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?

Making your deodorant

1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
4 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
10 drops/shakes grapefruit essential oil
A tin or jar with lid



In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients, then add oils gradually until you like the consistency, mixing with a fork. Store in a closed container at room temp. (If the mixture seems too soft, try refrigerating it for a bit to firm it up.)

To apply, scoop up a bit with your finger, hold it against your skin for a couple seconds so it melts a little, then rub around.


In another win for sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), here is a recipe for deodorant. I’m currently battle-testing it in 40 degrees Delhi summer, and as far as I can smell, feel or see it is absolutely superbly functional. Benefit of essential oils like lemon (which I used) is that I also believe they add extra anti-bacterial properties (sweat smell is in the end bacteria smell).

Not only is this deodorant effective, it’s also dirt cheap (at least in India), doesn’t include any harmful chemicals or metals (most other deodorants even ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable ones’ seem to include various forms of aluminium), shouldn’t be too carcinogenic (like regular deodorant) AND you can get it in any smell you like (just alter the essential oils).

I added some tea tree oil which also means that it’s good for your skin…

Apart from muffins, sodium bicarbonate has provide to have many uses like toilet and bathroom cleaner, pesticide and so on, in fact so many that once I should probably collect a post of all baking soda recipes I’ve collected (including that of chocolate muffins..).

How to improve human-glacier relations (they’re pretty bad)

Ever wondered how to better interact with glaciers?

PS. I love that my new MTNL 3G sim allows me to stream (yes, stream!)
TED talks to my cell. Even our fixed line broadband at work can’t do
that. DS.

Making no-electricity lightbulbs from plastic bottles

Interesting project! My only question would be if bleach could be replaced by something slightly less harmful? Any chemists around?

Thanks to Madhura for the find.

Who will be the Kraft foods for the emerging middle class? And how must they be different?

The middle class in emerging economies is growing by leaps and bounds. McKinsey has some pretty huge numbers estimating the size of this market.

Furthermore, they quote a study saying that the 1925 market leaders – at the time the European and American middle classes grew like this – were still the leaders at the end of the century.

A huge opportunity for business in other words. However it is also a huge opportunity for a change in the patterns of consumption. It is arguably a large, affluent middle class t puts the largest pressures on for example environment, health care, etc. (the rich are too few to matter). Only if we manage to grow the emerging middle with a different set of behaviors (public transport, less meat, sustainable travel) will this not be a huge threat.

Hopefully the Kraft Foods of the emerging middle will have a completely different set of desirable behaviors to sell.

Building a compost plant, part 1

This is part 1 in series that I’m assuming will be extended with a couple of more entries as the next month goes by. As I’ve said previously, I’m currently in Bokaro Steel City, working together with my CEO on consulting a local NGO on building a compost plant.


Building a compost plant isn’t as easy as it might seem. First of all there are a number of questions that need to be answered – how many tons of waste per day should it handle? what is the organic content (vs. recyclables and other materials) of the waste? where do we have the land to build one? what kind of support do we have from the municipality? what are the funds available to build it? how should the design of the plant be to ensure best efficiency / lowest cost? what building materials to use? And so on and so on.


After a bit more than a week of work (albeit at a not too high pace – I’ll blog about Indian time-keeping shortly!), we’re now coming as far as that we have all the contractors in place, the land, the money and the design of the plant done, and the leveling of the ground has got underway. The plant will be built on a site next to the general dumpsite, which means that we don’t need to worry about any neighbors complaining (in case they’re not bothered by the dump site – I’m sure they won’t mind a composting site) and that space is ample.


Some tricky things we bumped into during the construction phase were trying to figure out a good design of the plant (none of us being construction engineers), finding the right materials and eventually getting the budget to be slim enough to fit our NGO partner.


Personally, I found one situation especially challenging. In India, one of the most commonly used materials for roofing is cement laden with asbestos. Asbestos cement is highly toxic, but very durable, fire-retardant and quite cheap. It’s by now forbidden in over 50 countries and would probably have been put on an international list of restricted materials were it not for Canada’s financial interest in asbestos mining. For the project – the most economic and simple option would be asbestos. Pragmatically, you could argue “this is not going to be the place where the workers are exposed to the most asbestos throughout their lives, and it’s an open area so there’s not going to be greatly increased exposure for the operators of the plants”. Arguing based on principle you would say “working with a sustainable venture means not creating built in risks that will be exposed when the asbestos eventually degrades and might create health problems as far as 20-30 years from now, the only way to stop asbestos from being used is not to buy it”.


I think I’m getting my position pretty clear by now – what’s yours?

A sustainable trade-off?

Some of the most interesting discussions come up when you are faced with a trade-off, especially when it is between two areas or ideas that have an almost equal value to you.

Currently I am spending about two weeks in Rome as part of an international conference called International Presidents Meeting (or IPM for short) that AIESEC organizes to connect all the presidents of the global organization and set the global strategic plan as well as host legislation to manage the governance of AIESEC.


In this global, strategic forum a lot of trade-offs come up. One of the ones that came up for discussion during a lunch-break was the trade-off – caused by these global meetings – between acting sustainably (one of AIESEC’s core values) and between connecting people face to face from different cultures in order to create understanding of the value of diversity and intercultural connections (another one of our values). We have for example a conference having more than 700 participants that brings together the management of local and international level of AIESEC from all over the world. The carbon footprint of such a conference is of course very high (from flights, etc.) – so, is it reasonable for us to host such a meeting? Could the same purpose be reached by other means – such as connecting with each other online and hosting virtual meetings?

Personally, right now, I don’t have an answer – but I think the process of asking these questions is valuable and that we should constantly reassess if the activities, meetings and products that we offer are really in line with our values and, if we identify a trade-off, perform a cost-benefit analysis as to what we can expect to achieve and what the cost to our other values are.

How much for a tonne of carbon?

This is my third post on how to carbon offset a trip from Brussels to Stockholm. In the first one I dealt with how much carbon to offset and in the second which type of offsetting to do. This post explores how much to pay for offsetting. So, once I figured out the standards part and what type of offsetting they did – the next challenge came up – what should be the price for a tonne of carbon?  This is not an easy question to answer as the market is very new, and there aren’t really any set standards on how to price carbon. What you can generally see is that CER projects will be more expensive than the VER projects (for explanation read my earlier post), as CER is priced through a market based system whereas VERs can allow their price to be set much more idependantly. 


From the 10 services I compared the price of offsetting a tonne of carbon varied from €6 ( to €27 ( This would add between €3.4 and €13.86 euros to my trip between Brussels and Stockholm


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