Chawang Norphel: Glacier Man of India

Ladakh is an arid region with sparse vegetation and scanty rainfall. Glaciers are the fountainhead of water for farming communities in the area.  The Himalayan glaciers feed the region’s rivers which irrigate farm land in the northern part of the Indian sub-continent.  With global warming melting the Himalayan glaciers at an alarming rate, water shortage has been widespread , affecting numerous lives.

Meet Mr. Chawang Norphel, a retired civil engineer, also known as the Glacier

Mr. Chewang Norphel. Image source: www.outlookindia.com

Mr. Chewang Norphel. Image source: http://www.outlookindia.com

Man of India. He is waging a one-man battle to stop global warming melting the glaciers. He has developed a simple technique to harvest water into “Artificial Glaciers” using simple materials such as pipes.

By diverting meltwater through a network of pipes into artificial lakes in the shaded side of mountain valleys, he says he has created new glaciers. A dam or embankment is built to keep in the water, which freezes at night and remains frozen in the absence of direct sunlight. The water remains frozen until March, when the start of summer melts the new glacier and releases the water into the rivers below. So far, Mr Norphel’s glaciers have been able to each store up to one million cubic feet of ice, which in turn can irrigate 200 hectares of farm land. For farmers, that can make the difference between crop failure and a bumper crop of more than 1,000 tons of wheat.

Artificial Glacier process. Image source: www.india.youth-leader.org

Artificial Glacier process. Image source: http://www.india.youth-leader.org

The government had encouraged artificial glaciers in few areas of Leh. However, due to manpower and capital costs involved, this intervention is seen as a costly investment by experts.

But, what is remarkable is the willpower of Mr. Chawang Norphel to help the farming communities of Leh.

Climate Classification at a District Level in India

Impacts of climate change on our planet have been well documented.   Over the period of few decades , the changes that have occurred seem to be significant.

According to a recent paper in Current Science, the twenty year old classification of districts on climate zones does not hold true today.

India district climate zones: Image source: www.makanaka.wordpress.com

India district climate zones 1971 to 2005: Image source: http://www.makanaka.wordpress.com

The study indicates

  • Substantial increase of arid region in Gujarat and decrease of arid region in Haryana.
  • Increase in semi-arid region in Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh due to shift of climate from dry sub-humid to semi-arid.
  • Moist sub-humid pockets in Chattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have turned dry sub-humid to a large extent.

Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute warns that four types of geographies will share the largest burden of climate change crisis. a)  the low-lying coastal settlements, b)  farm regions dependent on river water from glacier and snow melt, c)  sub-humid and arid regions that suffer from drought, and d)  regions of Southeast Asia facing changes in monsoon patterns.Most of India falls into one of these four zones.

It is imperative for us to comprehend the reasons behind this shift in the classification and identify the enabling mechanisms required to cope with this change.

State of India’s Media

A documentary about the state of our media. Be it the elections, the Indian Premier League (IPL), stock markets, mutual funds, entertainment, or the daily news bulletin.  Can we hold a mirror to the glass buildings and ivory towers?

Editorial content is decided by marketing executives. Politicians/ political parties & industrialists have become owners or major shareholders, and owners have become editors. The amount of dedication and truthfulness – basically an urge to bring about positive changes through investigative journalism has somehow disappeared.  Even the reasons of getting into journalism have changed. And all of this has happened with active support from the top media houses – who now concentrate more on the business of news rather than news.

—Umesh Agarwal. National award-winning  film maker

No pillar is more important in a democracy than the fourth estate. Currently,  integrity standards of our news media seem appalling. However, despite the absence or decline in ethical standards across board, there are a few journalists  who take their job seriously. Some in the national media while some in the regional media.

As citizens of a democracy, all we can wish for the true journalism minority is “May their tribe increase!”

Videos – of the Farmers ,by the Farmers

Content Generation. Image source: www.microsoft.com

Content Generation. Image source: http://www.microsoft.com

Agriculture is crucial to human civilization. If not for the farmers who toil, we would be starving.  It is imperative for us to understand that agriculture is sensitive to variations in climatic conditions and that farmers often have to the face the challenges of increasing agricultural output while adapting to external changes.

Many acres of fields are witness to agricultural innovations initiated by our farmers. The problem is: how do we get ideas from Farmer A who is using a technique successfully,  to Farmer B, who wants to do the same, but can’t afford experimenting with untested techniques?

Digital Green  has pioneered a system to raise the livelihoods of smallholder farmers across the developing world through the targeted production and dissemination of agricultural information via participatory video and mediated instruction through grassroots-level partnerships. Currently prevalent in Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa, this unique social organisation is reaching out to at least 60,000 farmers and 900 villages.

The unique components of Digital Green are: (1) a participatory process for content production, (2) a locally generated digital video database, (3) human-mediated instruction for dissemination and training, and (4) regimented sequencing to initiate a new community.

The videos can be found online. DVDs are sent to various villages. DVDs are received by local village mediators who  engage the community by pausing and rewinding the videos, fielding questions, and encouraging group participation.  Unlike broadcast programs or standalone kiosks, the mediators take  the shared TV and DVD players to farmers at their choice time and place and serve as a feedback mechanism for farmers.

In the cities, Digital Green is organising workshops where farmers can discuss their practices and teach city-dwellers urban farming.  “We are aiming to connect urban consumers with the people and experiences of rural India,” says Rikin Gandhi, CEO of Digital Green

“The farming community, their long-term interest and their confidence, are affected by the broader perceptions and culture of our society. Amid a nascent but growing movement toward sustainable and local foods in cities, it makes sense to screen films that are relevant to and will connect the two groups — essentially sending out the message that anyone can be their own farmer.”

Leisure…

William Henry Davies, a Welsh poet who lived from 1871 to 1940 and spent much of his life in the USA, wrote a poem called “Leisure”. In the poem, he poses a question, ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’

Nearly a century later, these words still hold true.  In the cut-throat world we inhabit, pressure exists in umpteen ways. Our lives revolves around the notion of acquiring more. Be it knowledge, wealth, or social status/acceptance. Our notion of real wealth  – sharing and bonding with people, nurturing relationships, creating memories and observing the small wonders of nature seems to have undergone a transformation.

Sharing this poem is my way of reminding all of us caught in this “wired world” to take time and enjoy the simple joys of daily life!

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
                                            ————-W.H. Davies

Flower Power: Story of Nusrat Jehan

Kashmir is  a paradise that has been lost in the clash of terrorism, and the callousness of our politicians. Kashmir’s youth have struggled to find a footing in their home state. Though educated, and resilient, the limited opportunities available in the ravaged state has not helped their cause. However, there appears to be an oasis of hope.

Nusrat Jehan. Image source: www.moneycontrol.com

Nusrat Jehan. Image source: http://www.moneycontrol.com

Take the example of Nusrat Jahan.  Nusrat  is from Dadoora village in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district. She graduated in computer applications in 1999. She worked as community organizer in Jammu Development Authority. Not satisfied with her job, she decided to quit and start her own business.

The cut-flower business attracted her. For Kashmiris, who suffered from militancy and resulting violence, purchasing flowers was the last thing on their minds. To start something where the returns are not assured required a lot of courage.

Nusrat’s persistence was paid off when she bagged her first contract with Jammu and Kashmir bank for their functions. As the demand for fresh flowers steadily grew, she began to grow them in her backyard. Unable to meet the growing demand, she started procuring flowers from other states, and eventually started floriculture in Budgam district of Kashmir.

After a decade of hard work and determination today, she is the president of 2000 strong J&K flower association and  owns three flower farms, a retail outlet and employs around 20 on roll staff members. The struggle of achieving annual turnover of Rs.2 Crores was not an easy job. She faced the ferocity of militants, who once threatened to kill her because of the contracts with government departments.

Kashmir’s government seems to be focused solely on tourism and  has been slow in tapping floriculture, fisheries, and agriculture based industries for income-generation opportunities. Success stories of entrepreneurs such as Nusrat Jehan are an inspiration in the troubled valley.

Children help sustain India’s hybrid seed industry

Nearly 8 million hectares of land is under vegetable cultivation in India, and about 30% of this area is covered with hybrid varieties. The market for hybrid varieties is rapidly increasing. Hybrid seed production is a highly labour-intensive activity.

A recent study has revealed that the Hybrid Seed Production Industry in

Seeds of Bondage. Image source: www.indianet.nl

Seeds of Bondage. Image source: http://www.indianet.nl

India, dominated by multinational companies employs children as labourers.

The present study is mainly based on the analysis of primary data collected through field visits to 490 sample farms in 45 villages in six districts in three states: Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Of the total 490 sample farms, nearly 50% (250 farms) are located in Karnataka, 160 farms in Maharashtra and 80 farms in Gujarat.

The Indian company Bejo Sheetal, joint venture partner of Bejo Seeds from The Netherlands, tolerates widespread child labour at the farmers who supply seeds to them. The farmers providing seeds to Nunhems India – part of Nunhems Netherlands – work almost without using child labourers younger than 14. This is the main conclusion from the report ‘A Tale of Two Companies – The difference between action and inaction in combating child labour”, published by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN)

Reasons companies employ Children include

  • Because children work tirelessly.
  • Because children can be paid less than the minimum wage.
  • Because children can be easily controlled compared to adult workers.

The report found that poverty and indebtedness are the major factors that compel families to send their children to work on the seed farms.

While child labour is banned by law, one major consequence of the invasion of the agricultural sector by corporate houses, driven by relentless search for profits based on cheap labour, is the widespread use of children in agricultural operations in sectors controlled by such companies.

It is not surprising that  seed companies are  relocating and expanding their production to new areas—pockets where cheap labour is readily available and where there is less public concern about child labour.

Our government on the other hand, is  a mute spectator.

The reports can be accessed here.