POKA: Promoting organic vegetable production ecosystem
"Poka" is a Bangla word for insects. It is also the name of a social enterprise initiative taken by three young entrepreneurs. The lead entrepreneur, Md Mehedi Hasan, explained the reason behind choosing the name.
"We belong to a bohemian group of youth and the society perceive us as a burden since people think we can never benefit the society and compare us with insects," he said. There are insects, however, that are friendly for the environment and this project is an example of making positive change in the community through the idea of creating a platform for growing and selling organic vegetables, to help establish an ecosystem for supporting organic vegetable production.
As a social enterprise, "Poka" aims to mitigate health hazards caused by consumption of vegetables cultivated using chemical pesticide. It also intends to decrease environmental vulnerability created by using such chemicals. Another objective was to create access to the market for marginalised farmers who are deprived of their rightful profit. To achieve the target, the group plans to arrange trainings for farmers on how to grow organic vegetables as many farmers lack sufficient knowledge about organic farming. They are trying to engage government institutes who work for agricultural development. They have initially completed training for young people who will be cascading the lessons to the farmers.
According to plan, they will liaise with chain shops, hotels and hospitals who will buy the organic vegetables grown by the farmers trained from Poka. A marketplace will develop where farmers will be able to sell their products at a fair price. Poka will re-invest a certain portion of profit generated to expand the network of farmers and buyers. Simultaneously, they will be able to protect the community from health hazards and water, soil and air pollution.
Md Mehedi Hasan, Arfanul Haque and Kazi Mohammed Hasibul Haque participated in a social enterprise competition called "Innovate, Incubate & Grow" (IIG) organised by the British Council. The experience enhanced their confidence and knowledge to start their own. This is reflected in Hasibul's word as he said, "Our dreams were in bits and pieces but suddenly we solved a jigsaw puzzle and gave it a shape when we stepped on the platform of the IIG programme." It indeed enhanced the social and environmental problem-solving skills of these young entrepreneurs through sustainable business model.
Though Poka initially started work with great enthusiasm, they had to slow down after the ground work. They faced challenge regarding time and fund management. They are holding talks with local organisations to market their products, and the rate of progress has been encouraging. Their community in Jhenaidah, which had initially written them off, now regard them as innovative light bearers for the development of organic farming, and regularly seek advice from them.
Another reason for choosing the name "Poka" was using environment-friendly insects instead of chemicals while farming. Their plan of implementing project of vermicomposting indicates they have done proper justice to this name. As some insects are friends of the environment, these youth are working to make positive changes in the society. Now the people's perception has changed seeing how efficiently they are trying to utilise assets around them.