Rina Saeed Khan writing for the Friday Times, Lahore
Roshni’s German-style bread is growing in popularity in Lahore
As the demand for pesticide-free fruits and vegetables has spiked in Pakistan over the last few years, organic farmers have seen a boom in interest. In organic farming, vegetables and fruit (and wheat, rice etc.) are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals. Organic farmers rely instead on crop rotation, integrated pest management, crop residues and animal manure to maintain soil productivity and to control pests and weeds. The stated aim of organic farming is to “sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings.”
Organic farming relies on the earth’s natural resources to grow and process food. It is not a new concept – before the use of agro-chemicals became popular, this is how our forefathers grew their own food!
With this humble beginning we want to highlight the idea of organic farming and environment friendly lifestyle and make organic products available to you,” said the notice inside the newly opened Roshni Organic Shop opposite Shapes Gym in Lahore’s Gulberg area. For years now, Lahoris have been feasting on Roshni bread, the delicious and healthy wholegrain bread, made by the Roshni Organic Bakery. The various kinds of Roshni bread (linseed, rye flake, plain, toast) are sold in different outlets throughout Lahore and are made from natural ingredients grown by organic farmers. The small and simply decorated Roshni shop now offers these breads along with other bakery items like quiches, cupcakes and pastries. The shop also offers other organic food items like fresh vegetables, dry fruit, herbal teas, natural oils, sugar, rice and cereals. It is a treat for all those who are concerned about their health and the environment.
Organic farming relies on the earth’s natural resources to grow and process food. It is not a new concept – before the use of agro-chemicals became popular, this is how our forefathers grew their own food! The “Green Revolution” of the 1960s and 70s, when high yield varieties of certain crops like wheat and rice were introduced in developing countries, certainly led to increased food production. However, new varieties required the intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides, and while they led to a dramatic increase in agricultural production, their drawbacks are now being exposed. There is no doubt today that the use of high yield varieties has caused profound threats to the environment, biodiversity and human health. Experts looking into pesticide use in Pakistan are searching for a link between their use and the increased spread of diseases like diabetes, heart problems and cancer.
Samiya Mumtaz of Daali Earth Foods (who used to write a column for TFT) has been growing organic wheat and cereals for several years now. Her products, including brown rice, whole wheat flour, porridge, mustard oil and whole fruit jams and marmalades are all available at Roshni’s new shop. Her organic wild bee honey, which is particularly popular, tastes delicious and contains non-allergenic properties and essential vitamins and minerals. It is a great tonic to have first thing in the morning! The shop also stocks organic rice, dried apricots, apricot oil, shelled walnuts and brown sugar imported from Hunza, in Pakistan’s Northern Areas. The company that supplies these food products is Hunza Organics, run by Zahid Durrani in Lahore, and it has been certified by the Control Union in the Netherlands.
My friend Christine Dawood’s herbal teas and organic vegetables are also being stocked under her label of Imhotep. She grows her products in her herbal garden in Lahore’s Cantonment area. I particularly recommend the lemon balm tea, which gets rid of bloating immediately and has antibacterial properties. I also like her mixed green salad boxes, which are so much in demand that they are sold out as soon as they arrive at the stores in Lahore.
The Roshni Organic Bakery makes not only whole meal breads, but pastries as well. They are all made by members of the Roshni Association for the Welfare of Special Persons. This NGO was set up by Shahida Parveen Hannesen and her German husband, Hamid Helmut Hannesen. “I met my wife in Germany, where she had come for her education training from Lahore. I supported her idea of setting up a social welfare organisation in Pakistan and we came back to Lahore together,” explains Hamid Hannesen, who has since converted to Islam.
In March 2001, Shahida and her husband, along with teachers Lars Jamke and Graham Simpson, moved from Germany to Lahore to build a community for adults with special needs. They started with a daycare centre, opened on September 3 2001, just a week before 9/11. The terror attacks did not deter their project and, despite warnings from the German Embassy and worried phone calls from their families in Europe, the group decided to remain in Lahore. They have now set up a Roshni village, which houses 40 developmentally challenged residents. The Roshni Association offers vocational training and a handful of village residents are currently working in Roshni’s organic bakery, where they are involved in all stages of the production process, including milling grain into flour, preparing dough, baking bread and the final packaging. According to the Roshni brochure, “Having a meaningful occupation makes them feel an important part of society. This boosts their confidence and enhances their abilities to live more independently.”
Guaranteed free of preservatives and artificial additives, Roshni breads are baked according to traditional German recipes. These recipes were entrusted to Roshni by Mr. Moeller, a master baker from Germany. He also trained the staff to ensure constant quality. Whole meal flour contains all parts of the grain and is therefore much richer in vitamins and fibre than usual white flour. The breads are considered to be beneficial for the digestive and immune system and good for diabetics. It is also very tasty!
Roshni’s ingredients are provided by carefully selected farmers living in rain-fed areas, whose farming practices excludes the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers. The concept of organic farming is not new to Pakistan – in fact, the Northern Areas and rain-fed and Rod Kohi (spate irrigated) regions of Pakistan all traditionally grow organic agricultural products. Now the idea of organic farming is catching on with the modern farmers of the Punjab and NWFP. “Some people are now offering to grow organic wheat and cereals for us. Roshni is becoming well known, so farmers are approaching us,” says Hamid Hannesen.
The Hannesens’ shop, however, is only an outlet for their products; they are not interested in setting up a chain of organic stores. “We are social workers after all,” says Hamid Hannesen. “We opened the shop to take care of our products.” What they would like, however, is to spark a movement towards more natural living in Pakistan. After all, one of their objectives is to “work with nature for nature to ensure a pollution free environment.”