Broken Agriculture

I am fed up with people saying we need to produce more food. We already produce 4,600 calories per person per day which is twice as much food as we need. The problem of nearly a billion people going hungry is not for want of food but of access and equity. India produces excess foodgrains and yet it has the largest number of hungry people in the world. The US has 42 million hungry people. So what needs to change?

Abducted children from Delhi sold to slavery

MAHENDRA WAS taken to Karnal, in Punjab, by a Sikh man. “From Karnal we were taken to Sandgaon, where he lived. At Sandgaon, he took us first to his sugarcane fields, and then later to the buffalo shed and told me that I have to wake up at four in the morning, clean the shed and prepare fodder for the buffaloes before sunrise. I was then supposed to work in the fields all day,” he recounts.

“It was only after the morning chores that I was given the morning chai and two rotis for the day. I then had to work in the fields.” Mahendra worked in the fields with Shehnewaz, another abducted boy. “He was the one who told me that the sardar had bought me for Rs 4,000 from a local agent.”

When pressed for the sardar’s name, Mahendra mumbles, “His name was Gijja Singh, and his sister was called Preeti. His son’s name was Dilbagh Singh. They have a big house in Sandgaon surrounded by high walls on all sides, so I could never run away. They abused and beat me whenever I talked about going home. We weren’t even given enough food to eat. The sardar used to say that food would make us lazy.”














*Till 15 April 2012, Source: Ministry of Home Affairs

In the meantime, Mahendra’s parents left no stone unturned in their efforts to trace their son. They travelled from Delhi to Haridwar pasting ‘missing child’ posters in every nook and corner along the way, as the police in Delhi refused to register and FIR. “I ran to Jahangirpuri police station the same day my son was abducted. But the lady-in-charge asked me for mithai in return for registering the FIR. I gave her the Rs 200 I had in my pocket then, but she only made a diary entry. I was asked to look for my child myself. After making numerous rounds of the station, an FIR was finally registered, but I wasn’t given a copy,” says Ram Ratan, Mahendra’s father, who works as a daily wage labourer in a tobacco factory.

Amazingly, an NGO working in these regions have commented in the article : “ACCORDING TO Kailash Satyarthi, head of Bachpan Bachao Andolan “such events are examples of the shortsightedness of schemes like the MNREGA, which led a big chunk of agricultural labour to shift towards welfare schemes, resulting in acute shortage. Keeping local children is always riskier as their parents can come searching so sugarcane farmers have started bringing children from Delhi.”

So… the conclusion is that if agricultural labour goes short because of a government scheme, it’s quite natural that land owners abduct and buy children as bonded labour?

Rotten Tomato Science


The successful sequencing of the tomato genome will lead to tastier varieties within five years say scientists.

They believe that the elusive flavour of home grown tomatoes will by then be widely available in supermarkets.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers say the genetic information could reduce the need for pesticides.

Nice, tasty, tomatoes. Two methods.

Method 1

Step 1.1: Get some seed

Step 1.2: Get some compost (or make some)

Step 1.3: Plant seed in said compost

Step 1.4: Wait (water occasionally)

Step 1.5: Pick tomato. Eat.

Method 2

Step 2.1: Sequence tomato genome

Step 2.2: Develop genetic hybrid

Step 2.3: Develop complimentary chemical fertilizer mix and pesticide mix

Step 2.4: Patent said hybrid, genome, fertilizer and pesticides

Step 2.5: Develop marketing materials, sell new gmo tomato to farmers (it’s all new it actually tastes like tomatoes!)

Step 2.6: Get farmer and greenhouse, get oil to run it, grow tomato

Step 2.7: Harvest tomato

Step 2.8: Make deal with supermarket to sell tomato

Step 2.9: Transport tomato to supermarket (spray it some more for good measure)

Step 2.10: Have supermarket sell tomato to customer

Step 2.11: Bring tomato home. Eat.

Anybody think that what we might be missing is not a genome (though that’s all cool to have tomato genome sequenced) but rather a radical rethink?

Sustenance for all or profit for some?

Barah Anaaj is a mixed farming system wherein farmers grow 12 foodgrains on the same piece of land. These 12 crops include ram dana (amaranthus), rajma (kidney bean), ragi (finger millet), mangjeer, green gram, buck wheat, lobia (black eyed pea), horse gram, a traditional soy called math and a few other crops.

Farmers in Uttarakhand explain that the reason their ancestors used to follow this practice is that in case one crop fails due to climatic conditions, the others can be harvested. This would ensure food for family and a farmer will not have to beg others for food. The system also ensured less pests and diseases. It also helped them fight drought. “Ragi is one of the crops that would survive even in harsh hot weather. Even one rainfall is enough for the seed to germinate,” farmers in the area say.

  Shanti Devi  
  “I still remember sowing 12 seeds with my mother. Even in droughts, we had enough food to eat”  
  —Shanti Devi from Panwadhokhan village in Almora  

“I still remember sowing 12 seeds with my mother. Even in droughts, we had enough food to eat,” says 60-year-old Shanti Devi from Panwadhokhan village in Almora district. It was a laborious work and we used to harvest one crop after another as their maturity times were different. After harvesting, the crop was dried in the sun and stored in huge mud utensils. She adds, “Women in our areas are always busy. Our day starts in darkness and ends in darkness. We get up at 4 am, finish household chores and rush to the farms by 7 am. By noon we come back to cook lunch and then winnow, clean and thresh the foodgrains.”

The practice of growing barah anaaj is generally followed in Kharif season because during Rabi season weather is generally cold and temperatures are very low. The seed sowing starts between mid-May and mid-June. Harvesting is done between mid-September and mid-October. 

But the irony is that this system is already on brink of disappearance in the state. The reason is popularisation of mono-farming, the practice of growing a single crop, to boost the income of farmers. The switch is for betterment of farmers according to government officials. But it leaves me in a dilemma. With climate change and uncertainty in weather conditions like erratic rainfall and long drought spells will this mono-culture help farmers? What is more important for Uttarakhand farmers’–sustenance or commercialisation?

While the 12 grain system described here might not have provided farmers with riches beyond what their family needs, it seemed to have provided at least for that. With mono cropping some will get rich, but on the way many would loose their land, migrate to the cities to become laborers or succumb to pesticide fueled infertile lands (as has happened elsewhere in India)…

We have to question – is the TV set for some and poverty for others as opposed to sustenance for all really the way forward?