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.

 

Why are the farmers marching? Part 1- Water

Why are the farmers marching? Part 1- Water

Here is a simple question: If farmers produce food and food is a basic necessity, why are they not getting a fair price for their produce?

Therein lies a conundrum. Those who produce the most basic things needed for our lives: food, shelter and clothing are the ones that have the worst lives in our country. Sure, we can be ashamed, we can beat ourselves up, or we can, as CM Fadnavis did, form a six man committee to ‘study the problem’.  Let’s first understand the extent of the challenges in the a few posts and then bring the possible solutions to these in the following posts. Bear with me when I take no pleasure to say ‘it is complicated’.

It is complicated

If you plan to get onto the farmers’ case saying they cannot be bailed out all the time, I would suggest you get off this blog and read about tax holidays, land and money that our government and financial institutions have poured into the hands of beacons of capitalism. Start from the techies and proceed towards the diamantaires. We will keep those rants and woes for another place and time.

A farmer needs water and seeds to begin with. Push the seed into the soil,  water it and watch it grow. In six months, harvest it and sell it at the market. Go home and have a great holi. Life looks simple from the outside. But we have already dropped too many words. Water, Seeds, Soil, Market. That’s what a farmer needs to grow. We’ll just talk about water in this post.

Water – The demand

There is no water. We are running out of it. Each of us needs 100 litres of water a day.  That is 125 billion litres of water a day for 1.2 billion people in India. To give you  an idea of what that is, a litre is held in a cube of 10 cms to a side.  A billion litres will need a tank that is about five kilometers high, five kilometers wide and five kilometers long.  125 billion litres is just one day’s water. That’s bheja fry for sure.

You protest and say, I barely drink a litre and bathe in another 10 litres, that makes it 11 litres. Did you forget to tinkle after you sprinkle? Each toilet flush releases 20 litres of water, go and calculate. Then add the water that your dishes take to get washed, your laundry, cooking, gardening, car wash.. I suppose you get the picture. Probably, even the 100 litre figure is quite conservative for us, the urban middle class. And remember: electricity needs water, every material we use on a daily basis needs water as a basic commodity in its manufacturing.

What’s worse is that we haven’t yet counted water required for farming and for industry. So, here goes : 1 Kg of rice can and usually does take 1200 litres of water to produce. Meat requires even higher amounts of water.  It would be mind boggling to imagine the shape of a water tank that is needed to grow all the rice that the country needs.

Even worse. Our current ways of chemically dependent farming need far far more water than organic farming needs.

In a nutshell, we are more mouths to feed than before, we are eating more water intensive foods than before and we are growing them in ways that need more water than before. It is a perfect storm.

Water – the Supply

Have you heard of water farmers? No, silly, not the ones who grow food with the help of water. Water farmers are folks who decided that as water is the most precious input into farming, it makes sense to just sell their water off. Tankers come in, fill up water from their bore-wells and head to the cities to fill up the sump tanks of apartments and bungalows. Water is becoming more expensive than grains.

How has that come to pass? We can all hazard a guess. My guess is that many of us are willing to pay the price for more water. We are the most water consuming society that ever lived.. and we live in times of the greatest water scarcity ever.

So, when we need so much water, given that rains are erratic and they are bound to get even more erratic in the future, the only way to get more water is to draw it out from the earth. Dig a well, drain the water out. The well goes dry, dig deeper, keep going. The deeper you go, the older the water. Typically the water in the bore-wells of Hyderabad is 6000 years old. It took 6000 years for that water to accumulate. What happens when we dry them out? Guess!

So, what is happening now?

Urban lakes that served urban water needs have been reclaimed. Cities are drawing water from rivers and irrigation reservoirs.

As water table sinks lower and lower, farmers need more electricity to draw water from their wells because the wells have gotten deeper. The local ponds have dried up. All this while, we want more of rice and meat and other water heavy foods on our tables because we can afford it.

What’s the solution?

Yes there are solutions, they are hard. Water is just one challenge as I had written above: soil, seeds and market are the other challenges. If we take a good long view of these four together, solutions emerge. Many are already working on these solutions, we will explore these in the next few posts.

– Farhan

Read more:

 

Government Forecasts Record Food Grain Output in the Crop Year of 2018

Government Forecasts Record Food Grain Output in the Crop Year of 2018

Crop production forecasts are commonly understood as an important tool in preparing the food balance sheets of the country. They also give a fair idea regarding food production shortfalls.

So when the Agriculture Ministry, Government of India forecasts a record food grain output in this crop year ending in June 2018, in view of the good rainfall received in the country, the clouds of food price inflation and temporary food insecurity recede. Rice production is pegged at 1.2% higher than last year at 110.11 million tonnes. How accurate will this forecast be? Only time will tell.

By the way, India ranks 66 in the Global Food Security Index of 2012, despite PDS.

Read the full story here:

 

 

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.

Forgotten Super Food: Hand Pound Rice

Forgotten Super Food: Hand Pound Rice

In a small tribal village Hansuli in Chattisgarh, few women farmers’ groups are trying to revive a 300 year old tradition of hand pounding rice. They are also able to generate additional income in the process.

Currently, rice mill machine use rubber rollers to produce a rice which looks like hand pounded rice. But it is not the same thing because the heat created by milling and pounding machine changes the taste and also removes the  micro nutrients from the rice. Human hand pounding of rice is a slow and laborious process that takes a longer time. It doesn’t produce heat so you get a natural taste. Nutrients and micro nutrients  are preserved in the human hand pounded rice. Hand pound rice is rich in selenium which keeps away cancers, cardiac  diseases and arthritis.

Human hand pounded rice has various names in different part of world – Dheki Rice, Hath Sadi Tandul, Kaikuthal arisi, Dhampudu Biyyam.

It is a super food by all standards as it can keep lifestyle ailments at bay. Read more here:

Daana supports small and marginal farmers who brings many such healthy farm produce to consumers.

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.