Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


The khalis food movement


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Last week I received an intriguing text from Lahore – an invitation to attend a “Khalis Food Market” to be held on a ground located on MM Alam Road. The last farmer’s market I went to was years ago in England and I remember spending a fun afternoon sampling organic honey, cheeses and various kinds of olive oil. I decided I had to check it out and I was not to be disappointed. The Green’s Hall ground was covered with a huge tent lit up by fairy lights and inside were stalls displaying all kinds of organic food items – from cherry tomatoes to chilghozas to desi ghee to ostrich eggs! Families were sitting on tables sampling fresh fruit and vegetable juices and freshly cooked kebabs from various restaurants that had also set up stalls. It was an organic food enthusiast’s fantasy turned into reality – I could not believe all this was actually happening in Lahore!

Call me paranoid, but I just can’t eat a fresh salad in Lahore unless I know where it has been grown. The truth is that we continue to dump our waste water, which includes pathogens from raw, untreated sewage and hard chemicals from industrial effluents, into our canals, streams and storm drains with no regard to the consequences. Irrigation water in Pakistan just does not meet quality standards, which leads to the contamination of vegetables cultivated in certain areas, increasing the risk to human health.

Freshly cooked food at the market. -Photo by author.

To make matters worse, there are all the pesticides we use in our agriculture – about 5.6 million tonnes of fertilizer and 70 thousand tonnes of pesticides are consumed in the country every year. This is increasing annually at a rate of about 6 per cent. According to a WWF-Pakistan report, “There has been a four fold increase in the use of pesticides in the country since 1990”. And I don’t need to tell you about the increasing cancer rate in this country – we have in fact, one of the highest breast cancer rates in the world. Most veggies have high water content so they tend to soak up all the chemicals in the irrigation water. Given such high levels of contamination in the food we eat in this country what can one eat which is considered safe? Well, this explains the growth of an organic food movement in this country and the increasing demand for “khalis food”.

*Roshni* stall at the Khalis Food Market. -Photo by author.

The NGO Roshni has been making pure whole meal bread for a few years now in Lahore and they have a home delivery system in addition to supplying their bread to Pioneer store. They had the first stall at the “Khalis Food Market” and they were also displaying their organic onions and garlic that they grow on their farm near Lahore, plus some delicious baked goods. They also had various kinds of nuts grown in the northern part of the country (chilghozas, walnuts, almonds etc) on sale. “These are internationally certified organically grown nuts”, explained their representatives. As for the response their stall had attracted, “We are very pleased, this is a great idea and I hope the organisers continue with it”.

Next, I meet Veena Jawaid who was displaying desi ghee, garlic and organic rice and flour that she grows herself, on her land, in Lahore. “I grow this for my family, not on a commercial scale. If the organisers do this on a regular basis then I can sell my surplus here. This has provided great exposure for my organic products”.

Veena Jawaid. -Photo by author.

The organisers are Lahore based entrepreneurs Asma Shah and Rizwan Naeem and they came up with the idea to host this food market. “We did a lot of research before we organised this, but the response has just been overwhelming” explained a happy but tired looking Asma towards the close of the Khalis Food Market, which went on from 3pm to 9pm. “Even this morning we had people get in touch with us, saying we would like a stall to display our button and oyster mushrooms! Actually this was a first for all these organic farmers to get together and sell their produce in one place”.

“Our idea was to bridge the gap between the people growing products and the people looking for it”, explained Rizwan, who used to be banker. The Khalis Food Market attracted unusual vendors like cheese makers, suppliers of gluten free bread, those who gather medicinal herbs and producers of hormone free milk and ostrich meat! The company that produces ostrich meat, Ostruce, has an ostrich farm near Jhelum. They say that ostrich meat is high in protein and low in fat and good for your health. Their stall was also thronged by visitors – currently you can buy ostrich meat from Jalal Sons store in Lahore.

Ostrich stall at the food market.

Both Asma and Rizwan said they would like to organise the food market on a regular basis, given the positive response by the Lahore public. “We need to have healthier food options – a place where families can buy food that is not harmful”, explained Asma. “We tell people spend more now on healthier food then you won’t have to pay more later on medical bills!” Rizwan further added, “From September onwards, we would like to do this on a regular basis, but we do need the city government to help us find a place where people can come every week and set up their stalls for the public”. This time around, they did not want to involve the government so they organised the Khalis Food Market all by themselves without any sponsors (selling only the stalls) and say they have actually lost money.

They hope to have another Khalis Food Market in Islamabad at the end of May, however, before the hot summer sets in. They are already spreading the word through social media. They would like to make organic food trendy to attract the younger generation. The central message, however, is that organically grown vegetables (grown without pesticides and artificial fertilisers and in clean water) are good for your health. As Asma pointed out “You can even grow these organic vegetables in your kitchen garden or small earthenware pots”. Given the amount of toxins floating around in this country, believe me, it is well worth the effort to safeguard your family’s health! ——————————————————————————————— The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at ——————————————————————————————— The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues.

She can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

HM Apr 30, 2013 10:17pm

That a good initiative. Pakistan used to have best fruits in the world. We are saddened to see the poor quality of KINo which come here in Canada from Pakistan. No juice, no taste. If we don't do something we will loose markets. Some other countries are sending better citrus than us.

Ali Vazir May 03, 2013 02:23pm

Salam everybody I am overwhelmed to see my dream coming true. Hats off to Asma Shah and Rizwan Naeem and all those who participated in the event. May Almighty give you all the courage to continue working for the mutual benefit of the society. I may introduce to you people Mr. Mahmood Futehally who has been striving to promote organic food and organic farming in Karachi at the tender age of 95. His organization "Agrotool" has been instrumental in planting trees in the Lyari Displaced People's society and many other parts of the city. The gentleman has been awarded Citizens Award twice by a renowned NGO of Karachi. I earnestly hope we all Pakistanis can work together to bring some positive changes to the sorry state of affairs. Jazak Allah

Andy, Katy USA May 01, 2013 09:40pm
Who is going to check the pesticide level in the absence of any authority? Pakistan can not export mango to USA even if it is organic, because of high level of pesticide.
MAH, Abu Dhabi May 02, 2013 06:29am
i think this serves only as a first step .... to create awareness. However, I don't see myself spending big money on these as I can't seem to trust them. What would really be beneficial is awareness at grassroots level and wide scale changes. We don't want this to be like the elite tetra pack milk industry when the quality of fresh milk continues to decline. Or individuals having to spend more and more on generators when the basic electricity infrastructure continues to deteriorate!
MAVREK May 01, 2013 04:44pm
This "Khalis" or "organic" as it was intoruced in the west, is a marketing clich
Pakistani May 01, 2013 07:41pm
great article.Organic foods is the best way to escape from of different descases which we face in later part of life. East healthy, live healthy. G-d bless you for highlighting such important information which affects directly to our lives.
Imran May 02, 2013 04:00am
Hi,May be for pakistan this look gimick to lots of you guys but this is the future, here in west too if you visit any supermarket you will find special counters selling expensive organic veges,eggs,Juices,bread and every thing consumable... If i am in Pakistan i would buy from organic outlets to be on safe side...Good luck
Xulf May 02, 2013 03:06am
The wheel does not have to be reinvented..In the rush of following the consumerism of West we have foregone our own values of simple living and earthy food. We can still save it but we will have to go to our villages and reinvigorate those values which has served us over the centuries. It has to be in our schools colleges curriculum etc.
Nero May 01, 2013 08:15pm
You can't! Keep eating high chemical intensity food.
Asad Aamir Apr 30, 2013 08:10pm
This is a brilliant effort!
Ali Malik Apr 30, 2013 04:46pm
The problem doesn't end just by purchasing organic food. First of all, you have to trust the vendor, that the products are actually organic. And then where and how yuo cook it makes a differecne. organic ingredients using contaminated Pakistani water will contaminate the entire meal. However, this is a good scheme to get rich folks feel they're much above the average Pakistani in Pakistan.
Imran Jiwani Apr 30, 2013 07:52pm
Wish they have something like this in Karachi. I would strongly urge my family to buy from there. In UK, organic food is a big market. Many people now only eat organic food and their number is rising.
Pro Bono Publico Apr 30, 2013 07:25pm
Organic? How do those who claim to grow organic ensure that the natural pollinating agents like bees are not bringing stuff from non-organic sources?
Parvez May 01, 2013 09:55am
I am not fully convinced with this ' Organic ' label thingee appears to be a slick marketing gimmick and until more is known I'm not buying it.
SAWK75 May 01, 2013 11:13am
Although I agree with the idea but would still stay away from it unless I grow it in my own backyard. In a country where every business is run on the principles of cheating and lying, this will be yet another way for them to sell old wine in new bottles... pay for the same vagetables at a higher rate just because they will say it is KHALIS.
Rehan Apr 30, 2013 05:51pm
Thank you for this informative article.
mohammad ayaz May 01, 2013 07:23am
should be some government or private organisations work on the idea in pakistan.appreciation for the writer.
mohammad ayaz May 01, 2013 07:14am
how can this khalis food idea be promoted throug out the country quistion mark
Asif May 01, 2013 05:39am
Great to see a movement in Pakistan to return to nature. However, judging from the pictures, the event was clearly elitist, catering to the Pakistani 1% (maybe 5%).
Ali Apr 30, 2013 02:04pm
Its the same in USA. Full of contamination.
ali ahmed Apr 30, 2013 02:40pm
atleast some body has given us hope about organic pakistan everything has become inorganic ..from politician to judiciary with no hope .