Have you ever wondered why Indians lead the tally in heart attacks even though Americans consume cheese and meats far more than Indians and India’s obesity levels are less than in the US? Or why the average age of people who get heart attacks in India is younger by 10 years to those in the US? The figures may surprise you and you would wonder why India is becoming the diabetic capital of the world. Is it something to do with our genes?
Well the problem is something different. We are not eating ‘real’ food. Lot of accolades have been given for starting the ‘Green Revolution’ in India which was largely led by increasing crop production by using high yielding crop varieties and use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides in the 1960’s. We have come a long way since then. Not only are we using far more chemicals and artificial ways to ripen fruits and vegetables, the soil has stopped responding to non chemical farming. Those who have heard about Monsanto know that Monsanto has come out with high yielding seeds that have been genetically modified. Since these seeds do not reproduce, we will soon lose the natural pool of seeds. Apart from unknown health hazards, farmers who may find the current price competitive and the production to be high will be totally dependent on seeds that will be provided by Monsanto and then they will not have any option but to buy seeds at whatever price they are sold to them.
The world is moving towards organic farming which is the natural way of farming using fertilizers of organic origin such as compost, manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting. However the current prices of organic produce have been a deterrent. On the one side, the argument says that as organic farming does not use expensive chemicals, and hence the cost should come down but on the other side, the farmers claim that for the initial 2-3 years, the productivity drops by 20%-30%. Whatever may be the case, the current pricing of organic produce is simply unrealistic and shows the greed of people selling it in the retail markets. The farmers who do all the hard work are still not getting real appreciation. Kavita Bagga, Director – Kara Organics says, “To motivate more farmers to move to organic cultivation, the state governments need to significantly over subsidise bio inputs versus chemical inputs used for growing crops. Government should also create more avenues of direct access for end consumers to the real farmer thereby doing away with middle men and aggregators which will help bridge the pricing gap”.
The Indian government is certainly promoting organic farming. Sikkim has already been declared the first state with the entire state getting certification while the Mizoram government is working on getting its 6 out of 8 districts certified for organic farming. I was very impressed with the way the Mizoram government is working towards the accreditation. Not only is it working for the organic certification from the French multinational company Ecocert, it has also started to work towards the model by engaging with exporters to buy its entire stock once the produce is organically certified.
Anil Jadhav, MD, Ecocert says “Ecocert was established in 1991 with its headquarters in France and is now the world leader in Certification of Organic farming and Cosmetics with offices in 30 countries covering 110 countries of intervention. Since the last 25 years, the group has been committed to the protection of environment, future generations, safe food and sustainable development around the world. In India, Ecocert has been present since 2008 and is doing Organic certification in North Eastern states like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram by working closely with the state governments to help achieve the mission of environment protection, safe food and sustainability.”
The organic certification process may take up to 3 years but once that happens, farmers will no longer have to worry about selling their stock and hopefully will get a better price for their yield. If all the state governments follow the Mizoram government model, not only will they not have to give subsidy to farmers but, with the money saved, can also invest in infrastructure including building cold storage, transportation and helping farmers with the common processing centres that will prevent their produce from spoiling. I was in Mizoram recently and when I tasted the locally grown turmeric in the curry, I immediately knew the difference from the aroma. The turmeric that we get in the city is no more than artificial colour in comparison.
All those who have kitchen gardens know the difference in the quality of what we grow ourselves and what is available in the market. This only goes to show that given a choice, we would be happier consuming reliably grown fruits and vegetables. But how many of us have the luxury of time required to grow our own veggies? One of the members of the Facebook community Gurgaon Food Freak, Ramani Sekar, says she is now in community farming where the community joins in to grow vegetables required for their kitchen which gives economies of scale and they can deploy people to do farming for them specially. Similarly, some companies have come up who lease their land to people and deploy people to do farming for them.
Anyway, not to lose focus from the main subject…….someone said – “The entire breed is getting spoiled with rotten produce. The farmers have a different land from which they consume for their own family”. And if this is not enough, the artificial chemicals used to give a better colour and appearance to the fruits and vegetables is giving it a final blow. A research done by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) says that 70% of the milk samples collected by it nationally does not conform to the standards. Indians are consuming detergents and other contamination through milk. While it is good that FSSAI has revealed the study, one wonders how effective it is in regulating the safety standards of non-packed food which still constitutes as the major portion of an average Indian kitchen.. While on the one hand, FSSAI is bothered about Maggi and pesticides in cola, water and food remain largely adulterated and unfit for human consumption. And this is showing in the diseases and disorders that we are catching up early in our lives. Common cold, fever, high cholesterol levels, allergy, asthma, diabetes, dry eyes, low bone density and heart attacks are just some of the signals and if we do not act now, tomorrow may be too late. Unfortunately, we are willing to spend on medicines rather than making ourselves aware of organic food and its benefits.
Remember, living the organic way is the healthy way! Allopathy, Homepathy and Ayurveda is not the answer. Organic is the answer.