Category Archives: Health

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

.

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

– 

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!

 

 

n

Advertisements

Professor Moseley’s recent rebuttal of the decades-long assertions that GMOs will solve the problem of world hunger – 2

Moseley reminds readers that the policy of food self-sufficiency of the previous era, of producing as much food within the borders of your country as possible, fell out of fashion as it was thought to be costly and inefficient. Global food prices were relatively low and stable in the 1980s and 1990s. Countries might produce some of their own food, but also trade for what they needed by exporting commodities.

This all began to change in the mid-2000s, and especially after 2007—2008, when food prices jumped globally by 50%, continuing to 2011-2012 (below). These price shocks created social unrest in some cases, and political leaders began once again to push for higher food production (Moseley and others 2010).

Only one section of the crowd protesting in Morocco (2011)

Moseley asks: will the use of GM seeds improve access to food by the poorest of the poor, either by improving their incomes or helping them produce more of their own food?

He answers: “Sadly, no. The most widely used GM crops today are controlled by corporate interests and their cost tends to put them out of reach of the truly poor. New seeds must also be repurchased every one to three years, making this a recurring expense”.

Whilst agreeing that  there are potential benefits associated with GM crops, and that GM crops may make sense as a strategy for wealthier farmers to increase yields and production, he refers to growing concerns about gene escape from herbicide-resistant crops to other crops and weeds (Chapman and Burke 2006) which have led many farmers in the North to question the efficacy of GM crops (Hakim 2016).

Pesticide resistance also was predicted in 1999 and has been observed in recent years

In 1999 the BBC reported that results of research at the University of Arizona, into the breeding cycle of the pink bollworm moth, a common pest of cotton, suggested that the bollworm could rapidly become resistant to the insecticide produced within a GM cotton plant called “Bt cotton”, developed by Monsanto.

Following several reports of infestation in earlier years, this month India’s Business Standard reported that GM cotton crops have come under severe pest attacks; a substantial area from whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana and the pink bollworm in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Moseley believes that agroecological approaches which help the poorest farmers to improve production and avoid unnecessary financial risk may hold some promise. They may be able to improve yields and manage pest problems through improved intercropping and agroforestry combinations, as well as more tightly integrated crop and livestock systems.

Though, as he acknowledges, these practices have long existed within traditional farming systems in the tropics, he believes that there is enormous potential for scientists to collaborate with local people to make improvements to these techniques.

Funding for work in this area has been limited, as agroecological approaches are unlikely to generate a financial return to justify or even recoup such investment and the returns in terms of human and environmental health are not quantified in their cost-benefit calculations.

But people’s research still goes ahead as part of their daily life, undeterred by lack of funding, see earlier work by Winin Pereira. In this early book (right), he says, in similar vein to Moseley, “Revitalising peoples’ science . . . its preservation and restoration appears to be the only way to rebuild a sustainable society”.

Recent reporting from Devinder Sharma relates many initiatives in different parts of the country. He wrote about the work of Ishwarappa Bankar of Hire Yadachi village of Haveri district in Karnataka (left), who has created a seed bank of traditional millet strains at his home.

Another memorable account comes from Fran Wilde (Action Village India), who forwarded an account of women’s collective farming in Kerala to us recently. Devinder Sharma and his friend and colleague from Kerala confirmed the success of this cheering initiative.

 

 

 

 

g

 

 

 

 

 

“The push for GM mustard is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”

.

As the Indian government considers approving the commercial cultivation of GM mustard, the Hindu reports that an alliance of biologists and activists have warned that such a move would be ill-advised.

A threat to seed diversity

Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), said that GM mustard threatened the seed diversity of indigenous mustard.

She told a panel here at Anna University: “The push for GM is coming from the commercial food industry, not from the kitchens of ordinary Indian homes”.

India can produce all mustard needed

She added that India produces sufficient mustard to meet its consumption requirements and the claim that GM mustard will reduce dependence on mustard oil imports is baseless.

Implications for health and safety of its consumers

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Ismail, a soil biologist, said that herbicides sprayed on the crop to kill weeds were potentially carcinogenic.

Live Law, a legal news portal, ‘set to redefine the standards of legal journalism in India’ reports that – in a letter addressed to the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate – Public Interest Advocate Prashant Bhushan has set out his opposition to the commercial release of GM Mustard, one of several grounds being that the government itself admits that there’s no evidence that GM mustard will increase yields.

These organisations are amongst over 100 organisations representing farmer unions, trade unions, civil society groups, and political parties, who are urging the government not to release GM mustard.

They say the farmers’ problem is not the production of mustard but the unfair market prices.

*

For more information there are links on our 2016 mailing on this subject.

 

 

 

n

Farmers have been subsidising the nation

So says Devinder Sharma, in India’s APN News, a respected and widely watched news channel:

“The economic crisis farmers are facing is compounded by the denial of a rightful income to farmers for their produce. To keep food inflation under control it is the farmers who have paid the price. What we don’t realize is that it is the farmers who have been subsidising the nation all these years.

“Farmers are in distress throughout the country, be it in Karnataka, Punjab, Maharashtra or UP. Why has the situation reached these extreme levels and what can be done to reverse this trend?

“The Economic Survey 2016 had clearly pointed to the severity of the prevailing agrarian crisis. Accordingly, the average annual income of a farm family in 17 states of India is a paltry Rs 20,000. This means that the average monthly income for a farm household in these 17 states is less than Rs 1,700.

Most of us who live in cities have a monthly mobile bill exceeding this

I shudder to think how farmers survive with such meagre income . . . I thought this revelation alone should have shocked the country and forced policy planners to undertake immediate steps to address the grave tragedy. But unfortunately, nothing of that sort happened.

And, as in UK: “Our planners can’t think beyond what is prescribed in textbooks. Increasing crop productivity, expanding irrigation and reducing the cost of production as the way forward . . .” (see next week’s post here)

There is a high rate of suicide in the farming communities of India and UK, compared with other occupational groups.  Over the past 21 years, India’s National Crime Record Bureau reports that more than 3.18 lakh farmers have committed suicide. In secretive England such records are out of date or confined to abstruse medical journals, giving the public to assume that all is well.

Sharma emphasises that the burden food producers carry is not one of low productivity but the lack of a fair price providing an assured farm income and this is true in both countries.

Farmers from the southern state of Tamil Nadu display skulls, who they claim are the remains of Tamil farmers who have committed suicide, during a protest demanding a drought-relief package from the federal government, in New Delhi, India March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/variety/2017/03/23/Why-Indian-farmers-brought-human-skulls-to-this-protest-.html

In both countries already affluent middlemen in retail, packaging and transport or speculating in food futures have prospered while those who actually work and produce food – in particular fresh milk, fruit and vegetables – are denied a fair price covering production and living costs.

 

 

 

cc

Antibiotic and antifungal drug residues in water sources around Hyderabad

 

Visitors from seven countries selected news from Devinder Sharma as the top post this week. He had written about Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, believing that he is on the right track to revive UP agriculture. CHS founder Winin Pereira, who wrote about ‘breaking the cycle of debt and dependency’ might well have agreed with Sharma.

Last week we received news about a major study published in the scientific journal Infection. It found “excessively high” levels of antibiotic and antifungal drug residue in water sources in and around a major drug production hub in the Indian city of Hyderabad, as well as high levels of bacteria and fungi resistant to those drugs.

It pointed out that the presence of drug residues in the natural environment allows the microbes living there to build up resistance to the ingredients in the medicines that are supposed to kill them.

In this report the issue of industrial pollution from pharmaceutical companies was considered as it affects consumers of their medicines – a serious issue as resistance could leads to the deaths of many.

A detailed account of the every day impact on local people who are using those water sources  is given in a report by Changing Markets, an organisation with a mission to expose irresponsible corporate practices and drive change towards a more sustainable economy. The report opens by saying that a 2015 report from the Indian Government estimates that the number of contaminated waterways has more than doubled in the past five years and that half the country’s rivers are now polluted. An extract relating to the pollution of water by pharmaceutical companies in Hyderabad follows:

“The social and environmental costs of the development of Hyderabad’s bulk drug industry are plain to see in the neighbourhoods and villages surrounding the industrial areas, and have been well-documented over a period of decades.

“Inhabitants living and working in the vicinity of drug manufacturing units in Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, and other locations have borne the brunt of this. It has affected their livelihoods in the form of livestock deaths and decreased agricultural yields and damaged their health, with reported impacts ranging from higher abortion rates to birth defects and stunted growth in children, as well as greater incidence of skin diseases.

“However, the response from both the central government and the state authorities has been woefully inadequate, not to say complicit, and over the years, irresponsible drug manufacturers have enjoyed free rein to continue pumping vast quantities of untreated or inadequately treated pharmaceutical waste into the environment”.

Read the full report here: http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Impacts-of-pharmaceutical-pollution-on-communities-and-environment-in-India-WEB-light.pdf

 

 

 

pppppppppppppppppppppppp

Learning from the past: A new protocol for agricultural education and research in India

Extracts from an article written by Michael Gordon Jackson, 16th March 2017 and highlighted in James Robertson’s newsletter

M.G. Jackson is a former Professor of Agriculture and sometime Director of Research at the G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand, India. For an elaboration of the agenda described in this note see the newly released book Tending Our Land: A New Story by M. G. Jackson and Nyla Coelho (below left). INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) Belagavi chapter released the book ‘Tending our land- a new story’ written by Dr. M. G. Jackson and Nyla Coelho on Wednesday 30th November 2016 at Bharatesh Education Trust.

Extracts (bullet points added)

After independence, the government of the USA largely took over this role of introducing chemical agriculture in the country. By the early 1960s large numbers of our countrymen were trained in the science and practice of chemical agriculture, and traditional knowledge was on the wane. In 1965 crop failures threatened large-scale famine, and we adopted chemical agriculture without reservation as the only way to ensure food security. Farmer scientists gave way to professional institutional scientists.

We are now in a position to formulate a broad vision of the way forward in securing food security, and the welfare of village communities and the nation. First, farmers, farm families and village communities must be re-empowered to take the responsibility for realising this agenda. They must realise that they themselves are better scientists and teachers than the professional, career scientists who spend all their time in the classroom, the laboratory and the experiment station. And we need to realise it too. Only if we accept this fact of history, can we move on to realising our objective of sustainable agriculture, continuing food security and rural and national welfare.

Given this change in outlook by everyone concerned (farmers, professional scientists, teachers, extension workers, administrators and politicians), the practical measures that need to be taken fall logically into place. It must become the objective of all establishment personnel to work with farmers, not as advisors, but as facilitators of the process of farmer re-empowerment. This will involve encouraging them to identify the causes of their present plight, visualise remedies and assisting them in implementing these remedies. This activity will amount to transformative learning exercises for farmers since they too have been brainwashed into adopting the chemical agricultural paradigm.

In the course of such exercises, they may be encouraged to recall traditional practices and to examine them for their possible value as remedies. If these practices make sense, then farmers need to pursue them again. Many innovative ideas will inevitably be generated. They need to be helped to articulate their understanding of the rationale for these traditional practices and for new innovations. In facilitating such discussions we ourselves will learn along with them. Both men and women need to be included in these discussions (the term ‘farmers’ is gender neutral), as well as village residents pursuing non-farming livelihoods, and landless families. At least one adult member from every household in the village should participate in these discussions.

At the same time, farmers, farm families and village communities need to re-empower themselves as teachers of village youth. Training in agriculture needs to follow the traditional apprenticeship pattern. Such training needs to be integrated with a more comprehensive education that fits young people for participation in the larger national and international communities on an equal footing with urban-reared young people. A pre-requisite for such an educational curriculum is the replacement of contemporary mechanistic science by the science of living systems as the rationale for all subjects. The village community itself needs to design, implement and oversee such an educational programme. If this is done effectively at school and senior secondary levels, university curricula will then fall in line. We need to help organise and then facilitate discussions aimed at bringing about such change. Adolescent boys and girls (grades 9 to 12) should participate in these discussions. The appropriate place for these discussions is the gram sabha. Gram sabhas should be the policy-formulating bodies, while the gram panchayats are the administering bodies.

To facilitate all these initiatives Government laws and policies will need to be overhauled fundamentally. Examples here are:

  • the return of reserved forests to village community ownership and use,
  • the discontinuance of all flood irrigation projects (in favour of local water self-sufficiency),
  • closing all fertiliser and pesticide factories (natural farming does not use any of these),
  • the discontinuance of government subsidies on electricity and chemicals,
  • transferring responsibility for community food security,  to the extent possible, to village communities themselves,
  • the curtailing of MNCs dealing in farm inputs, including machinery (natural farming is human and animal power intensive),
  • long-distance transport of food ((local and seasonal vegetables and fruits are more healthful; petroleum use is curtailed).

And so forth. The over-arching rationale for such changes in laws and policies is the natural farming paradigm.

Read the full article here: http://www.ecologise.in/2017/03/16/learning-past-new-protocol-agricultural-education-research-india/

Copies of the book may be obtained from any of the following:

Peoples Books 5, High Street Camp, Belgavi 590001, Karnataka, India, Phone: +91-831-2460991/9343413193, Email: childrenstalim@gmail.com

 Earthcare Books 10 Middleton Street, Kolkata 700071, West Bengal, India, Phone: +91-33-22296551/22276190 Email:  earthecarebooks@gmail.com, Website: http://www.earthcarebooks.com

 

 

 

A Bandra housing society avoids food waste

A link to this news from Zoru Bhathena’s Facebook page was followed up; it led to Midday article about 28 families of Agasti Building  in Bandra  who were prompted by the outbreaks of fire at the Deonar and Chembur dumping ground last year to take up the zero waste campaign and turn their waste into compost, using it to grow their own organic food.

The plot of land the society has set aside to grown vegetables with its compost 

“Toxic fumes enveloped our area when the fires broke out. Afterwards, we decided on better waste management to avoid repeat of such a scenario,” said Vidya Vaidya, a resident.

Four compost tumblers were installed in Agasti Building and 28 bins to collect wet garbage distributed among residents. A plot of land has been set aside on the premises to use the compost made to grow organic vegetables. These will be distributed free among residents.

CK Narula, an elderly resident of the building, initiated the zero waste campaign in the society. He explained: “The waste bins are separated into two layers. The second later will collect the waste extract. Residents will have to rotate the garbage in the two layers frequently to air the bin. The waste will take 20-25 days to turn into compost, after which resident can use it to grow plants.”

Residents of Agasti building, Bandra Reclamation, inaugurate their compost kit. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

Bandra H/west officer Sharad Ughade said although the concept of zero waste management is not alien to the city – civic hospitals, ward offices and educational institutions have already adopted it – it’s the first time that a housing society has pooled in its own money to start such an initiative. He said if the housing society produced compost in excess of its needs, the BMC would use it in civic hospitals.

Residents in the adjoining Anand Sagar Building have set aside a 1,500-sqft land on its premises to grow vegetables. Once we start making compost, we will make use of the plot,” said Najmudin Bookwala, secretary of Anand Sagar Building.

The Bandra Reclamation Residents Association, the BMC, NGO Street Mukti Sanghatana and Bandra Reclamation Area Volunteers Organisation supported this initiative. It aims to pave the way for zero waste management campaigns for other housing societies. 

* 

There is a very interesting article about Bandra’s zero garbage campaign here: http://www.afternoondc.in/city-news/bandra-gears-up-for-zero-garbage-project/article_179030

And earlier an article about avoiding food waste in two UK workplaces was posted on a different website: https://ourbirmingham.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/no-food-waste-in-these-london-and-birmingham-venues/