Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rising organic food demand provides export potential

Do you know that if you eat an average apple, you would be taking in more than 30 pesticides and antibiotics even after washing it? 

The reason is quite obvious. In a hurry for producing more and more crops to satisfy growing demand, producers have had to resort to using a mix of pesticides and fertilisers to control disease and insect attacks. This might be good news for their bank balances perhaps but not so that good for human health. In this perspective, the importance of food safety has surpassed the concept of food security which is a separate issue. 

For Pakistanis, opting for organic food doesn’t mean that we are being fashionable or following Western fads; it mean that we’re going back to the basics. Organic food is not an alien concept for us. Our forefathers were all organic farmers and used natural fertilisers and natural methods of pest control. In modern times, organic farming entails the use of organically approved pesticides and fertilisers to maintain soil productivity and control pests. Organic farmers employ methods like crop rotation, green manuring, and use compost that is made by the farmers themselves.

Sales of organic food have increased more than six-fold worldwide in the last quarter of a century while organic production has just doubled during the same period. It mirrors that the demand for organically produced food continues to outpace its supply, depicting a widening demand supply gap. Although it is a challenge to cater the increasing needs of organic consumers but fulfilling the demand of these quality consumers can substantially strengthen the stakes of organic food producers in the global food market. This is a window of opportunity to agriculture economies like Pakistan who can earn billions in terms of foreign exchange through the export of organic food.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A little bit of heaven

By Sumaiya Lakhani

Fast forward 60 something years and I expect myself bundled up in a corner of my house, bed-ridden or, at the very least, chair-ridden, complaining about aching joints and how my grandchildren don’t visit anymore. But a little meeting with Sultana Anwar Ali, a spry 83-year-old, who spends her days running around a garden and making ice cream, was enough to give me a new perspective. Sultana is an ice cream maker, a florist and a gardener all in one. She discovered her passion for gardening after she started arranging flowers at home back in 1958. And, even over 35 years later, her passion remains undimmed. We stroll through her garden, and she points out the different types of flowers that grow beside the rows of fruits and vegetables. As she lists the numerous flowers she has seen or grown over the years — heliconias, amaryllis, orchids, lilies, poppies, daisies — it’s clear that her memory is just as sharp as it was when she was younger.

Sultana does not let her age prevent her from what she loves to do, refusing even to comply with her doctor’s instructions to give up gardening because of her health. She stubbornly kept asking her doctor for an alternative. Finally, he had to concede and she was allowed to continue gardening as long as she didn’t bend too low. A stool and a table are now permanent fixtures in the garden, reuniting Sultana with her precious plants. Her daughter, Fizza, eventually developed an inclination for flower arrangement as well and took over that area, leaving Sultana with more time to spend in her garden. “I can’t live without my gardening. When I die, I’ll ask God to give me a small area in jannah where I can continue with it,” Sultana exclaims. “My garden is just a little bit of heaven,” she says while staring wistfully at the anthuriums in front of her.

Sultana feels that most people look at gardening as a chore, a menial task meant for gardeners or else a distraction for the elderly. She says that this is evident from the fact that only the elderly end up coming to flower shows and fears that this might lead to an end to the art of flower arrangement and horticulture. She hopes that others can discover the joy of gardening, just as she has.

Sultana’s garden serves a purpose other than to keep her busy. The fruits that grow there are used to make homemade ice cream for her latest venture, a home business by the name of Sweet Tooth.

Why ice cream, I ask? “It was the only way to get my kids to take in some milk!” Sultana explains with a smile. But after the children grew up, Sultana stopped making ice cream and devoted most of her time to her garden. Recently, while eating the usual “bazaar ki ice cream”, Sultana exclaimed that she had had enough of this fake ice cream and decided to return to making her own. The first thing she had to do was to find a sancha, a hand operated ice cream-maker made out of wood. It took a few months to find the perfect one and thus Sweet Tooth was born. The business, run by Sultana and her son Altaf Hussain, is very different from others as it utilises fresh fruits and shuns artificial flavoring.

The mother and son are extremely particular about what goes into the ice cream, using only fresh milk, fresh cream and of course, fresh fruits. “We don’t make coffee, chocolate or vanilla ice cream because they’re artificial … and we don’t do artificial.” Altaf explains proudly.

A pomegranate tree growing in the garden is the source of the pomegranate used in the ice cream which I was served. The explosion of fruit in each scoop is heavenly and the range of flavours is nothing short of amazing. You name the fruit of the season and you’ll find a bowl of ice cream with that fruit sitting in front of you, asking to be eaten … melon, strawberry, chikoo, mango, pomegranate and even plum! The duo has recently added a new variety to their ice-cream menu: sorbet. The new range is just as amazing … ranging from grapefruit to pomegranate and kumquat.

As I picked out a shaitoot from a nearby bush and popped it into my mouth, I wondered what it would be like to have a garden of my own with fresh flowers and fruits always close by. The idea made me resolve to attend the next flower show in the city — I just hope I don’t wait till I’m 83 to do it!

For all those who want to try out Sweet Tooth’s ice cream or want a fresh flower arrangement, feel free to call at 03362825464

The Express Tribune
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