An Ecovillage in Bangladesh

 
Kurt Rhyner   

We traveled for about four hours from Dhaka , the capital and mega city (8 Millions of inhabitants) to the east. The main river of the country, which is up to five kilometers wide, we crossed by ferry, which was filled with many buses, trucks and people.

When we arrived at the “Ecovillage” we could feel the tranquility and the fresh air that we had missed after having travelled through this loud and contaminated country. At the modest hostel without electricity and run by pleasant people in an environment surrounded by forest and ponds for fish, a group of young people, wearing colorful clothes, moved from the dining room to the meeting area where they were receiving a course on empowerment.

Pavel, who is the secretary at the DUS Bangladesh, the NGO that promotes this kind of village, explained that since a couple of years the center is auto financed through renting the facilities to other NGOs for their courses, and also through the sale of the plants from the nursery. The forest is almost a hectare filled with many different kinds of trees, mostly for natural medicine, but also fruit and timber yielding trees. During a walk through the village inhabitated by 1200 people,, Pavel can't stop explaining the advantages of every tree and bush we see. It seems like I have never seen as many species in one single forest, and I don't know if its due to my general ignorance, but they assured me that it really is a broad variety which is cultivated here.

The Ecovillage concept was developed in Australia, and that is where Mondal Hakim, the founder of DUS did his postgraduate studies on management and design for an ecological wayof living. Back in Bangladesh he transformed his own village into this project toorganize a sustainable way of life in the three dimensions, ecology, economy and social. It is clear that the 307 families that live in the village generally enjoy a better life than in othervillages in Bangladesh, which according to official sources is one of the five poorest countries in the world. The majority of the families have started to use modern sustainable management to manage their own fields, such as crop rotation and variety of plants, instead of monocultures. The courses for social understanding and techniques seem to have a good impact.

When we visited the Micro Concrete Tile production workshop, which was started three years ago by EcoSouth consultant Marcelino Castro, we encountered a group of children on their way to the mosque, where they attend school. The workshop is working well, although it doesn't have a big enough market to work the entire year. But the workers (one of them is Hakim's brother) are really grateful for the opportunity of earning some extra money. Next week they will head to the north of the country to produce 8500 tiles for an architect.

At this moment the Village nursery has tens of thousands of Neem tree plants, the tree which was named the “tree for the new millennium” by the United Nations. Hakim is also president of the Neem association, as well as a commercial company which produces multitudes of Neem based products-. They offer anything from soap, body lotions and medicines to insecticides. A couple of days later, when visiting a supermarket, we came across the Neem beauty line on a center shelf at the entrance.

It takes five to six years for the Neem tree to produce the first harvest of fruits and leafs, which are the base product, and after eight years there will be a regular harvest. The Ecovillage has received the rights to reforest an abandoned train track of 76 km length, a program that will give work and income to peasant families living along that route, while, at the same, it increases the availability of prime material for this ecological production.

Hakim gets enthusiastic when he talks and plans of a trip to the tea plantation, where they have used Neem based herbicides instead of chemical ones. He wants to convince the landowners to plant Neem and other trees that are good for natural medicine. His goal is to break the monoculture, that make it difficult to fight plagues. The next point would be to convince them to start producing Micro Concrete Tiles so they can offer their workers better housing. At the moment their houses are made from zinc, which is almost unbearable because of the great heat that exists during most of the year. The president of the “Tea Board”, the state organization that coordinates the activities for this important export product, is convinced of the idea.

You are here: Home Past editions Edition #3, April 2004 An Ecovillage in Bangladesh

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Orlando Espinosa
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Equipment development, MCR workshop installation, operative project implementation

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