Women Farmers (Nagina, Kanwal, Shamim, Nusrat and Chand Bibi)
Village Darwaza, Beer Valley, District Haripur
The women farmers of village Darwaza in Beer Valley of District Haripur are as diverse as their interests are similar. What brought them all together was their willingness to attend the trainings as held by the Rural Service Providers for NMA. Both Amjad Khan and Atif Alijah are also serving as agriculture officers in the Agriculture Department whereas Wajiha is responsible for growth and awareness. All three imparted trainings to 57 women and 12 children (from grades 7 and 8), on the importance of a balanced diet, pure and nutritious food, care of plants, kitchen gardening, compost making, winter and summer vegetables and other farming issues.
According to Amjad Khan, “the icing on top of the cake was that at the end of the training, each one of the responding women received 4 fruit plants on an average. The plants were distributed on equity basis mainly on the space available for plantation”. Each RSP distributed nearly 165 fruit plants comprising orange, guava, lemon and Japanese medlar - commonly known as Loquat saplings.
Because of the trainings, the women came to realise the importance of fruits, that it helps to fulfill deficiencies in the body. They would relate it to their own selves and the blood deficiency majority suffer from. According to Nagina Bibi, a 41 year old mother of three, “Previously we used to have fruits once in a month as it is expensive and we cannot afford it. So when they asked if we are interested in planting fruit trees, we accepted it with pleasure. It was good to know that we can grow our own fruit”. Nagina said that the nutritional value and taste of fruit grown in homes is more because at home no chemicals are used, just home-made compost comprising dung, leaves and vegetable peels. Nagina well knows that the fertilizers available in the markets have sprays which are stronger yet are harmful for health.
“Previously we used to apply fresh dung to the vegetables and plants and did not know how to make proper manure. But through the training we learnt about composting” says 20 years old college student, Kanwal. “Prepared in usually 50 days and ideally well prepared in 6 months, the bottom layer is always better prepared than the rest”, she adds. Shamim Akhtar, a 60 year old trainee said that “I was interested in the fact that it is not necessary to make a big pit for making manure, you can even use a bucket to make it on a small scale”.
According to Nagina Bibi, due to the use of compost this time the taste of the vegetables is different. “Even the garlic, coriander and mint have a different and refreshing scent if I compare it to what we used to get from the market. These are smaller in size but taste is so much more rewarding”. “Yes”, says Nusrat Bibi, a 41 year old mother to seven daughters, “this year we used compost in growing wheat on a small plot. The wheat grown in homemade compost was dark green in color and also taller, not to forget how moist it made our bread”.
As Kanwal Bibi is currently a student she imbibed more knowledge from the trainings, “On being given the plants we were also provided with guidance on proper procedure for plantation and care afterwards e.g. the planting pit should be of 1.5 ft as the plant requires proper space to spread its roots. If any insect attacks the plant then how to make use of ash. It was also very interesting to learn that the natural manure has two friendly insects e.g. earthworm that helps keep the soil fertile and the lady bug which also prevents insect attacks on the plants but we need to have more knowledge about friendly and harmful insects and how to control them”.
The women take excellent care of these plants and water them after regular intervals despite the fact that there is a severe shortage of water in the village but still one can see them carrying their pitchers and bringing extra water from the spring. “Our goats are also the biggest threats to our plants. So usually one family member has to take all the livestock to the nearby hills where they graze all day and during the evening one of us returns to bring them back and tie them up in the barn”, smiles Nagina Bibi.
Chand bibi, a 52 years old Lady Health Visitor for the area, says “the trainings have helped us realize the importance of health. Though I was always telling the women we need to boil water but could not emphasise it properly. After the training we are all boiling the water that we fetch from the spring and to boil that we use wood from our own forest. I (and the rest of us trainees) have started urging pregnant mothers to have regular checkups. We also tell them to take good nutritious food, preferably home-grown, because if a mother is strong and healthy so will be the unborn child. I also convince them to save money bit by bit so that in case of an emergency they have ready cash”.
According to Kanwal Bibi “we received trainings on various topics like I learnt that unripe fruit often detaches from the tree because of some nutrient deficiency in the soil, so they need compost and also hoeing. Plants are similar to a mother and child. If a mother eats well the child is healthy and if not then both are weak”.
Chand Bibi being a health worker realized that “food handling is very important. So now I tell women that citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C and that spinach (which we grow a lot of) is full of iron. But why are our bodies iron deficient then? It is because we waste nutrients because of the way we cut and cook our vegetables”. The women were specifically told that there is no need to overcook the food as it results in losing nutrients. There is a common myth about certain vegetables that they are “cold or warm for the season” e.g. radish is a winter season vegetable but people avoid eating it thinking that its effect is cold “but I tell them it is good for curing hepatitis. I tell them that problems like high blood pressure, sugar and hormonal imbalance are because of the poultry fertilizers used in agriculture. I try to keep as near to nature as possible, hence I advise others to focus more on vegetables and fruits” says Chand Bibi, a mother of six.
“Well, the girls are more interested in improving their skin tone so they ask about vegetables and fruits. They also seek cure for various diseases that their elders are suffering from and how vegetables can bring improvement”, says Kanwal. ”My mother used to cultivate vegetables sometimes but it was haphazard with no proper method, so the vegetables did not grow as they should and were often attacked by insect pests. But now I have learnt that simple cost effective methods can be applied with the items available, indigenously”.
So what is the motto for the Women Farmers of Darwaza? “It is plants! and to plant in any available empty space”!!!