Category Archives: Government

Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee, set up by PMO, takes a firm stand

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A reader draws attention to news in the Hindu Businessline.

As the pink bollworm that eats away cotton bolls has become resistant to Monsanto’s second generation biotechnology protection Bollgard-II., farmers have turned to its third generation herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton as weeds are proliferating. This technology incorporates the herbicide glyphosate, which over time has led to the development of herbicide resistant ‘superweeds’ (eg amaranth, ‘pigweed’, below left) in several countries (USA, 2013).

HT cotton has not received the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee’s permission for commercial use as – according to a Times of India report – Monsanto had withdrawn from the trials midway so the approval process was not completed.

Livemint, a financial daily, reports that the Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee, (FISEC) set up by the Prime Minister’s Office under the department of biotechnology collected 13,361 leaf and seed samples and found 15% prevalence of unapproved HT cotton in major states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

In a bid to curb widespread and illegal use, the Telangana government has put severe restrictions on the use of glyphosate in the State. It has asked the pesticide dealers not to sell the herbicide, which is used in HT cotton crops, without a recommendation slip from the relevant Agriculture Extension Officer and a  Government Order has warned that any violations will be dealt with severely.

Andhra Pradesh, which is also a major cotton growing State, filed cases against two cottonseed firms after raids on some farmers’ fields tested positive for HT cotton. The Telangana government too said it won’t allow the illegal Bt to be grown.

With reports of HT crops emanating from different parts of the country, a Central team visited both the States last year. C Parthasarathi, Principal Secretary (Agriculture), Govt of Telangana, said:

“We have noticed that some cottonseed companies are producing and selling the HT cottonseed to innocent farmers in the current season. We have issued orders calling for restrictive usage of glyphosate in agricultural and horticultural crops in general and cotton in particular to curb the spread of HT cotton”.

 

 

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How many more will fall ill or die because of exposure to pesticides and herbicides?

Last year Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sent news of research into links between diabetes and exposure to organophosphate, the most frequently and largely applied insecticide in the world, undertaken by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology. It is accessible to all readers and may be accessed here.

He now draws attention to the Hindu’s report of a food poisoning incident in Navi Mumbai which led to the death of three children and 40 people falling ill (200 according to the Hindustan Times).

Dr. Ajit Gawli, Raigad district civil surgeon, said “The serum test reports of two patients indicated presence of organophosphate compound in the food. The cholinesterase enzyme level was found to be around 800, which ideally should be around 1,200. It does confirm the presence of organophosphate compound found in insecticides and pesticides. After the reports of the serum of the deceased come in, we can confirm the saturation of the compound and what exactly the chemical was.” The food samples have been sent to a forensic science laboratory at Kalina and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for further analysis.”

An American campaign

Richard earlier sent news of a press release issued from Portland, Oregon, by the Center for Biological Diversity, a national, non-profit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

It reported that group of farmworkers, child-safety and environmental advocates sent a letter to the government’s Environmental Protection Agency urging it to ban seven organophosphate pesticides, currently under review, that are used on crops such as corn, cotton, watermelon and wheat. It was submitted in response to the EPA’s request for public comments on new releases of human-health and ecological risk assessments for organophosphate insecticides.

“Every spring season, children around the U.S. are facing low-dose exposure to this dangerous chemical,” says a Minnesota mother who was sickened, along with her infant son, by chlorpyrifos. “It is in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat,” she adds. “By leaving this chemical on the market, we are gambling with the lives of children. It is stealing their futures from them and increasing the amount of health care dollars they will need for treatment.”

Chemical & Engineering News reported that no ban was imposed; there was ‘pushback’ from Dow Sciences and others in the chemical industry.

Leonardo Trasande, an internationally renowned authority on children’s environmental health, in a study published in 2017 writes:

“A regulatory ban was proposed, but actions to end the use of one such pesticide, chlorpyrifos, in agriculture were recently stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency under false scientific pretenses”.

“Strong evidence now supports the notion that organophosphate pesticides damage the fetal brain and produce cognitive and behavioral dysfunction through multiple mechanisms, including thyroid disruption.

 

 

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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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Preserve 3500 Aarey trees: select a site suggested by NEERI/IIT advisers

CHS’ founder, the late Winin Pereira, emphasised the importance of trees as sources of food, medicine, wood and fibre – also their role in mitigating air pollution and absorbing and slowing flood waters. He had amassed a large database recording information about India’s trees.

In a well-read article, The Browning of Harit Mumbai, he wrote “The home of my childhood in Bandra was surrounded by a garden about five to six metres wide on three sides and more on the fourth. About ten coconut trees provided us with fresh neera every morning and ripe and tender fruit. Their leaves, husks and shells were used as fuel. There was a jambul, a fig, a jackfruit, a pomegranate, a ramphal, a tamarind, a badam, a breadfruit, a lime, a bor, a kavath, several neem, sitaphal, drumstick, papaya and chiku, four rose-apple, three mango, two guava, and one pear tree – but no partridge”.

There is great public concern about the decision to cut down 3500 trees in the Aarey Colony to make way for car sheds for the new Metro, though experts from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Powai (Mumbai) have suggested Kanjurmarg, Backbay and Kalina as a better option.

There is still time to sign this petition.

120,843 have signed and the organisers want to reach 150,000. They have clearly warned all of the consequences Mumbai will face in terms of flooding and loss of open space & wildlife, if the Metro depot is built in Aarey.

The latest news on Facebook (17.12.17) is of 22-year-old Yash Marwah’s poem on the real meaning of ‘Vikaas’ – of progress and development – that all readers and PM Modi and CM Devendra Fadnavis should hear.

At the end of November it was reported that children and teachers from a Malad west based convent school marched to oppose the civic authority’s decision to destroy Aarey greenery and other natural areas in order to build Metro car sheds.  The journalist commented that it is a government aided school and marching – in effect – against the government is quite a daring move to try to save ‘Aarey Green patch’.

See the video here: http://6dnews.com/school-children-protest-aarey-metro-shed/. Be patient – this is a slow-loading site.

Set aside time for this comprehensive presentation of the subject and its implications by tree-champion Zoru Bhathena. Scroll down to October 15th https://www.facebook.com/zoru.bhathena.

As Winin Pereira wrote decades ago:

“We should prevent the cutting down of trees and plant more of them. Every leaf that grows serves to fix some of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Seeds of herbs, shrubs and trees need to be collected by the million and they should be planted wherever there are a few square centimetres of barren land”. [See Natural versus Formal Forestry”, MPSM, December 1987, NO472]

 

 

 

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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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