Tag Archives: Devinder Sharma

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






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!




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.











The Warli tribals of Maharashtra: a progressive culture to be emulated – 1

Noting the number of visitors to the website who read Devinder Sharma’s account of a visit to the Kadar tribe in Kerala prompted a re-reading of some books and papers written by Winin Pereira, co-founder of the Centre for Holistic Studies in Bandra, Bombay.

Winin Pereira

In 1996 he recorded memories of his first stay near tribal people (adivasis) in Alonde. Over time he grew to realise the extent of their knowledge of plants, trees and farming.

He drew on this and other experiences of traditional sustainable agriculture in India collected and analysed over 25 years to write ‘Tending the Earth’.

Over time he had noticed that the Warlis’ agricultural land was in better condition than that of farmers who had practised ‘Green Revolution’-style agriculture from the 60s, using chemical pesticides and fertilizers which, over time degraded the soil.

One of Winin Pereira’s colleagues wrote about the contemporary practice of barter and included incidental information about Warli tribals, with whom he also had spent time. He wrote that they are thought to be descended from the original inhabitants of Thane in the Western Bombay suburbs. Their lands have been ‘developed’ and some now have a hard but healthier life in the Borivli National Park (below) while the tribal communities who still have some land live on the margins in the polluted Bombay suburbs.

The writer saw a hut like the one above which had the faint outlines of the traditional painting (below) on the walls carried out for celebrations and ceremonial occasions but in the 1970s. Government of India officials who were sent to document Warli art, were amazed by the drawings of Jivya Soma Mashe from Dahanu, who shows an immense understanding of the Warli culture.

A description of their content is quoted in Wikipedia: “Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest as well as fields swaying with healthy crops, birds flying in the sky, group dancing around a person playing the music, dancing peacocks, women cooking or busy in their other house chores and children playing”.

The Warli forest community survives by gathering minor forest produce and selling firewood to the encroachers in the plains, then earning Rs25 for every pile of firewood they sell. Once every three months they enter into barter trade with the fishing community living 5-6kms away along the sea coast. The Warlis start with the piles on their heads at 3 am and manage to cover the distance by foot in 3 to 4 hours time. In return for every pile of wood that they sell they receive dry fish worth at least Rs75 to Rs100 in the local market from the fishing community. The benefit to both is two or three times what they would get in a monetary transaction. Exchange of dry fish for firewood takes place in the Western suburbs from Malad right into Thane district.

Dahanu taluka, 136 km from Mumbai by road, has a 66% Warli tribal population who own 33% of the agricultural land in Dahanu. When their rice growing season ends, the Warlis find employment on the chicoo farms. Two colleagues who have lived there wrote:

“We have so much to learn from the Warlis who take so little from the earth. They are the true environmentalists without even realising it”.

“We are all fighting to protect what we and Winin Pereira love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he shares will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis, ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but be emulated”.

Part 2 follows.





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


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.





Anil Dave would have steered country’s environment to a safer haven

When Devinder Sharma saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter expressing his sincere condolences on the sudden passing of Environment Minister Anil Dave, he records that it took a few minutes for the tragic news to sink in.

He writes about their interaction on personal and issue-based matters and continues, “When I learnt that he had actually suffered a heart stroke, I couldn’t believe my ears. After all, he was my “junior” and going by the bypass medical history, he should have under normal circumstances lived for another 15 years or so or perhaps longer”. . .

Sharma recalls: “I met him first time when he was planning to launch the annual “Narmada Samagra” drawing environmentalists, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, and concerned citizens to save the mighty Narmada River. I was in fact introduced to him one fine day by my friends. We sat down for lunch and he shared with me what he proposed to achieve from “Narmada Samagra”.

He even told me: “You may think it is a government show but all I can tell you there are good people in the government who too want to protect the rivers,” I still recall his words, and could see through the deep commitment . . . ”On a number of occasions I found he would often speak with a lot of respect for some of the well-known environmentalists. “Sad, in this race to attain a higher GDP, we are mercilessly killing the environment, cutting down the trees, polluting the rivers ….”

I specifically recall when once I gave him a call, and told him I was in the city. At his insistence, I drove to ‘Nadi Ka Ghar’ where he greeted me and then we got into discussing a wide array of subjects – from rivers, to deforestation and to non-chemical agriculture. “I am telling the Chief Minister to ban chemical farming around Narmada. All these chemicals – fertiliser and pesticides — eventually flow into the river,” he told me. He wanted a massive plantation drive along the river banks, and I am glad Madhya Pradesh has undertaken that exercise.

Dr Deepak Pental (second from left) with fellow scientists at a GM mustard trial field in Jaunti village of North West Delhi.

Sharma records that Dave had been under severe political pressure to approve genetically modified mustard and had told him that given a choice he would never approve GM Mustard, adding, “I suggested to him to resign rather that give in to pressures”. He continued:

“For a man who in his heart only revered nature, it wasn’t easy to take a call on GM Mustard. As Tarun Vijay wrote: “He was to take a final decision on an application for an indigenously-developed GM crop of mustard. Everyone who knew him was sure that he would ban it in India.”  On that fateful day, after witnessing a civil society protest outside his office during the day, and later inviting a six-member team for discussions in his office, he met the Prime Minister at his residence late in the evening. As the Prime Minister had tweeted, acknowledging he had long discussions around policy issues with Anil Dave the fateful night, it is quite obvious that the contentious issue of GM Mustard approval too must have been discussed.

“A few hours later he complained of pain in the chest and was rushed to the hospital”.

Read the whole article here: http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.co.uk/

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