A few hours’ drive from the hustle and bustle of Karachi takes you to a soothing lush green mango farm between Matiari and Sekhat. Back in 1968 Afzal Jehan Begum, a passionate nature-lover, started planting this orchard. Today, not only are her children and grandchildren reaping the fruits of her love for the fruit trees, but they are also sharing it with others.
“Gardening was not just a hobby for her. It was her life,” recalls Nimrah Karim, Afzal Jehan’s granddaughter. “She nurtured and cared for her plants the way a mother cares for her child. She understood the needs of her plants and always tended to them with love. Peculiarly, she would attribute human emotions to her green friends. For instance, if there was a water shortage – and there were plenty – she’d sadly look at her morose-looking hibiscus and say, ‘He’s mad at me as I didn’t water him today!’”
Nimrah says, “It was due to her passion, farsightedness and entrepreneurial drive that she bought a modest amount of land in Matiari, Sindh, and planted an assortment of fruit trees including mango, banana, chickoo, jamun, falsa and pears to name a few. She planted many of the saplings with her own hands and worked tirelessly in the scorching heat. In spite of physical exhaustion her spirit would remain elated as she would marvel at the sight of her infant trees transitioning into tall, strong adults.”
“Long before the advent of ‘horticultural therapy’, she recognised that planting trees renews and rejuvenates us and reconnects us to nature and our own roots. She also knew that even after she would be long gone from this ephemeral world, she could still serve humanity by leaving behind perpetual charity in the form of fruit trees.”
Besides dabbling in the seasonal entrepreneurial venture of Afzal Mangoes, Nimrah is a consultant for the development sector by profession. After learning about the beautiful story of her grandmother’s love for this orchard, I have more questions for Nimrah. Some are based on the contribution that this farm is making to environmental sustainability and their role as a food source for the city. Some questions are related to her entrepreneurial learning as someone who manages the Afzal Farm operations and social media.
So I ask her how she thinks Afzal Farm plays a role in a sustainable future for the city.
“When our grandmother established a fruit orchard 50 years ago, her vision was to create an ecosystem that would benefit all stakeholders: the farmers, the owners and society at large. Today Afzal Fruit Farm provides a decent livelihood to dozens of farmers based on the principle of providing a living wage as opposed to a minimum wage,” responds Nimrah. “My grandmother’s passion for the wellbeing of our farmers is the reason why most of our farmers have been associated with us for three generations. The driving philosophy at Afzal Fruit Farm has been that the farmers are equal stakeholders in the success of the enterprise and hence are entitled to sharing the rewards from the produce. It is for this reason that we have followed a variable incentive model to ensure that the fruits of success are widely dispersed amongst the people who deserve them the most,” Nimrah further adds.
I am further told that the community around the farm is also supported by fundraising to provide them with opportunities to start other small business. Women are enriched with vocational training and equipped with necessary resources while men and youth are empowered with IT training. There is continued support available for the installation of private toilets, upgrading mosques and providing basic health care.
I ask Nimrah about her childhood memories from the farm and what role it may have played in making her who she is today.
“Trips to the farm were an opportunity to escape from the congestion of the city. My earliest memory is from age 3 or 4, splashing about in the tube-well on a hot summer’s day,” recalls Nimrah, “As I grew older, I began to notice how my grandmother quite clearly ran the show – whether it was leading the end-to-end agricultural activities, guiding farmers in a language that wasn’t native to her, or doing speedy hisaab (accounting) on the tip of her tongue without the aid of any calculator. She was extremely active in uplifting the community, involved in multiple causes in Hyderabad, and I vividly recall her training the farmer’s wives on developing marketable skill sets, such as stitching patchwork quilts (rallis). Perhaps it was these childhood experiences that set me on the path of my eventual career in development focused on financial inclusion, gender and entrepreneurship.”
I ask her what effect farming had on her family.
‘’My grandparents have four sons and four daughters. Each is equally fond of the variety of fruits that are grown on the farm – mangoes, chikoo, jamun and falsa among others. Watching my mom, aunts and uncles peel and pop “boot” at lightning speed is always a sight to behold!” says Nimrah. “We aren’t afraid to get messy during our mango eating sessions, and when mango season didn’t coincide with Ramzan up to a few years ago, that fruit was our staple meal for practically breakfast, lunch and dinner. For our family, mango season was holiday season. These are always the best bonding moments, and my grandparents – who passed away in 2012 and 2014 – seem to be very much present in spirit when everyone gets together for these moments,” Nimrah further adds. “My grandparents were very regular at gifting the best of their fruits to their close family, friends and associates. This trend is still going strong, and our generation has learned how the gifting of fresh fruits definitely does make hearts grow fonder!”
She continues, describing how it is for the young ones: “Our children simply love a trip to the farm. We never have to arrange activities for them there. They enjoy being one with nature and play by their own rules,” replies Nimrah. “Their activities range from climbing trees, collecting fruit off the ground, practicing Sindhi words with the locals, swimming in the ‘thanda’ (cold) tube-well, dipping their feet in the canals, muddying themselves, eating local food and indulging in Matiari’s famous pistachio ice cream.”
Afzal Mangoes grows around six varieties of premium mangoes which includes Sindhri, Chaunsa, Ratol, Langrah, Siroli and Desi besides other fruits. These carbide-free mangoes are handpicked and packed with love in custom-made 5 kg boxes to be delivered to the doorstep – making sure that sweet homegrown premium mangoes are available for local consumers too.
“The key lesson for us in managing the farm is that relations between the farmers and the community cannot be sustained for generations unless the rapport is built on strong communication, compassion and justice. We are all learning as we go, and while there may be many others in Pakistan who are selling premium, boxed mangoes just like us, we don’t view them as competition. We are very clear about this: the more mangoes, the merrier!” concludes Nimrah.
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk