Category Archives: Food security

Natural farming is the future: Professor Devinder Sharma

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Andhra Pradesh shows the way.

Sharma writes:

The evidence is all there. With soil fertility declining; excessive mining of groundwater sucking aquifers dry; and chemical inputs, including pesticides, becoming extremely pervasive in environment, the entire food chain has been contaminated.

As soils become sick, and erosion takes a heavy toll leading to more desertification, crop productivity is stagnating thereby resulting in more chemicals being pumped to produce the same harvest. A former Director General of Indian Council for Agricultural Research had rightly said: “In 1980s, farmers used to produce 50Kg of wheat by using 1 kg of fertilisers. Now farmers are producing only 8 Kg by using 1 kg of fertiliser”.

The warning of an ‘Ecological Armageddon’

As farmlands become more toxic, and with modern agriculture becoming a major contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions leading to climate aberrations, a startling study has gone unnoticed. A study by the University of Sussex finds that three quarters of flying insects in a nature reserve in Germany have vanished in past 25 years. While the alarming decline in population of honeybees had raised international concerns, that 75% of the insect population has disappeared -even inside a nature reserve – raises the warning of an ‘ecological Armageddon’.

This is happening at a time when not only in Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh in India, the dreaded bollworm pests on cotton have become resistant to genetically modified cotton in America too. From Carolina to Texas, bollworm insects have renewed their attack on cotton.

The Green Revolution has already run out of steam, leaving behind a trail of misery, the catastrophic consequences manifest in the form of farm suicides. With input costs growing, and farmgate prices remaining almost stagnant, if not declining, farmer’s income is swiftly on the downward slide.

In America, hundreds of dairy farms have closed down in the past 4 years. In Europe, many farms would be unprofitable if European subsidies were to be removed. In France, farmers’ mutual insurance association (MSA) believes that in 2016 “a majority of farmers earned less than Euro 350 a month”.

In India, the government’s own Economic Survey 2016 records that the average income of a farming family in 17 states, which means nearly half the country, has been computed at a paltry Rs 20,000 a year. Another study by Niti Aayog tells that real farm incomes have remained virtually stagnated in the five year period, 2011 to 2016.

And yet more of the same is being pushed as the solution

Despite all the laudable objectives, the world is almost at a tripping point as the International Panel on Climate Change had warned us a few years ago.  ‘Business as usual’ is not the right way forward, we are repeatedly told. But despite warning, there is no policy change that actually keeps environment protection as a non-negotiable.

Even the report of the International Assessment for Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which was ratified during an intergovernmental plenary in Johannesburg, April 7-12, 2008, and had called for a shift towards sustainable agriculture has been lying in limbo ever since.

The more the world tries to change, the more things remain the same. Every disaster is an opportunity. But it invariably ends up as an opportunity for business.

Business leaders from 17 private companies had announced at the 2009 World Economic Forum the launch of a global initiative — New Vision for Agriculture — that sets ambitious targets for increasing food production by 20 percent, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions per ton by 20 percent, and reducing rural poverty by 20 percent every decade.

See video here

The 17 agribusiness giants include Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge Limited, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro AG, Monsanto Company, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart, and Yara International.

The rhetoric has been the same and the solutions have remained the same too: more aggressive push for industrial agriculture. Just to illustrate, to ensure that the world does not witness a repeat of the 2008 food crisis — when 37 countries faced food riots — the international community has been swift in proposing a roadmap (not one, but a plethora of similar privates-sector driven blueprints).

In these difficult times, it is heartening to see the Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledging the ecological crisis the world faces.

Addressing the National Congress of the Communist Party in Beijing last October, he acknowledged that “Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us… this is a reality we have to face,” and then went to specify in more detail his plans to “step up efforts to establish a legal and policy framework … that facilitates green, low-carbon, and circular development,” to “promote afforestation,” “strengthen wetland conservation and restoration” and “take tough steps to stop and punish all activities that damage the environment.” He has called for 21st century to be the beginning of an ‘ecological civilisation’.

Back home, as we get half way through 2018, the script for an ecologically sustainable agriculture, which brings back the smile on the face of farmers, without leaving any scar on the environment, is being rewritten.

Andhra Pradesh has launched a massive programme to promote natural farming.

This programme, Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, aims to bring 5 lakh farmers in all the 13 districts during the period 2017-2022 to adopt natural farming practices (read more here and on their Facebook page). I recently visited a number of villages in Kurnool district to meet some farmers who have moved away from chemical agriculture to natural farming practices.

I was amazed to learn that yields are increasing across all crops

In groundnut, yields have gone up by 35 per cent; Cotton productivity has increased by 11 per cent; Chilli by 34 per cent; brinjal by 69 per cent; and paddy by 10 to 12 per cent. So far, 1.63 lakh farmers have switched to natural farming. If crop productivity can increase without using chemical fertiliser and pesticides; if the net income in the hands of farmers goes up considerably; and if natural farming ushers in a climate resilient agriculture,

I see no reason why other states cannot emulate the pioneering efforts being made by Andhra Pradesh. #

 

Posted 3 hours ago by Devinder Sharma

 

 

 

 

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Farmers are being denied their rightful income

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Devinder Sharma writes:

For the past two years we have seen news reports and videos of distraught farmers throwing tomato, potato and onions on to the streets.  Farmers are unable to recover even the harvesting and transportation cost in most cases –  a well-established fact.

One example:

Farmers in Erode district in Tamil Nadu are a worried lot. The retail price of cabbage has crashed. Against a price of Rs 12/kg last year, farmers are getting on an average Re 1 per kg. In Chhattisgarh too, tomato prices have crashed leaving farmers in the lurch. Not fetching more than Rs 1 to 2 per kg, farmers have simply abandoned the tomato harvest. The deplorable price they are getting in the market is not even enough to meet the plucking and harvesting cost.

This is primarily because of higher production which enables the middlemen to form cartels and manipulate the prices often to the extent of exploitation.

This is the third year in a row when prices of almost all the agricultural commodities have crashed across the country. While the increase in production has brought cheers to the government, the drop-in prices has added to the misery of farmers.

Enhancing farm incomes has never been on the top of the economic agenda. Even when it comes to Minimum Support Price, the fact remains that only 6% farmers are able to sell at MSP. The remaining 94% farmers are dependent on the exploitative markets.

After 70 years of Independence, the average income of a farm family in 17 States, roughly half the country, is Rs 20,000 a year as the Economic survey 2016 has shown, the primary cause of the agrarian distress that prevails is before us. The 2016 NCRB data for farmer suicides has made this abundantly clear.

Sharma focuses on the reasons for high levels of farmer suicides: “There are of course a number of reasons that have been cited time and again but essentially everything boils down to the failure of the markets to assure a profitable income”.  

He writes that the latest set of farmer suicide statistics compiled by the National Crime Record Bureau is a clear-cut pointer to the fact that much of the agrarian distress is primarily because farmers are unable to realise a remunerative price for his produce.

The general understanding is that suicides are high in India because roughly 60% of the crop lands do not have assured irrigation facilities.

But in Punjab, which has 98% assured irrigation; the NCRB recorded 271 farm suicides in 2016, an increase of 112% over the 2015 suicide toll of 124. In neighbouring Haryana, which has 82% of the cultivable area provided with assured irrigation; the suicide rate has jumped by 54%, from 162 in 2015 to 250 in 2016.

Another reason openly cited and largely agreed by Ministry of Agriculture, Niti Ayog and even the agricultural universities is that farmers are dying because of low crop productivity.

Higher the crop productivity, higher is the net farm income goes the refrain. But Punjab has the highest crop productivity in the world among cereal crops – wheat, rice and maize – and yet there is hardly a day when I don’t find news report of two, three or four farmers committing suicide. Crop productivity is very high in Haryana, often at the 2nd level after Punjab, and yet it seems farm suicides are increasing.

 (Ed: As Ian Potter often reminds farmers, when exhorted to raise milk production, increased quantities on the market will actually be a factor leading to lower returns).

Policy planning is aimed at ensuring that food grain production registers an increase and it is the failure to assure a profitable income into the hands of farmers that has actually accentuated the agrarian crisis. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government announces for 23 agricultural commodities every year is worked out keeping the consumer prices in mind. More often not, the MSP is lower than the cost of production a farmer entails. No wonder, when farmers undertake cultivation, they don’t realise that they are actually cultivating losses.

Sharma proposes the setting up of State Agricultural Prices Commissions, with the mandates to provide a higher income to farmers, similar to that in Karnataka, which ensures procurement of 14 crops at prices that are much higher than the MSP announced by Central Government.

In his book, AGRICULTURE & RURAL DEVELOPMENT: KARNATAKA – 2020 (extracts available), Dr.Sangappa.V. Mamanshetty, who was born in Karnataka, writes “The main objectives of food management are:

  • procurement of food from farmers at remunerative prices,
  • distribution of food to consumers, particularly the vulnerable sections of society,
  • at affordable prices,
  • and maintenance of food buffers for food security and price stability”.

Sharma summarises: “I am in favour of bringing more areas under irrigation as well as increasing crop productivity. But this must be accompanied by enhanced net income”.  

Main sources: 

http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/a-call-for-making-minimum-support-price.html

http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/farmers-suicides-statistics-point.html

 

 

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Farming protest: government responds

Hyderabad’s Siasat Daily reports that tens of thousands of farmers joined the Long March from Nashik to Mumbai last week, organised by All-India Kisan Sabha. The main demands included:

  • debt abolition,
  • an adequate fixed minimum support price for their produce
  • the right to land ownership for the tribal cultivators as part of the 2006 Forest Rights Act.

Narendra Modi’s government agreed to resolve the farmers’ issues within six months and irrigation minister Girish Mahajan said that the government has agreed on 100% of demands, including transfer of land title.

However, in November farmers held huge nationwide strikes to demand agrarian reforms and despite government promises to address their issues, not much was done and tribal lands have been taken by the government for high speed rail and highways.

Devinder Sharma sees a pattern: “For the first four years after coming into power, all ruling parties simply ignore farmers, often creating economic conditions that force them to abandon agriculture and migrate to the cities”.

He stresses that an unprecedented spurt in rural anger has been seen in the past few years with recorded incidents of farm protests multiplying by a staggering 670%, from 628 in 2014 to a record high of 4,837 in 2016 and asks:

“Will the ensuing 2019 elections see a change? I am not sure. Unless of course the farmers realise that enough is enough . . . For 70 years, they have been taken for an easy ride by politicians of all colours, from all parties. They have been victims of the universal phenomenon of “elections and farmers”. A few carrots are invariably thrown at them as electoral bait. And they grab it just like the mice is unable to resist the cheese. They have never been seen as the mainstay of the economy in real terms. Farmers have only two roles – as a vote bank and as a land bank”.

Despite the undertaking given, Sharma adds: “I don’t think the political parties are unduly perturbed. They know that a few months before the elections, a series of sops can be dangled before the farmers and their vote bank will remain intact”.

As around 60–70%% of the Indian population (directly or indirectly) depends upon the agriculture sector according to Puneet Bansal, the director of forecasting and strategy at DRG Group, they could, if resolved, affect the outcome of national elections.

Sharma’s conclusion: “The day the farmers rise above caste, religion and political ideology and vote as farmers, the political landscape will change. The economic policies will also change the day farmers vote as farmers. Farmers will then be in the driving seat, becoming the pivot of economic growth and development. Till then, they must learn to live with the never ending agrarian distress. They must know that the survival battle they fight every day is actually their own doing”.

 

Read the whole article here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/if-bounties-are-being-showered-for.html, or in Hindi https://www.gaonconnection.com/samvad/in-election-season-farmer-is-just-a-vote-bank

Additional information: https://www.greenleft.org.au/content/india-after-huge-marches-government-agrees-farmer-demands

 

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Political action in the rural areas of India and Northern Ireland (UK)

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For many years international agencies have promoted a school of thought that says it is cheaper to import food than to grow it within the country, comments Devinder Sharma (below, right).

In December he told Rediff.com’s Syed Firdaus Ashraf:

“Rural Gujarat has voted against the influential ruling BJP. During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra D Modi had promised that if elected his government would give 50% profit over the cost of production as recommended by the (M S) Swaminathan committee and rural India voted conclusively for the BJP – but farmers are still waiting for the promise to be delivered”.

“The Reserve Bank of India’s governor used to say that the biggest reforms would be when farmers are moved out from the villages into the cities, because cities are need of cheaper labour. Cheaper labour is required for infrastructure, real estate and highways. In other words, agriculture is being sacrificed to keep economic reforms alive”.

Farmers need a fair price: cost of production plus

An article by Lancashire farmer, Kathleen Calvert, issued as a press release by local business, Dugdale Nutrition, stressed: 

“Maintaining viable dairy farms not only protects livelihoods of farming families and others directly involved, it also makes a major contribution to local economies and the future of businesses, jobs, and families in the locality”.

Ruth and Richard Burrows, Devonshire farmers, assembled suppliers representing 3000 others whose livelihoods depend on them and other farmers. A photograph was published (right, faded newsprint, The web of rural ruin, Richard Price, Daily Mail, 23.9.99) with notes giving the names and roles of the people pictured.  Mrs Burrows said: “They are living proof of the importance of the spending power of the farmer and how enormously important agriculture is in terms of the entire economic structure around here. The rural communities of Britain tick over on a system of mutual dependency of which the farm forms the hub. If it goes to the wall, dozens of ancillary trades in both town and countryside suffer”. Read more here.

Farmers organise politically in UK

As talks are under way at Stormont, William Taylor, speaks for Northern Ireland Farm Groups, which represents several food production sectors – now including the National Beef Association – and is concerned about the future of 25,000 SME family farmer businesses.

Northern Ireland Farm Groups’ meeting

A bill, written by Daniel Greenberg, a barrister who specialises in legislation and is Editor of OUP’s Statute Law Review, is to be taken forward.

It proposes that farmgate prices in NI return to farmers a minimum of the cost of production, plus a margin inflation linked, that would give 20,000+ new jobs and prosperity across the province in towns, cities and countryside alike.

Their proposals have been well-received by several parties and unions, and Claire Sugden from Coleraine, Independent (the Justice Minister in the former assembly) told the farm groups that ‘she was of a mind to take legislation on farm gate prices forward’.

Legislation on farmgate prices for Northern Ireland according to the Gosling Report, would return 10-20,000 jobs+, save Stormont £280million+ in welfare costs and bring prosperity back to Northern Ireland. 

In both countries, as Sharma comments, “What farmers need is income, a profit over the cost of production. To keep food inflation in control, successive government have denied farmers their rightful income”.

 

 

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Tribals Are Mankind’s Living Vault

CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira, would have been deeply interested in this account by Devinder Sharma, written after accepting an invitation to addressing thousands of tribal people at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Tribal Conclave:

This tribal region was earlier called “Bhooki”, a clearcut reflection of the extent of hunger that prevailed. I am told Acharya Vinoba Bhave had travelled through the region, and was instrumental in getting land transferred into the hands of quite a significant proportion the landless tribals.

I could see the transformation that has come about several decades later when I decided to visit some tribal families in Anandpuri block of Banswara district in southern Rajasthan. Along with the neighbouring districts of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, Banswara is part of a predominant tribal triangle in central India.

I wanted to meet small and marginal farmers of the region. My first visit was to meet Shankar, 55, in village Bodiya Talau, some 58 kms from Banswara. He owns 2.15 acres of land, has three cows, 2 bulls and 1 goat. All animals are the desi breed. The cows hardly give 500 grams of milk per day. When asked why is he keeping them, his reply was that the cows are not kept for milk but for manure. He cultivates maize, tur, paddy, tomato, wheat, chilli, turmeric and remarked:

“I grow everything at home, except for salt and sugar.”

He was satisfied with what he was doing after having transformed his almost barren land into a green patch. Has planted a number of trees, including cashew. Shankar is certainly more enterprising than his fellow tribals. I then met Chetan Pargi, aged 35, from Ummed Pura village. He is into rope weaving besides doing farming in 4 bigha land.

He said he was able to make a decent living, and his land provided enough for his family throughout the year. I didn’t believe him looking at his frail health.

But he insisted that his land gave him enough. But is that enough, enough? That’s the question. But their undying spirit of hospitality is what amazes me. At a time when the people in cities have turned selfish and are not willing to offer even a cup of tea to visitors, Chetan Pargi, despite his visible level of subsistence, wanted me to have food with him. When I politely declined, he said: “bare Saheb log kahan hamare jaise logo ke haath ka khana khate hain’ (Why would the sahebs like to eat with us). I had to tell him that as per the schedule, I was already eating with another farmer in the next village.

Meeting Mani Lal in the same village confirmed how severely undernourished these tribals are. Reverting to farming, I was impressed the way he was trying to get into composting, amrit pani and understood why he wanted to keep chemical pesticides away.

“Sir, yeh to jehar hai (Sir, this is simply a poison) he told me.

What comes as a shock is to know how some of them are being deprived of their ration quota just because they have not completed constructing toilets in their houses.

Among various things that I learnt from them, I found Mani Lal’s wife Babli Bai’s effort to preserve the seeds of cucumber and lemon by gluing them on the Sagwan leaves and hanging the dry leaves to be an interesting way to keep seeds.

There were several other traditional ways that farmers were adopting which I found it worth documenting, and learning from.

All this became possible when I accepted the invitation to addressing thousands of Tribals at Banswara in southern Rajasthan in a Janjati Krishi Swaraj Sammelan (Tribal Conclave). As I said earlier, these tribals came from the tribal belt in the triangle of a region formed between Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Organised by the Banswara-based NGO, Vaagdhara, I must acknowledge that it was an amazing experience to speak before such a large audience of tribals, something close to 7,000 and 8,000. They came dressed in all colours, and in all their glory.

In my talk I urged them not to let go of their farming techniques and practices. They alone hold the future as far saving sustainable farming practices are concerned.

The farming practices they preserve hold the key to save the world from climate change. I sought their cooperation in protecting their agriculture from getting polluted and environmentally devastated. Three things they must do:

  1. Stop using chemical pesticides.
  2. Phase out the application of chemical fertilisers.
  3. Conserve and protect desi cattle breeds/seeds.

They took a pledge to follow the directions.

It will certainly be a grave tragedy if the Government tries to introduce modern farming techniques in these villages, and thereby destroy the synergy that tribal agriculture preserves.

Linking nature, environment and religion, the tribals have preserved what is truly a sustainable farming system for centuries.

It is high time, a separate plan is prepared for the tribal regions, wherein the effort should be to not only conserve but also improve upon their traditional practices, ensuring that tribals are paid a premium for monumental role they have played in preserving and conserving the natural resources.

This is a small price the society needs to incur for what could be the saviour of the mankind’s future. With global warming already pushing the world to a tripping point, these tribal regions may turn out to be society’s last refuge. Like the Doomsday vault in the Arctic, where the effort is to preserve crop seeds for posterity, this is a Living Vault that mankind needs to protect for its own future. # 

 

Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

 

 

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The forgotten foods: 1,582 food species displayed at an Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village (Rayagada district, Orissa)

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Devinder Sharma draws attention to a report that fewer crop species are feeding the world than 50 years ago – raising concerns about the resilience of the global food system, as a study in the journal PNAS has shown.

The authors warned a loss of diversity meant more people were dependent on key crops, leaving them more exposed to harvest failures. Higher consumption of energy-dense crops could also contribute to a global rise in heart disease and diabetes, they added. “Over the past 50 years, we are seeing that diets around the world are changing and they are becoming more similar – what we call the ‘globalised diet’,” co-author Colin Khoury, a scientist from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said.” The diet is composed of big, major crops such as wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar. It also includes crops that were not important 50 years ago but have become very important now, particularly oil crops like soybean,” BBC News reported in Crop diversity decline ‘threatens food security’

Devinder writes:

Well, this report is among the several others which have highlighted the threat food security as well as nutrition security faces from the ‘globalised diet’.

We are all responsible directly or indirectly for this decline. If I were to ask you to count the foods that you eat I bet you will not be able to name more than a few. Wheat, rice, tomato, cucumber, apple, banana … and you begin to reel out the names you know. Not many can name even twenty. Try a little harder, and you will end up probably with another ten. If you are a little more aware, you might struggle with a few more names. That’s it.

That’s how narrow and limited our food sense has come down to. The more we are urbanized, the chances are the less we know about our foods and the rich food culture that prevailed in our country. The disconnect with the huge diversity of food over the ages has actually alienated the modern civilization from the virtues of the vast repository of biological wealth that existed. Modern living has snapped the symbiotic relationship that existed with nature.

Not many know that India is a mega-diversity region with over 51,000 plant species existing, but with hardly a handful being cultivated.

When Laxmi Pidikaka, a tribal woman from southern Odisha explained to me the importance and relevance of each of the 1,582 food species that were displayed at the recently concluded Adivasi Food Festival held at Munda village in Rayagada district, I was left not only amazed with the richness of food around us, but came back with a feeling that how uneducated I was when it came to mankind’s basic requirement of food. Of the 1,582 food species (and that included different kinds of fish, crabs and birds that are part of the daily diet of some tribals), as many as 972 were uncultivated. Yes, you heard it right. Uncultivated foods.

DS: “couldn’t resist licking my fingers after tasting a millet-based cooked food displayed at the Adivasi Food Festival, Bissamcuttak, Odisha, Feb 25, 2014”.

A dozen tribes living in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and Maharashtra had gathered at the Adivasi Food Festival to celebrate their foods, which is basically an appreciation of the traditional food cultures linked to their age-old farming practices providing them nutritional security while protecting and conserving the nature’s bounty. Members from the Kondh, Koya, Didai, Santhal, Juanga, Baiga, Bhil, Pahari Korva, Paudi Bhuiyan and Birhor from more than 300 villages spread across the tribal heartland came to showcase their foods, and also spent the next day discussing how to protect the traditional farming system from the onslaught of the National Food Security Act that aimed at providing them with 5 kg of wheat, rice or millets.

“We don’t need your food security system,” Minati Tuika of Katlipadar village told me. “The more you open ration shops in our villages, the more you force us to abandon our own food security system built by our forefathers so painstakingly over the centuries. Please leave us alone.”

But why was she so angry with what most policy makers and planners see as development? Don’t most educated elite think that tribals are uneducated and uncivilized, and therefore all out efforts must be made to bring them into the mainline?

“Don’t teach us what development is. We conserved and preserved our plants, our soil, our forests, and our rivers over the centuries. Now you want to take these away, and destroy them. And then you call it development.”

Saying this, she hid her face. When I coaxed her to explain to me how the adivasis were living in tandem with the nature, and how the modern system was distancing them from their traditional cultures and the community control over resources, she agreed to first show me some plants that had multiple uses demonstrating the traditional skills of the community which preserved and used them without pushing them into the extinct category.

She showed me the Siali beans. Quite a big sized dry bean whose seeds are eaten after boiling or roasting, the branches are used to make ropes, and the leaves are used to make leaf plates. Kusum Koli leaves are used for fodder, fruits are eaten raw, wood is used as firewood, and oil is extracted from the seeds. The seed oil serves as a mosquito repellent and also treats certain skin diseases. Even the better known Mahua trees (above) have multiple uses. Leaves are used for fodder, flowers are used to make jaggery, liquor and porridge. Flowers are also consumed and often sold in the market, a kind of a curry is made from the fruits besides being used as fodder, and the seed provides cooking oil after extraction. All these are unfortunately classified as uncultivated plants in agricultural parlance, and therefore do not receive any attention.

Debjeet Sarangi of Living Farms, which organized the Adivasi Food festival, says it is aimed at deepening the communitarian ethos of the adivasi society and the shared knowledge systems. The event will highlight their sustainable way of growing food and its relationship with their ecology – land, plants, animals and forests. 

When I asked him whether this exercise didn’t aim at romanticizing the foregone, his response was curt: “That’s where we fault. These people are in complete harmony with their nature. Instead of brushing them as uncivilized, we have to learn from them. Whether we like it or not, the future of the humanity is hidden in these tribal cultures.”

I decided to take a walk to see the range of cooked foods displayed. At the entrance to the event itself participants were served a nutritious welcome drink. Made from ragi millet (right) with a sprinkling of rice grains, the drink was certainly very tasty. Called Mandia jau in the local language, it is actually a ragi gruel. Says Salome Yesudas, a nutritionist from Chennai, “I don’t know why people need to drink colas and other kinds of sodas when you have such healthy drinks available.” Considering that the sale of colas has been on a decline, it will be certainly helpful if someone was to promote Mandia jau. The next time you visit my house, be prepared to taste this exotic drink.

I was at first a little apprehensive at tasting the cooked food displayed. More so, considering that I am a diabetic. But when Salome Yesudas explained to me how most of these food dishes were based on different kinds of millets which are the preferred food for people suffering from lifestyle diseases, I couldn’t control dipping my fingers. Pancakes were made from finger millet (left), foxtail millet, with a little jaggery; cakes from ragi and sesame, and then there were cooked dishes using sorghum, pearl millet, kodo millet, barnyard millet, red rice and with sprinklings of uncultivated fruits and seeds.

Living Farms is now documenting the food recipes and has prepared a nutrition chart detailing the nutrition composition of uncultivated plants. They have also printed posters in English and Oriya on the vast varieties of foods available for a balanced diet, as well as for the summer and winter seasons.

Although the Adivasi Food Festival at Munda was not the first traditional festivals of food that I had visited but what makes me feel encouraged is the efforts being made by some civil society groups to bring back the lost traditions, including the culinary habits.

It also clearly demonstrates that what India needs is not a centralized food security system but a multi-layered decentralized food security system based on the traditional practices in that particular region. Instead of providing the tribal populations with a monthly entitlement of 5 kg of wheat/rice/millets, the focus should be on strengthening the existing food system.

This is only possible if we are able to inculcate a feeling of pride in our traditional systems. The richness of our food culture, which is so intricately linked to the preservation of natural resources, is where it can all begin. I don’t know why our agricultural universities don’t talk about it; I don’t know why our food magazines and food shows never focus on the traditional foods; and I am certainly not surprised why our Planning Commission has no idea as to what the tribal cultures imbibe.

An abridged version of this article appeared in Tehelka, Mar 7, 2014. Issue 11 Vol 11
The Culture of Eating Right

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One of the comments:

Shubhangi Sinha

Absolutely an eye opener!  I am an agriculture graduate and working in Crop Protection industry all the work concerns only 10-12 major crops across India. Rice/Wheat/Maize being the most important ones .. Even fruits and vegetables that are cultivated predominantly are limited. We need to explore our rich food culture and adopt them, also since majority of population is suffering from Lifestyle diseases. Good write up!

 

 

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Professor Moseley’s recent rebuttal of the decades-long assertions that GMOs will solve the problem of world hunger

On July 3rd this year, William G. Moseley, Professor and Chair of Geography, and Director of the African Studies Program, at Macalester College in Minnesota, published a paper in the Geographical Review with the title: ‘A Risky Solution for the Wrong Problem: Why GMOs won’t Feed the Hungry of the World’.

His basic thesis is that GMO technology is so expensive that it is inaccessible to the poorest of the poor for whom food insecurity is the great issue.

He opens: “There’s a standard setup that many food-policy experts use to frame the global hunger problem and its solution. It typically goes like this. We have a global population of 7.5 billion today of which nearly a billion suffer from chronic hunger. With a projected world population of approximately 10 billion by 2050, we simply have to produce more food to meet demand and feed the hungry. As such, we must use all available technologies, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to achieve this end (Pinstrup-Andersen and Schiøler 2003; Collier 2008; Juma 2011).

Moseley reminds us that Amartya Sen showed the policy community that though plenty of food might be available on the market, poor people might not have access to that food because of limited incomes (1981).

He adds that geographer William Dando was also making similar points around the same time, based on archival research, showing that food was often available on the market during famines, and even being exported (1980).

A Cambridge reader sent a link to an appraisal of Moseley’s paper by Charles Benbrook (Hygeia Analytics), who elaborates on Moseley’s next point, adding more detail:

“How many times have we read both in science journals and the media that GE breakthrough X or Y can increase production of Z crop by so much, or overcome some well-known problem limiting crop yields (e.g. drought, saline soils, Black Sigatoka, wheat viral disease, lack of N, etc etc). All of these widely-exaggerated claims are based on a huge assumption – that all other constraints to yield will be simultaneously overcome to support the promised, much higher crop yields after adoption of some GE-based genetic or production-input technology.

“No one told the farmer that the new seeds will be super-charged for production under ideal conditions and when ample soil nutrients and water are available, but will be vulnerable and weak in responding to drought and a host of pest and disease problems that live in the neighborhood and must be dealt with, year in and year out.

“So, a farmer in Mali buys the new GE corn seed capable of tripling her corn yield, based on careful and rigorous field trails touted by the seed company (and all too often, Gates Foundation funded agronomists). But no one told her she would have to find a way to add 80 units of nitrogen per acre, or that to produce 3-X higher yields, the crop will need three-times the water, with no significant periods of drought, especially during key steps in pollination and ear formation.

“And last and most important – no one told her that if she bypassed spending the extra money for the potentially higher-yielding, GE seeds, and instead spent it on proven agroecological methods to overcome her most important yield constraints, whether they be worn out soils, nasty weeds, or drought, that she would be more likely to end the season with a bigger crop than possible in most years out of 10, had she planted the GE seeds, as well as having more profit left to support her family”.

 

 

 

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