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Increase Production through Student Agriculture to Fight Hunger

  • Mohammed Amin Uddin Mridha
  • 8th August, 2022 07:42:01 PM
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Increase Production through Student Agriculture to Fight Hunger

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“The honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has recently said, ‘Famine has occurred in many countries. Production should be ensured on every inch of unused land’. She also calls on the countrymen to ensure maximum utilization of land to produce the highest amount of foodstuff to fulfil the growing demands. She said every citizen of the country should produce something on whatever land they possess. It would not only meet their demand but also help the country to become self-reliant in food production.”

To fulfil the long-cherished desire of the honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and to draw her kind attention to increasing agriculture production to fight hunger and famine in the country by following my innovation on ‘Student Agriculture: One student one integrated agriculture farm called Bangabandhu Agriculture Bangla Model is proposed here. I am expressing my views and ideas on how to increase agriculture production to fight hunger/famine through the participation of over 40 million students from different educational institutes in the country, living in approx. over 30 million households in the country. As outlined by our innovation, the students are expected to engage with different types of small-scale agriculture in their leisure time.

Following the earlier statement of the honourable Prime Minister, that no inch of land shall remain vacant in Bangladesh, I have developed the above-mentioned innovation on "Student Agriculture: One Student One Integrated Agricultural Farm". The innovation was broadcasted in different electronic media including Bangladesh television and it was published in different mass media including Academia letters, USA and uploaded in Academia.edu.

The innovation is being shared throughout the world by hundreds and thousands of scientists and readers. In the meantime, the Honourable Education Minister of the Govt. of Bangladesh has endorsed my innovation through a seminar, and she has instructed the Directorate of Secondary & Higher Education of the ministry of education to implementation my innovation among the students. Following the instructions by the Minister, I have submitted several manuals for the guidelines of implementation. The process is now being progressed. In continuation of my innovation on student agriculture, I have published a few extensions of my innovation on Taal trees and seeds and on Sajna (The possibility of cultivating Sajna (Moringa) in rural areas through student participation - an innovative concept).

Student Agriculture is an important and very practical innovative concept and integrated method for increasing agriculture (crops, poultry and dairy, fishery, and forestry) production at the doorsteps of the common people in rural and urban areas with the participation of the students. The programme will be implemented through the participation of over 40 million students from the hundreds and thousands of public and private educational institutions in the country. Basically, students at schools, colleges, madrasa, and universities may be encouraged to participate in implementing this programme under the supervision of the relevant ministries, the concerned government authorities and in collaboration with the educational institutes. To disseminate and communicate my innovations, the primary responsibility may be shouldered by the respective department of the Honourable Prime Ministers’ office, and then the Ministry of Education (MoE) in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and other relevant ministries. The MoE may provide instructions to the Directorate of Secondary & Higher Education for the secondary and higher secondary students, the National University may give directives to the students at the colleges and the Islamic Arabic University may provide all the information to Madrasa students. Finally, the University Grants Commission may take the lead for the University students. The MoA may actively collaborate through the grass root level workers of agriculture organizations to provide all the necessary instructions and all the commodities needed to the students for executing the proposed relevant agricultural practices. In collaboration with all the authorities under MoE and MoA and more importantly, with the help and cooperation of every educational institute in the country, each student in their leisure time can implement the proposed innovation in their backyard and on unused lands near their houses as well as the vacant lands in the Educational Institutes. This will help to increase agriculture production and tackle hunger in the country as directed by the Honourable Prime Minister.

In the program, all students in their leisure time will be encouraged to grow a wide variety of crops, especially Indian spinach, red amaranth, water amaranth, jute leaves, taro stem, radish leaves, kangkong, stem amaranth, coriander leaf, snake gourd, bitter gourd, brinjal, chili, etc. white gourd, ash gourd, pumpkin, cucumber may also be grown, etc.; different types of horticultural crops like fruit plants (like papaya, guava, lemon, moringa, taal, mango, jam (berry), jackfruit, neem, aegle marmelos, star fruit, pomelo, etc.) in their homestead. shade-loving plants like turmeric and ginger and other types of plants may also be included.

Small-scale farming of chickens and ducks, rearing goats and cows may also be practised to supplement protein requirements for all family members. Because of the flooding of a huge landmass of the country, the rearing of ducks will be a convenient selection with low costs. Fish may be cultured in the small dish and available ponds near the households. Rooftop agriculture and horticulture may be integrated with the proposed program for city dwellers where land space is limited. Fish may also be cultivated in small artificial ponds built on the rooftop. Along with fish cultivation, different types of vegetables may also be cultivated over the same ponds. Considering Bangladesh weather conditions, the rooftops of hundreds and thousands of mosques and other places of worship may also be utilized for plantations of crops and fruit trees with the participation of students in the local areas. Wood-producing plants may be planted in the vicinity of the dwelling house to protect from storms and other natural calamities and biodiversity conservation. In addition to the environmental protection provided by the trees, there is also the potential for some cash income after the trees have been harvested. Through the practices mentioned in the innovation, there is potential to produce millions of kgs of contamination-free healthy food grown by the millions of students throughout the country in their homesteads. Ultimately this will help fight hunger and famine.

Under the concept, we have mentioned the issue of planting palmyra trees (taal plants) and seeds in every house by the students in addition to different types of agriculture. Taal, a special tree that reduces the risk of death from the thunderstorm in rural areas in Bangladesh (causing huge death), may be integrated into the homestead garden around the house and in highland agriculture and roadside and railway side lands. As part of the concept to grow taal plants to protect from lightning and mitigate climate change, the proposed idea is for educational institutes to instruct the students in the rural areas to nurse at least two seeds in their homes to grow taal plants. Another easy way institutes may raise seedlings of taal trees is by collecting excess seeds from the students, employees, and teachers and planting them on the premises of the institutes and giving them a proper environment to grow.  If we can plant one or two taal in every house, we will get millions of taal trees. Student participation will work to protect people from lightning strike deaths as well as offer several benefits from taal trees and fruits themselves.

There is a lot of potential for Sajna cultivation in rural areas through student participation in sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation in Bangladesh.  The tree is considered a great source of nutrients for human food and as a treatment for various ailments in native medicinal practices. The leaves and fruits of the Sajna tree are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals with nutritional and medicinal value. As a result, it is considered a miracle tree. Leaves, fruits, flowers, and roast seeds are used as vegetables. Sajna trees can be planted on any fallow land, pond edge, road or dam edge, backyard and even in an empty dry place in the city. Sajna is cultivated from seeds and seedlings and mainly by cutting branches. If we could plant one or two Sajna trees in every house of more than thirty million families in Bangladesh, we would have at least three to six million Sajna trees. If we get at least five to ten kg of fruit from each tree, there will be plenty of fruit to eat in our country.

The proposed program will be a cost-effective one which only needs a proper directive from the proper authorities. The teachers may also formulate some sort of mechanism to follow up on the program. For example, teachers may allocate a mark for the students practising proposed agriculture in their homesteads or an assignment may be given, or any other suitable mechanisms may be formulated by the teachers. Initially, students receiving scholarships from the government will be advised to follow the innovation and then other students will be employed in the same programme.

The program would enable most households in rural and urban areas to cultivate and reap the benefits of growing their own food, especially vegetables and fruits. This would not only have a direct monetary impact on the end-user but also have a positive environmental and social impact on the community. In the present Coronavirus crisis, the importance of boosting immunity by consuming contamination-free fresh fruits and vegetables is even more important than before. Any excess produce can always be sold at the market further providing contamination-free food to other people in the community. For the individual student, this program additionally provides a positive outlet for their energy and focus, dissuading time wastage on less fruitful pursuits. For very little cost, the stakeholders will achieve a fresh, healthy, and contamination-free balanced diet for themselves. Moreover, the plants would provide environmental protection from the adverse effect of climate change.

When we consider where the actual plantation could be achieved, besides homestead, Khas lands, roadsides, railway side, char lands, embankments, etc. can also all be utilized by the students to plant trees and different varieties of vegetables. Students from urban areas and city dwellers could make use of vacant lands near their homes and most importantly they can also use the rooftop of their houses as a secure planting location. Balconies in homes offer the ideal location to plant vine or creeper types of plants like korola, cucumber, and other vegetables. The idea here is to remove any excuse (especially monetary) which would dissuade an uptake of the program. This should be cheap, easy, and rewarding to be successful. The institutes supporting the program may also offer up any of their own vacant lands to cultivate seasonal vegetables and other crops under the guidance of the institute’s authorities.

In conclusion, I strongly hope and sincerely believe that if we can engage part of the millions of students every year to grow different types of leafy vegetables and fruit vegetables, horticulture fruits, rearing chicken, ducks as well as dairy, cultivate fish, grow forest plants etc in part of their homestead and surroundings, we will get an increased agriculture production in every corner of the country to help reduce the food shortage and overcome the hunger and famine if any in future.  The proposed program may also be implemented with the help of grassroots levels of local Govt and non-govt. authorities in collaboration with students.  The union council members may be encouraged to motivate every house in his/her area to follow the proposed innovative program and fulfil the desires of the Honourable Prime Minister of our country.

The writer is a retired Professor of Chittagong University and former Vice-Chancellor, Pabna University of Science and Technology.