided to use her family’s fallow land in Keraniganj for farming. Her family had been hesitant, but her perseverance, business acumen, and social concern won them over. Her operations further expanded in Kushtia to meet her continuously growing customer base. The rising popularity led to her opening a brick-and-mortar outlet in Dhaka’s Green Road in December 2018.

Every Thursday, Kakoli and her team collect fresh vegetables and fishes that are sold to consumers on Friday. But the store remains open every day, and experiences a steady onrush of customers from as early as 7am.

She said: “We are not only selling or producing organic food, but also trying to restore the native agricultural heritage through storing local seed varieties.”

Kakoli said that demand of organic food is ever-increasing as people are more health conscious now.

She described how her aunt-in-law’s death lit a fuse under her to provide safe and fresh food for her family. To honour the loss, families of kidney disease and cancer patients can purchase products from the Green Road outlet at a 20% discount.

Shuddho Krishi also has outlets at supershop Unimart’s Gulshan and Dhanmondi stores. The supershop expressed solidarity with her campaign and does not charge Kakoli  any rent.

Shila regularly buys from Shuddho Krishi. She told Dhaka Tribune: “I cannot compromise when it comes to my children’s food. I always try to collect organic food from my village and husband’s village, but we are bound to buy some products from the local stores which are not organic. But thanks to Shuddho Krishi, that is no longer a concern. I can always find organic vegetables here.”

Shariar, who works at a bank, was making his first purchase from Shuddho Krishi after learning of it the night before. His concern for food adulterated led him to the organic retail chain, which appeared to have greatly allayed him.

Most customers at the Shuddho Krishi store are women. One of them remarked: “Because of the slightly higher prices, our husbands are more inclined to buy lower priced groceries from the regular market. But we as women are more concerned about the good health of our families.”