Hidden between a jungle of high-rise apartment buildings at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Lyari Expressway in Karachi is a two-acre farm surrounding the pleasantly simple house of Karachi’s oldest and the first organic farmer, Mr. Mahmood Futehally and his lovely wife Mrs. Fatima Futehally.
I still remember the first time when I discovered this delightfully secret garden back in 2010 when a group of urban farmers decided to meet at the Sohana Research Farm to bring the 12-year-old Greener Karachi Trust back to live.
When the car entered a very narrow road between the two apartment buildings, I had felt we might be going the wrong way. But to my surprise, that road led to a bricked boundary wall and a white metal gate. I could see huge trees growing inside and a little handmade fenced area outside the gate that protected chickens.
Very few people know that Mahmood Uncle has set up hundreds of windmills across the country
A barefoot farm worker hurriedly opened the gate. As we entered, I saw the graceful 95-year old Mr. Futehally standing there to welcome us. He had the most loving smile on his face and the most polite of Salaams. Soon Fatima Aunty, dressed up in her beautiful yet simple cotton sari, joined the meeting.
Since that day, I became close to Mahmood Uncle and Fatima Aunty and learned their inspirational story, some of which I feel everyone should know about.
From agricultural land to an urban farm
More than 60 years back when Mahmood Uncle established this farm it was not only much bigger but also had an abundance of water available from the gushing Lyari River. Today water shortage has made things difficult to grow at the farm. Most of the trees that he planted are now at in their prime – some have even lived their full life. The house remained the same while the area of the farm reduced to just 2 acres as Mahmood Uncle had to let go of some of the area of the farm. On those parts, apartment buildings are standing tall today.
During a most modest lunch at the farm, Fatima Aunty told us that there used to be a German farmer who bought the land beside their farm and they had been on very good terms with each other – often sharing their produce.
A most innovative agricultural scientist
Mahmood uncle is probably the most inspirational person that I have ever met. He believes in – and fully practices – working on the farm without using any machines! He invented various manual tools to assist farmers. For example, he made a ‘gudai machine’ to help farmers tilt the earth quickly without bending.
He wishes to see everyone growing their own food and for this reason he offers his products, ideas and help to anyone who is interested.
In one of his presentations, he had once said, “Since our ultimate target is to find ways and means to enable farmers to produce organically grown food with optimum efficiency, at the same time promoting environmental and human health and welfare, we have been able to develop a number of ways and means to improve efficiency in organic food production. There is no copy right on such items.”
The Windmill Maker
The most striking feature of Sohana Research Farm is the huge windmill – which is as big as the apartment building next to it. Very few people know that Mahmood Uncle has set up hundreds of windmills across the country. But it was not easy for him to find the right people to work with initially.
“I could not find any experienced engineer in Karachi who could design the tower and other parts which were required to complete the windmill. Ultimately, a Baloch member of our staff, Wali Muhammad, who was a diesel engine driver and farmer, volunteered to do the needful. He was only about twenty years old, and quite illiterate, but he was a born mechanic.” recalls Mahmood Uncle. “Finally, on an evening in March 1961, it was all done. I clearly remember: I was down in the well carrying out some final touches. It had become quiet dark inside. Suddenly a gust of wind arose. The windmill rotor started to turn, and after a minute or so, cool drops of water pattered down on me from the pipes above. As long as I live, I shall remember that moment. This was the first windmill installation after Independence in 1947!” remembers Mahmood uncle.
Ever since, he has installed more than 200 windmills in Sindh and more than 125 in Balochistan.
Besides the super-effective tools, Mahmood Uncle has also introduced the idea of a biogas plant in Pakistan. His farm has a functional biogas plant. The gas produced there is used in his kitchen regularly to cook.
These days he is promoting the use of grow boxes that he has developed and tested at his farm.
Mahmood Uncle is the first urban forest grower of Karachi. He is a big fan of the Ipil-Ipil tree. He grows it for its nitrogen-fixing abilities and then uses his home made composter to turn it into the nitrogen-rich fertiliser that he sells.
This tree is also fast-growing and for that reason, Mahmood Uncle feels that it is a perfect option for mass plantation. Over the decades, he used his resources to bring institutes onboard to give him their acres of land so as to grow the fast-growing trees using windmills to support irrigation.
The Greener Karachi Trust and its D.I.Y. approach
It was Mahmood Uncle who first started putting out trees in large cement containers on the road, a few decades back. The idea was picked up by the city government later and is now a common practice. At one point, I was elected as the Vice President of the Greener Karachi Trust. During that period, I spent more time with him and learned a great deal from him.
Mahmood Uncle believes in the do-it-yourself approach. He goes out to clean roads, to mend pot holes, to plant trees to eradicate mosquitoes or to promote the idea of growing your own food.
His days are planned productively while his lifestyle is hassle-free and simple.He seems to be the only person that I know who is hopeful about the future of this country!
Mahmood Uncle, who turns 103 this July, still says, “Hum aisa kia kerain jis say do saal me yeh mulk badal jae?” (What can we do to change the country within two years?)
Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to Zahra@cropsinpots.pk
Nice to know about Mehmood sahab. Great couple, great work. Real dedication. May Allah’s blessings be on them and their farm. Amin. Thnx Zehra Ali for lovly article.
I remember visiting the farm back in the sixties with my brother and sister, when their daughter Tayaba invited us. What fun we all had! It was beautifully green and cool, had a great variety of flora and fauna.
I’m so glad to see all the conservation going on. Bless!
aunt & uncle u both are a good inspiration for todays younger generation ..We feel so proud 2 b ur children & do prayer that v 2 culminate some of ur good qualities in us ….
May Allah bless ull with loads of happiness .Ameen
grateful to u Zahra Ali for such motivational article
He is the KINDNESS PLUS of Nature.
Met him a few times