Rural Sustainability is a Prerequisite for Urban Sustainability

“Rural Sustainability is a Prerequisite for Urban Sustainability,” Dr Rajendra Singh 

Dr Rajendra Singh
Dr Rajendra Singh

Dr. Rajendra Singh -the Water Man of India needs no introduction. Honoured with the Stockholm Prize in 2015, for reviving the ancient dam technology in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in the 1980s to bring water to 1200 parched villages, Dr. Rajendra Singh has dedicated his entire life to water conservation. Relying on traditional knowledge, local material and the science of common sense, he leveraged community help to rejuvenate nine rivers and restore groundwater levels in Rajasthan.

The Ramon Magsaysay award winner in Hyderabad for a conference, spoke to Sujata C for Daana on the topic of urban-rural linkages, rural reform, permaculture and threats to agriculture.  The conversation got off with a few comments on negotiating the long, winding concrete vines of flyovers, metro lines and the chaotic Hyderabad traffic leading to the obvious question of urban sustainability. Here is the edited interview:

On urban sustainability:

“When the villagers are forced to migrate to cities due to helplessness and hopelessness then cities cannot be healthy. Cities depend on agriculture for their food. Their food comes from the villages. If our rural areas are not healthy, the city can’t be healthy. If the rural areas are not sustainable the Indian city can’t be sustainable. If we want our villages to be self reliant, we have to make them sustainable, the water in the village, the soil, the seeds, the hard work of the farmers, everything is included in this. Without the sustainability of our villages, urban sustainability is not possible.

The way our cities are growing with metros, high-rise buildings and heavy traffic, it is not at all sustainable. The basic necessities of a city come from villages and the cost of transporting to the cities these add to the burden of public health. And the pollution that we create in the process, these put a question mark on the way our cities are growing. The public health of the cities is linked to rural health. To correct all these we have to take the route of sustainable development.

On the link between rural reform and permaculture

The meaning of permaculture is to give respect and love for everything that exists in nature. Our love and respect for agriculture will come when we stop using chemical fertilisers, herbicides to cultivate our food. The name permaculture itself means giving respect to nature as it is while growing our food. The viability of permaculture depends on the fact that there is no contract farming done in our country. It should be a contract farming free country. The biggest threat to permaculture comes from contract farming. The trend of corporate farming will not allow permaculture to grow. They will use any term for their farming – chemical free farming, natural farming, zero budget farming, they will come up with a thousand names, but in reality they will be doing business. This will be very dangerous for our agriculture.

Agriculture is the foundation of Indian life. It is not a business. It is our cultural heritage, our ‘sanskriti’, it is not our business. Agriculture is the bridge between nature and the needs of human lives. Contract farming and corporate farming is going to break this bridge, because the stakeholders will only be interested in profits. They will not be interested in the culture that envelops agriculture. There will be no love for agriculture in contract farming. Those involved will want to grow stuff that brings in more money.

On the culture of agriculture:

It is my belief that if we are talking about agriculture, we have to examine its foundational principle. We have to examine our soil, our ‘bhoo sanskriti,’ its diversity and its potential to grow food that is good for us, good for the soil and the earth. When my soil health, my water health and the health of my land is good, then I will be good. To keep this chain of good health active, permaculture is the entry point, he concludes.

Viewed in the context of the farmers’ march, the intuitive advice from Dr. Rajendra Singh can tackle present day farmers’ woes and will continue to remain relevant in the times to come.

Daana supports the cause of sustainable development by supporting small and marginal farmers who grow food without pesticides. 

 

Women Power and the Seeds of Optimism

Women Power and the Seeds of Optimism

A woman is like a tea bag. Put her in hot water and you will see how strong she is. We have all heard this one at some point. Time and again women have shown that they are adept at managing home, hearth and work with equal ease.

This year Nari Shakti Puraskar was given to 38 women. Notable among these are the All India Millet Sisters Network, Deepika Kundaji, Vanastree and Sabarmati Tiki. All of them are working in rural areas, with women in agriculture, promoting neglected grains and traditional seeds.

The Hyderabad based All India Millet Sisters Network (AIMS) is the first of its kind women millet farmers in the country that is dedicated to the cause of the neglected coarse grain. Millets are a traditional crop in the country and this network has brought together women farmers who are cultivating and conserving millets. It was set up eight years ago with 100 women. Today, it is a network of 5000 women across the country.

The  story of Anjamma is an interesting one. She is a poor farmer from Telengana. She preserves seeds in a traditional way without using any chemicals. She stores seeds for next season in a cane basket,  using easily available ash and neem leaves and seals them with cow dung and mud. Despite a drought spell and zero rainfall she reaped eight quintals millet and six quintals of toor dal  from her bio diverse farm. Her work in keeping alive a traditional knowledge system in the preservation of seeds was recognised by Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Authority, India (PPVFRA).

There are many stories like this one and they are getting noticed by none other than the Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Maneka Gandhi who is an environmentalist herself and rooting for women farmers. Read about the rest here in her own words.

Sujata C

Daana salutes all the women engaged in farming and seed preservation.

 

Vegan Fish Curry at the Natural Food Festival

Vegan Fish Curry at the Natural Food Festival

I kid you not. Before you guffaw or roll your eyes. Here is the video proof. (There is more about betel dosa at the end of this post)

The Natural Food Festival in Hyderabad happened on Feb 17 and 18. I took the tribe along. Humera and Rayyan were motivated by the food, Rajaa was there to get nice pictures and I was curious. I swear that the millet and jaggery chocolate brownies takes the cake. Put it on your bucket list.

So, it turns out (you didn’t watch the video, did you?) the vegan fish curry was a vegan (fish-less) curry made with the same spices, and vegetables. Yes, I tried tasting it and I finished all of it. It was lip-smacking-ly goooood. But on to the main story, after all, isn’t all food natural? Valid point. Chew on a millet cracker while we explore this.

The natural food festival, should have really been called the Slow Food festival. As opposed to fast food…. food that is chemically laced, unhealthy and more often than not, unethically, factory produced. Food that is heavily promoted by multinational food conglomerates. Slow food is nutritiously tasty food cooked from traditional recipes from local, organically grown crops and grains and naturally raised animals.

It was a surprise in many ways. First, it is not very often that a government decides to promote Natural Foods. We sauntered in at the closing bell of the last day. I was fully expecting to see a deserted place. No, I was surprised !!

DDS
There were many familiar faces. Deccan Development Society was there. For those who came in late (and read Phantom comics), a documentary film maker, Sateesh decided to go native and returned to his village in Zaheerabad district a few decades ago. He started to work with the local farmer women and soon developed an amazing society of empowered women who grow, negotiate, think, make movies and generally give everyone a tough time. Here is one of them talking about their exhibits

Litti Choka
There were quite a few participants from really far off places.  There was this young woman from Siliguri (the pitstop for Darjeeling). She gave us a taste of Litti Choka. This is a dough ball made with whole wheat and stuffed with sattu and other spices and herbs. It is normally roasted over wood fire and served with Ghee . It is best eaten with aloo bharta or baingan bharta accompanied with a generous portion of curd.

Millet Snacks
And there was a phenomenal spread of Millet snacks. Remember the jaggery and millet chocolate brownie I mentioned?? This is the video I shot.

I will update this post later with more pictures from the festival.  I hope to return next year with more of the gang and on both days. Don’t miss it the next year.

– Farhan

How a Desi Seed Goes Extinct

How a Desi Seed Goes Extinct

Back in the 70s, when the state government introduced new high yielding jowar cultivars developed by International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics  to farmers in Adilabad district of Telangana, little did they realise that the indigenous variety Persa Jonna would be lost in the process. ICRISAT scientists have once again offered new crop varieties to Adivasi farmers in Novemebr last year. What will the consequences be? Should the farmers hold back on the side of caution? How did the loss of Persa Jonna impact the lives of farmers? Here’s the full story- Read more: 

 

Mud Pot Cooking- Forefathers’ Style

Mud Pot Cooking- Forefathers’ Style

The pot we cook our food in affects the quality of the food both taste and nutrition. Mud pots were used for storing water and cooking food since the dawn of civilization. They were an integral part of traditional cooking and one of the secrets to the delicious taste of dishes.

It appears that mud pot cooking is now on a comeback trail and many people are already bringing it into practice. You can spot these traditionally attired Rajasthani women selling clay tavas these days in Hyderabad at every traffic signal.There are many online shops selling  them as well and many exhibitions also display these trending cookware.

Rasams and sambars simmered in an earthen pot taste much better than when they are cooked in  metal vessels. They get an earthy flavor which every foodie will die for. Some of the best biryanis are made in mud pots, any Hyderabadi will tell you that. Matka biryani is a chef’s special in many restaurants. Punjabis love to slow cook their sarson da saag in a clay pot to get the authentic taste.

Why mud pots:

  • Clay is porous in nature and this permits air and moisture to circulate from the food into the pot.
  • The minerals present in the clay get a chance to permeate the food, thus improving the nutrient quality. Doctors say mud pots add calcium, phosphorous and magnesium to the food.
  • Clay is alkaline and it neutralizes the acidity of the food, making it more balanced for the body.
  • Clay takes longer to heat hence food is slow cooked. This retains the nutrients and natural  flavours in the food.
  • Cooking in clay pots takes medium heat which makes the micronutrients in the food available.
  • It requires less fat/oil to cook food in a clay pot making the food healthier.
  • The food stays warm for a long time as the clay pot retains heat for longer.
  • The flavour and taste of the food gets enhanced.
  • Clay pots are inexpensive and easily available.

After cooking, hand wash the clay pot. Soak it in water to loosen food particles. Scrub with a scouring pad. Don’t use any detergents. Use baking soda or salt if at all you want to get rid of any lingering smells.

Before you try your hand at cooking the way our forefathers did, make sure you do not buy glazed pots as they may be coated with lead or mercury making it a hazardous proposition. Go for the simple unglazed red or black coloured mud pots that are available in the street market. Soak a new pot in water for a few hours to cure it and then start using it. Treat your family to food with the flavor of earth and pat yourself on the back for adding a touch of green to your cooking.

Sujata C

Cosmetics: Toxic chemicals on your body

Cosmetics: Toxic chemicals on your body

The cosmetics industry is all of a hundred years old, and is worth about 11 Lakh Crore Rupees annually.

People have used things to beautify themselves since ancient times, but not to the extent that we do now, with multiple products being used every day.

Cosmetics are products that are chemical cocktails, with several of them known to be poisonous and harmful.

Watch this video to find out more:

Do leave us comments and tips on how you have moved away from chemical cosmetics, and what replacements you are using. We would love to hear from you. We will do a follow up article on this a month from now, and will include several of the tips we receive from our readers.