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September 25, 2010

Environmental concerns in agriculture – a very old problem

Filed under: agriculture, common man, environment, gandhi, gandhian principles, global warming — Tags: — neosurya @ 17:21

I often used to think that the environment concerns in agriculture could not be very recent. Similar concerns should have been present earlier as well. After all, the human species has been cutting down trees and establishing itself as a mono cropper from sometime now. I used to wonder how early people would have reacted, especially the farmers in India.

I have been reading Ramchandra Guha’s “India After Gandhi” [Reviews: 1, 2]. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary India. Since we are talking about agriculture here, I will put a few relevant excerpts. Guha’s book contains the following discussion between a village lever worker (VLW) and a farmer (MS):

VLW: What do you think of the new seed?

MS: What can I think? If the Govt. thinks it is good, it must be good.

VLW: Do you think it is better than the local variety?

MS: Yes, It resits disease much better. It can stand frost and rain, and there is more demand for it in the market.

VLW: What about yield?

MS: I cannot say. Some people say it is more, others say it is not.

VLW: Some people say it is not as good in taste.

MS: They are right. It is not half as good. If the roti is served hot it is more or less the same, but if we keep it for an hour or so it gets tough as hide. No, it is not as good in taste. People say that we all get very weak if we eat this wheat.

VLW: What is your experience?

MS: Many more people suffer from digestive disorders these days. Our childern have coughs and colds. Perhapes it is becasue of the new seed and sugar cane. It may be that the air has been spoilt by the wars.

VLW: And what about the new fertilizer?

MS: They increase the yield; there is no doubt about it. But they probably destroy the vitality of the land and also of the grain.

There is another quote included by Guha, a letter by Gandhi’s disciple Mira Behn dated 1949:

The tragedy today is that educated and moneyed classes are altogether out of touch with the vital fundamentals of existence — our Mother Earth, and the animal and vegetable population which she sustains. This world of Nature’s planning is ruthlessly plundered, despoiled and disorganized by man whenever he gets the chance. By his science and machinery he may get huge returns for a time, but ultimately will come desolation. We have got to study Nature’s balance and develop our lives within her laws if we are to survive as a physically healthy and morally decent species.

The discussion between the VLW and villager was first published by S C Dube in 1958 [Links to book: 1, 2], and the letter above was written in 1949. One can imagine how far back people were thinking about the effects of chemical farming and the resultant socio-environmental issues.

For those who are new to environmental problems in agriculture, I had previously blogged about a few aspects: Bt Brinjal, Double standards in Organic food, One Straw Revolution.

India’s changing villages: human factors in community development

June 21, 2010

Concrete development.

Filed under: gandhian principles, market, nature, news, social change — Tags: — neosurya @ 15:37

Visited a “green” venture by a local developer. The guy even asked us tips to make the place greener; they claimed that some folks from Canada had bought a 1 acre property there, and a businessman from Dubai was going to come in a day or two. One of us was an avid byker, The developer asked him for the brand of international bikes that would be appropriate for his brand. He had ducks in artificial ponds, ostriches, turkeys (from turkey)??? The place was guaranteed to develop, would give us great returns, he promised. Wonderful. On the return journey, we mulled over the development that was unfolding about 70 Kms from Bangalore and about 15 Kms from Kanakpura.

As we passed by the concrete pillars built on Outer ring road near Agara Kere, we wondered how “green” these were, and how green would the construction in the village near Kanakpura. BTW, there is no mention of the village on the developer’s website.

And, I also wonder how we became developing nations, and a few other countries became developed nations. Is it because of all the concrete, the air-conditioning, and all the medication that they are getting, or is it because of their obesity. I guess when all toilets in a country get air-conditioning, the nation can be called well-developed.

I remembered an article in the Hindu about how impoverished African refugees were being developed. Or were they?

In Kandikiti, where Jean Lupanga’s family lives, a group of 20 villagers won a $4,000 grant last year to start a pig farm to help orphans. The group bought nine pure-bred hogs, built them a residence nicer than those of most people and posted volunteers to guard it round the clock. They also bought 10 bicycles, vaccines for the pigs and paid their members to attend training sessions.

More than a year later, they have not sold a single one of the white, floppy-eared, European-bred pigs. In a village where scruffy local pigs trot freely among the huts, the group’s leader fell silent when asked who could afford such expensive pork.

And then, this article on corporate, colonial, and now Asian interests in Africa:

About Africa’s role in the world, the old colonial mindset seems to be alive and kicking. Recently a senior French minister called Africa “our El Dorado”, a legendary city of gold. France reportedly wants to ensure broader influence in Africa, seen as “a frontier for profit-making.” Many American, EU and Chinese companies seem to share this perspective.

Will Indian companies be different? Will they give to Africa as much as they receive from it, if not more? This is perhaps what Ratan Tata had in mind when he recently recalled that South Africa had been a victim of “exploitative and extractive enterprise”. He suggested that India and South Africa could have “a different relationship”, one based on mutual benefit and genuine partnership. His advice applies to all Indian companies operating in Africa, not just in South Africa.

March 14, 2009

Market – and only market.

Filed under: Carl Jung, gandhi, gandhian principles, market, Sigmund Freud — neosurya @ 19:36

We had been to Satish’s farm last Saturday. Their story is similar to that of Srikanth and Priti at vanashree: http://www.vanashree.in/Ourjourney.htm. I will not repeat the aspects of simple living and so on over here. It is better described at several other websites.

I wonder what would be the social implications if people take to such lifestyles on a large scale. Often, people say that such a simple life, or “the Gandhian way” is anti-development. I beg to differ. The way most “development” is designed right now, it is designed to only serve a “market”. The larger the market, the better the development. This cannot be the best model that our economists, researchers, and industrialists can come up with.

There has to be a middle ground between crass commercialization, market economy principles, and the North-Korea/Cambodia style defeatist principles. As for a window into current “market development”, it would help looking at a sample of the products that hit markets, I quote an article I saw on Onion:

== Begin quote ==
“Often, when we’re assigned a new order for, say, ‘salad shooters,’ I will say to myself, ‘There’s no way that anyone will ever buy these,'” Chen said during his lunch break in an open-air courtyard. “One month later, we will receive an order for the same product, but three times the quantity. How can anyone have a need for such useless shit?”

“I hear that Americans can buy anything they want, and I believe it, judging from the things I’ve made for them,” Chen said. “And I also hear that, when they no longer want an item, they simply throw it away. So wasteful and contemptible.”
== End quote ==

Of course, not all products are this bad. Some innovations are really useful. But much of it is junk, or given the environmental hazards posed, worse than junk :). The effect of a purely market economy can go deeper than creating junk. It subtly alters people to think that they are happy while indulging in products, and satisfying such an indulgence is most important for “life”. BBC had a series called “The Century of the Self”. It is a documentary about the understanding of human behavior vis-a-vis market economy and large businesses (Available on google video). The works of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud make for very interesting reading here.

This is where Gandhian living kicks in. It focusses on people satisfying their basic needs through their own hard work, and looking for external resources only when absolutely needed. A typical argument against this lifestyle is that it stunts progress; Science is like evolution and needs to be done in baby steps (I agree with this). If one ventures to science only when absolutely needed, there will be disorganized, slow, or stunted development. For example, if vaccum cleaners were never invented, the “roomba“, an automatic vaccum cleaner would never have been invented. This is a very subjective argument for which a short answer is not possible. However, in the current era, it is easy to see that most science has been overtaken by a market phenomena. Too frequently, the fundamental technology, and even a study of its effectiveness at solving the stated problem gets much less importance than the buzz factor generated. It gets even more dangerous when profit becomes the prime driving force behind industry. A lifestyle that is focussed on only solving the most important problems will not let go of scientific advances completely. It may be a model that can eliminate mass-producing the “junk” that gets generated by intermediate results.

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