Videos – of the Farmers ,by the Farmers

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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.”

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Leisure…

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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

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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

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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.

We are featured in a book!

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Y.O.U You Own Urself by Sharmin Ali  Image source: www. power-publishers.com

Y.O.U You Own Urself by Sharmin Ali Image source: www. power-publishers.com

The story of “Ek Sparsh” has been featured in a book!   “You Own Urself” is authored by Sharmin Ali.

YOU (“You Own Urself”) is about overcoming one’s inhibitions. It is about breaking free from physical, mental or emotional handicaps.  A journey that every individual can associate with. Y.O.U talks about trespassing the status quo and taking control of your life.

I met the author last year  at one of the stalls we had put up to market our eco-friendly products. We started talking about the need to follow our calling in life.  She interviewed us for her book about 3 months back.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

“The desire to do something for their country led Adarsh and Udaya to take a huge ‘Leap of Faith’. On returning from the US, they took a meditation course at the Vipassana meditation centre at Nagarjuna  Sagar run by SN Goenka. With 10 days of silence, came clarity on their next path in life which drew them to working with NGOs in Bangalore. Yet, there was something missing, the desire to do more. “Ek Sparsh” which Adarsh started as a blog in US was the name of their social enterprise. The goal of “Ek Sparsh” is to touch lives in a meaningful way.”

To read the rest, you have to purchase the book.

YOU is available in all leading bookstores and on Flipkart, Amazon, and Infibeam.

Kindle Edition is also available on Amazon.

Living without refrigerator in India

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During our stay in the US, we moved about 3 times. Each of the apartments we moved into had a refrigerator. In my eagerness to shop ALL I needed for the week, I would buy lot of food stuff in bulk. I am guilty of using the refrigerator as a cupboard or storage space for fruits, vegetables, and condiments. Anything and everything including, flour was kept in the fridge. I would review the contents of our fridge about once in a month (or 2 months, depending on my work) and would throw expired food away. My excuse invariably was that I did not have time.

It has been nearly 3 years since we moved to India, and we have not had a refrigerator for these years. The transition to our current life without a refrigerator was easier than anticipated.  I learned how many things need not be refrigerated.  The peak summer temperature in Bangalore at 36.7 degrees Centigrade (Approximately 98 degrees Fahrenheit) was never a hindrance this year. We use the natural coolness of our home in summers and the warmth of sunshine during the winters to get a majority of our work done.

When we visit villages as part of our work we notice that in some homes, they do not have a fridge. Our grandparents’ generation did just fine without the refrigerator. So much of what the average city dweller in India possesses is a result of culture and convenience. Often, we don’t have a need, but advertising and society (read media, friends, colleagues, relatives) have convinced us what we should have. Over the past fifty years or so, in our quest to become “modern”, we have lost a lot of our traditional knowledge.

It would be unfair to say that everyone can do without a fridge but the urban dweller in India definitely has an edge over his rural counterpart.  In majority of urban India, vegetable markets and local stores are within walking distance of one’s home. It is surprisingly easy to live without a fridge once you realize that most foods don’t really need refrigeration. ( In fact they would last longer if not refrigerated.) We do not need to have a refrigerator just to prove that we are modern! I often hear a gasp from people when I tell them we do not have a fridge. I strongly believe that we must stop following the main stream opinions and start questioning conventional wisdom. We should pay more attention to what works for us, instead of what needs to work for us.

In the process of writing this blog, I have been fortunate to read many thought provoking articles on agricultural and ecological issues,  and consumerism.  It has influenced me to rethink my cavalier attitude towards the environment – be it energy and water  consumption, or food wastage.  Living without refrigerator has helped me examine my own relationship with food consumption, preservation, and wastage.

Groundwater crisis in India

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Can you pinpoint the biggest challenge facing India today? Corruption, Overpopulation or Illiteracy may be your top answers. Think again.  The greatest threat may well be lack of access to clean water.

Ground water refers to all water below the surface of the ground. Ground water is a major source of fresh water critical for sustaining life. However, it is nature’s buried treasure, since much of it is stored underground. Underground water is the only source of water in many dry areas. Water is brought to the surface using pumps and used in various sectors. Groundwater is used to irrigate India’s farmland. Beneath the “growing economy, and development facade” of our towns and cities, is the gripping water crisis.The Central Ground Water Board has reported that in the 10 years to 2011, there has been a more than 4m decline in aquifers that supply six major cities, including New Delhi, and Mumbai.

Fluid Situation: Image source: www.hindustantimes.com

Fluid Situation: Image source: http://www.hindustantimes.com

A number of factors affect the depleting groundwater levels in India. Groundwater is used for irrigating our agricultural lands, used by industries, and for human consumption. Apart from gross misuse especially by the first two sectors, the government by virtue of its poor distribution system, adds to the woes. In cities like Delhi and Pune , nearly 40% of the water supply is lost due to leakages.

Quality of groundwater is also major concern where ground water resources are used for human consumption.  Urban development, sewage contamination, run-off from  landfills, and widespread application of fertilizers and pesticides are the major contributors polluting our ground water.

Effects of Arsenic and Flouride. Image source: www.thehindubusinessline.com

Effects of Arsenic and Flouride. Image source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com

Fluoride is another natural contaminant that threatens millions in India. Aquifers in the drier regions of  India are  rich in fluoride deposits. Fluoride is an essential nutrient for bone and dental health, but when consumed in high concentrations,  can lead to crippling damage to the neck and back, and to a range of dental problems. The WHO estimates 30 million in northwestern India are drinking water with high fluoride levels. The reason for this is that water has been pumped from deeper aquifers that contain high concentrations of arsenic. Recent reports suggest that groundwater in parts of Delhi is highly polluted.

Some studies from the Central Pollution Control Board paint a dire picture. After half a century of spraying in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Bihar, for example, the Central Pollution Control Board found DDT in groundwater at levels as high as 4,500 micrograms per liter which is several thousand times higher than what is considered a safe dose.

Groundwater depletion has forced cities to seek out alternate supplies of water, either because the groundwater has become unusable as is the case with Jaipur  or groundwater will cease to exist by 2015 in the case of  Hyderabad.

Perhaps the largest misconception being exploded by the spreading water crisis is the assumption that the ground we stand on and what lies beneath it is solid, unchanging, and inert. Just as the advent of climate change has awakened us to the fact that the air over our heads is an arena of enormous forces in the midst of titanic shifts, the water crisis has revealed that slow-moving though it may be, groundwater is part of a system of powerful hydrological interactions between earth, surface water, sky, and sea that we ignore at our peril. http://www.worldwatch.org

Access to Tap Water in rural homes. Image source: www.savethewater.org

Access to Tap Water in rural homes. Image source: http://www.savethewater.org

Access to clean groundwater is linked to our health, and food security.   India’s water crisis is predominately a man-made problem. We not only need to acknowledge the severity of the ground water crisis, but also look at a more holistic approach towards resolving it. There have been some solutions initiated by institutes and ngos. Conserving water, reducing our water footprint, using rain-water to recharge our aquifers are some of the solutions prescribed by scientists and experts. Adequate rainfall can recharge our groundwater.  On an individual level, we need to be more responsible in water usage, and urge policy makers for an effective, sustainable solution.

Further references:

State-wise ground water pollution scenario in India

Ground Water Quality Problems due to Industries

India Groundwater Governance

Manual on Artificial Recharge of Groundwater – Central Ground Water Board

Simple Living

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Since I started this blog a few years back, I have been thinking how to reduce my ecological footprint. In my opinion, it is not acceptable to ask others to make behavioral changes to improve the environment unless I am doing it myself.

In the process of writing this blog, I have read and learnt a considerable amount about the world around us, and how we can help make changes for its betterment. During my stay in the US, I had the opportunity to interact with immigrants from Somalia, and Ethiopia, and hear stories about drought and famine prevalent there. It made we value what we have in the US and India  and how much of our natural resources we take for granted.

Through my journey so far, many events/individuals  have influenced  and reiterated the faith in the path we have taken. Watching the documentary “Nero’s Guest” at Rangashankara,  “Story of Stuff” and the interactions with like-minded people such as Dr. Narayan Reddy, the organic farmer, helped us become more aware of how our choices matter.

Cultural expectations proclaiming bigger is better are prevalent in our society. As a society, material wealth seems to be the prime indicator of an individual’s success.

Living a simple life may conjure images of sacrifice and deprivation. Far from it, I believe it is more about understanding and accepting what is sufficient to live well.

Watching Nero’s Guests and following the changing rural and urban landscape has made me more aware of the consequences of each of my actions. Be it in energy and food consumption, transport and technology usage, or mindfulness and my attitude towards life. Beyond a point, my conscience does not permit me to go to shopping malls, purchase groceries from bazaars, or  waste food and other resources.

The more I read about the various issues facing our world; I am convinced that we need to make a transition towards a more sustainable world. And the transition stems from making changes in our life at the fundamental level.

Birds need water in summer

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Birds need you this summer.  With summer temperatures increasing and water resources scarce, birds find it tough to survive.

Keep a medium-sized bowl of water in your balconies, or terraces. Ensure the water is clean, to avoid birds from catching diseases.

Enjoy the visit of winged creatures!

Image source: www.hgtv.com

Image source: http://www.hgtv.com

Please do!

The story of cucumber

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Cucumber. Botanical Name: Cucumis sativus; Family : Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.vegetablegardener.com

Do you know the best remedy to beat the scorching summer heat? The humble cucumber of course! The phrase “as cool as a cucumber” conjures up an image of a person who remains cool, calm, and collected in a difficult situation just as a cucumber’s inner flesh remains cool even if it’s just been plucked from a hot garden. It is one of the oldest cultivated vegetable.

Bottle Gourd. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.medindia.net

Cucumber belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and includes  many of our favourite vegetables such as pumpkins, melon, cucumber, watermelon, bottle gourds, and bitter gourds. The botanical genus Cucumis, to which cucumber (Cucumis sativus) belongs, was long thought to have originated and diversified in Africa, since many wild species of Cucumis are found there. However, recently obtained molecular data have shown that cucumber (Cucumis sativus L) and melon (Cucumis melo L) are indigenous to India and likely to have originated from the foothills of the Himalayas.

Pumpkin. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk

Botanists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now  shown that both plants origniated in Asia. The cucumber traces its ancestry to the slopes of the Himalayas. Researcher Arun Pandey from the University of Delhi and Susanne Renner from the University of Munich, Germany, created a new checklist of the Cucurbitaceae so as to update the data about the Cucurbitaceae family.

Ridge Gourd. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.indosungod.blogspot.com

The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Bitter Gourd. Family: Cucurbitaceae. Image source: http://www.webindia123.com

The list has 400 names and gives details about the location from where the specimens were collected. The list also includes 94 species from 31 genera. Of the 94 species, 10 are endemic to India. Besides giving details about the location of the samples, the list gives information about the publicly available DNA sequences. DNA sequences of at least 79 percent of the 94 species are available in GenBank – National Institute of Health (NIH) genetic sequence database in the United States, which has a collection of all publicly available DNA sequences.

In a statement, Ms. Renner said

“Updating and summarising the available information on Indian Cucurbitaceae and linking it to molecular data and images may help to focus phylogenetic and floristic research on poorly known species, and potentially strengthen conservation efforts. It may also provide vital genetic information to improve the current varieties of pumpkins, cucumbers, and their relatives.”

Biodiversity of India is truly amazing. The published research paper along with the list can be accessed at The Cucurbitaceae of India: Accepted names, synonyms, geographic distribution, and information on images and DNA sequences.