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

India Leads in Number of Organic Producers

India Leads in Number of Organic Producers

More than 30% of the world’s organic producers hail from India, according to the World of Organic Agriculture Report 2018 published this month. Of the total 2.7 miliion organic producers in the world, 8,35,000 organic producers are Indians. This makes it the country with the largest number of organic producers. In terms of numbers, it is way ahead of other countries. Uganda comes second with 210,352 producers and Mexico is third with 210,000 organic producers.

On an average each organic farmer in India  has a farm holding of less than two hectares. Most of these are marginal farmers. In India, the area under certified organic cultivation, is only 2.59 per cent (1.5 million hectares) of the total area (57.8 million hectares).

For once China is nowhere in the scene, rather it is battling with heavy pesticide pollution of its land and water resources. This year China ranked first in the list of world’s worst food safety violation offenders.

The 19th edition of the World of Organic Agriculture report claimed that organic agriculture area, and its products value has increased. The data was collected from 178 countries by the research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), the State of Sustainability Initiative (SSI), and International Trade Center. The report was released during the 2018 edition of BIOFACH, world’s most well known organic agriculture show, held in Germany. Read more

Daana procures produce from small and marginal farmers and offers them a fair price.

Local, Seasonal, Organic: A Must Have for Debt-free and Chemical-free farming

Local, Seasonal, Organic: A Must Have for Debt-free and Chemical-free farming

Climate change is making it difficult to continue farming just a single crop with huge doses of fertilizers, genetically modified seeds and pesticides.

The tribal women in India rediscovering growing multiple crops together such that they need less water, and without and without any dangerous and expensive fertilizers, pesticides. It keeps the soil healthy, keeps them debt free.

tuljamma (1)

What is their secret sauce?

  • Multicropping (growing multiple varieties of plants one after the other),
  • Intercropping (growing multiple varieties of plants together at the same time),
  • Using traditional seeds that have stood the test of time.
  • Growing hardy varieties that are disease and drought resistant.

Here is an article that talks about how tribal women in India are leading the way:

http://www.lifegate.com/people/lifestyle/tribal-women-organic-agriculture-india

**  Daana works with several such farmers and networks to bring their produce directly to online consumers across India. Support theses practices by buying their produce from Daana Network, Amazon or BigBasket.