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Save the Planet

baboo, NOOOO
Oh, today is Earth Hour? That should be okay. I'm okay with turning off a few lights, but let's not turn off the Air conditioner, okay? 'coz It gets too hot in here.

Also, I hope you're not going to ask me to not drive my car. I'd like to cruise and hunt down Cafe lattes - the hunter instinct, you see :) Plus, I use premium grade refined petrol from SHELL in my car - so I guess it pollutes lesser and stuff!.. and of course, SHELL plants trees!

Television isn't considered "light", right? So we're good to watch IPL?

A friend of mine from Yahoo! once had a cool "Green" idea - how about we use both sides of the Toilet Paper?

Talking of saving the planet, I can't help but post George Carlin's video!

chrysanthemum
The web does reflect our collective consciousness. Google trends speaks for itself: Whether its for the term 'organic' or even the general term 'farming' - there seems to be a growing attention to food in news sources all over the web.

We met in June 2009 last at Cubbon park, I guess as part of the same ongoing trend around the world. We're meeting again!

The meet, as before, doesn't have a specific agenda except to share our experiences and ideas on (sustainable) farming.

Here's a brief glimpse of what happened last time:

  • Each person narrated their views of why they're into farming

  • Discussions on Challenges and Techniques (or non-techniques? :) )

  • Sharing references/whereabouts to informational resources on various farming techniques (both in cyberspace and meatspace)

  • Mr.Cheluvaraj gave Organic seeds to folks



... and this time, I'm giving the next-gen of the same seeds :)

Venue: Cubbon Park M.G.Road entrance (opp. Jewels de Paragon building)
Start time: 10:00 AM
Date: 28 Feb 2010

All Are Welcome!

PS: I'm bringing my dad who has accrued more knowledge and experiences (and has developed our farm too :) ) by several times in the process.
rrod
Pro-GM foods proponents claim that they need to solve the problem of the world's ever increasing populations. Most of the times, its the businesses themselves who lobby and help "educate" the people.

Here's a general thumb rule:

When a business claims something to be science and if that so-called science hasn't been peer reviewed in the scientific community, chances are ... it is pseudo-science. Time to put on your skepticism cap!


1. Understanding growth


What does the world population look like?

world population 1400 yrs

That linear ramp from 5000 yrs ago to today... Agriculture started 5000 years ago. Interesting.

The estimated population of the world is around 6,804,600,000. The estimated growth rate of today is a meagre 1%. Well, 1% of 6.8bn is 68 million (68,046,000). That's quite a lot of new people every year. In 5 years... there'll 7 times the number of people there were in 1900.

Will the solution then be to further keep tinkering with our crops' DNA to keep producing ever increasing amounts of food? The second law of thermodynamics doesn't like this... because our only source of energy is the sun. Even if the plants one day become 99% efficient in using the sun's energy, there is no way to ramp up the sun's light.

So... Growth is unsustainable on a finite planet. The argument "We need to feed ever increasing populations" is therefore only an excuse to buy out land and hold onto wealth. Your wealth.

2. Understanding the food production infrastructure

GM techniques is only about how the seeds are produced. Scale will require mechanisation and automation. Atleast to the extent of what is required as of today. As of today, most of the farm mechanisation equipment in the world is powered by diesel. There is an unsolved, gray-swan waiting to cast its shadow in the name of farm machinery. As long as I don't see an alternative to the ICE deployed in scale, food production is rather going to control populations - not the other way around.

3. Thin margin of error

We all see and hear about Shit Happening all the time. The problem with GM foods is:

1. No ideal "test" environment: Philosophically speaking, you'd need exactly another earth to simulate all the interactions in nature. Flood, drought, wind, sun, water, ecosystem, pollution... just way too many variables in the real environment. The laboratory is but a reduced view of the world. Nature is a complex system and reductionism misses synergetic emergent reactions / behaviors. Worse, experiments are carried out in a production system. As a production operations guy, I completely disapprove this ;)

2. Self replication: Theoretically, there is NO way GM can prevent a chance mutation from helping the GMO in overcoming Terminator technology and being able to reproduce. Once it multiplies, it grows.. and exponentially if the change is to it's advantage! For all you know, maybe that's why they built the Doomsday Seed Vault?

Joseph Tainter, in his book Collapse of Complex societies, argues that Societies exist to solve problems. Given that the theoretical number of problems that one can be challenged with is infinite, there is a point when societies can no longer process information to solve problems. To me, it seems like our Energy predicament will cut down our ability to sustain this information processing ability. Many a times, irreducible complexity is achieved by means of division of labour. However, that means, everybody stops being a generalist. So when one fails (ex: food production), everything fails quickly.

Whether GMO is good for health or not, I can't say. But it sure looks like a recipe for Collapse given the high risk and the nature of problems being tackled!

The fallacy behind the GM argument is due to ourselves - it stems from our very nature - our inflated egos and the over confidence in our ability to solve problems.

Wisdom of the uncivilized crowds

commasutra
Picture this: A remote indian village in the Ganges delta a few hundred years ago. The farmer starts his day by letting his flock of ducks into his irrigated fields. The water from the river brings with it, besides nutrients and alluvium, some unwanted (for the crops) pests too. But that is not a problem - the ducks will keep the pests in control. Not only that, they will turn them pests into manure and drop it right inside the pool of collected water to be anaerobically decomposed under the water. Maybe the farmer doesn't realize it and thinks the Sun god and Nature godesses are helping him. But that's just a coincidence that's helping him continue his ways. They worship the arrival of the Stork (which, btw, even the Japanese and Chinese do. Coincidence? (I'm willing to bet Mexicans do that too!)) There are still pockets in India where people's lifestyles are frozen in time and haven't pretty much changed.

The saying goes Unity in Diversity and its true for stable ecosystems. Agriculture as it has been practiced in India over centuries has relied and depended on nature's forces and whether we evolved our practices, designed the system by hand or got it by sheer luck overnight... every Indian alive today is a proof that we survived in this region for several thousand years. The fertility due to the unique geographical structure of the sub-continent is a natural gift. Consciously/sub-consciously/systemically realizing it and living on it for thousands of years is wisdom.

The Great Change

Then came along the colonialists. We all kinda know what happened. I'd just like to place an exerpt from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd Feb 1835 (quoted elsewhere in various contexts on the web (typically nationalistic sounding ones). I first found it in Amartya Sen's book The Argumentative Indian):

"I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."

Several things changed after the advent of the colonialists. Some for "our" good, one could argue? For instance, the Colonialists left at the end of a major war (one of the root-causes was Colonisation itself!). India was Freed, right? That specific form of exploiting India's resources changed from that of direct occupation to a more subtle and effective form called "Free Trade". The Bretton Woods system ratified all Capitalist nations' interests in continued exploitation of natural resources by the still-ruling powers of the world (namely US, Britain, France, etc.,). Free Trade, in other words, is a system of exploitation of a so-called Third World nation's resources by someone with Little Green Pieces of Paper on the lines of "If you let me take your stuff, you'll get these little green pieces of paper using which you can buy the finished goods I produce using your nation's resources".

Female infanticide

Besides improvement in the quality of lives of _those people who accepted the little green pieces of paper_, there were arguably some other improvements. For instance, They 'taught' the peoples what it means to be "humane". Female infanticide, what a terrible and ruthless thing it is! But... it is also important to realize that this so-called "inhumane" killing of the girl baby is a very effective means of population control. (By no means am I justifying or arguing _for_ female infanticide here. Far from it.)

In the wild, many males go unmated. A male doesn't mean more individuals. A female that survives, however, very likely results in more children. Educating the females coupled with eradication of female infanticide would have worked. But with India, it was a half done job... and that's worse than not doing the job at all!

Take away that population stabilisation mechanism of Female Infanticide and add to it the joke called the Green Revolution, India saw her population rise and her once-stable ways of life completely changed forever. Today, we're a billion+ and to feed that growing population we had to adopt ways of agriculture that was previously not thought of. Today, India boasts of vast areas of degraded soil on the planet. It is only imperative that she would end up in this situation given the decisions that were made by the so-called Leaders of that Era.

Where be the Wisdom?

... The colonialists are back (strong statement, indeed ;) ) - under the name of Monsanto DuPont and several other MNC "Agri Businesses" who promise to solve the problem of world's poverty (does that ring a bell?). Last time, it was by releasing the locked up Nitrogen in a finite endowment of Natural Gas to create Fertilizers, developing an infrastructure of Farm Mechanisation that relied (and still relies) on Fossil fuels (specifically Diesel) and quickly releasing up water stored in deep Aquifers through the use of, yet again, cheap fossil fuels (a significant portion of Electricity comes from Coal + Oil + Natural Gas).

This time, they're back with the same old excuse of atempting to solve World's poverty by manipulating our domesticated life forms' DNA.

... so what exactly is their system of "solving world hunger"?

1. The company has had a successful herbicide product called Round Up. (remember, Agent Orange?) The herbicide kills just about anything in it's way. Earlier, farmers had to exercise care when spraying the herbicide because they ran the risk of killing their crops too. Roundup is a non-selective weed killer. The paradox with Life is that, the more we apply Selection Pressure, the more "evolved" the species we're trying to kill becomes. This is because those individuals that could be killed are already gone! The ones that remain are the ones who were difficult to kill in the first place and if they manage to leave their progeny, those progeny are likely equally difficult too! Over just a few generations, things become very difficult for one generation of humans. The use of just the herbicide alone didn't scale well. We talk "scale" only when we talk growth. However, Stability needs resilience. The job done by the frogs, the sparrows, the spiders, the lizards and the earthworms were now replaced by one single plastic bottle with a TradeMarked logo on it. How neat?

2. Since the Herbicide solution didn't scale they had to do a round 2 of their fight against nature - through Genetic Engineering. They "invented" a new "variety" of crop that were resistant to the herbicide (called "Round up ready $whatever"). All was good for a while, until recently (2 yrs ago) when farmers started reporting Super Weeds. Life evolves in amazingly powerful ways. This was just one example.

3. Genetic Engineering has two peculiar problems:

a. Bugs: If a Microsoft writes buggy code, they can send a "fix". But what happens when there are "bugs" in the Genetically Engineered code? How do you fix a plant? Today's Genetic Engineering methods are still crude. Its not like we insert a nano-particle that reads through the genes and 'modifies' the genes. They merely insert some other animal's genes that produces the desired proteins!

b. Intellectual Property: Life replicates. That's the equivalent of piracy, only naturally done by the bees.

To avoid these two problems, they introduced Terminator Technology. Simply put, the seeds produced by the GM crops aren't seeds. They cannot produce new plants when sown. They're merely grains for consumption. Seed saving - The very practice that brought about agriculture, will no longer be applicable since the seeds are all impotent. I'm sure we have all read about Farmer suicides and the wide-spread cause of suffering due to this very enslavement.

Ah, solve hunger by killing people? That makes sense! Oh wait, that "scale" requires farm machinery which, by today's infrastructure, is all designed to run on Diesel.

Now, I'd like to draw you to the end of this post by instilling a sense of hope through this real life story that I've been quite proud of...

In our farm, We decided to sow only native variety rice seeds (we picked two varieties namely "Garudan Samba" and "Gandakasala". We had to obtain them with much difficulty since the government makes only narrow-mindedly designed rice varieties from the IRRI available to the farmers). At first, the locals (having forgotten their own ways of traditional, resilient agriculture) laughed at us and even questioned if such things will be "practical" in today's world. Grace be to the all merciless, non-existent God!The rains poured and destroyed their crops at a completely unseasonal time. Our crops were damaged, but not destroyed completely. Now, they are beginning to see the advantanges.

They're curious to find out how to obtain these seeds. They're stlil using pesticides. But they're beginning to see the birds perched atop our now-growing trees helping with pest control. They're still using fertilizers but that's because 1. fertile, naturally rich soils aren't anywhere around. Our soil has just begun the recovery from the damages due to prolonged nitrogen fertilizer use in the past (ie., before we bought this land). 2. Fertilizers are still pretty much free flowing in this Peak Moment.

I've become pretty much cynical that most of the times its only the shock doctrine that helps bring the masses to Reality. Those very things can also be learnt by applying thought. However challenging or even depressing that might seem initially.

If you'd like to "take away" anything from this post: All I ask the reader is to switch to locally produced foods that is not GM. Every paisa is a profit that helps further their ways of enslavement and suffering. It kills our wisdom, however foolish and ridiculous it might sound to the "Free Thinking" west. Ridicule works and we must not fall prey to their old ways. Free Thought brings with it a sense of confidence and a dash of arrogance. Knowing that arrogance is Wisdom. Evolutionary studies today show that the genetic differences amongst the so-called "races" is totally insignificant and that it has just been mere chances that led to the rise and fall of several civilizations. The people of this sub-continent didn't use Coal in 19th century and Oil in the 20th century like what the "Colonisers" have been doing. But that's just a finite resource. The success of the west is only temporary and eventually they'll have to deal with reality in ways we've all come to accept in the past - thousands of years ago.

An American Indian quote to end the post:

"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."

Bulk update

atheism
I call this a bulk update because I haven't written on this blog since Aug 2009. I'd like to blame it on twitter for allowing me to keep folks updated without having to sit and find time to write lengthy blog entries.

So here are some updates, in the order of significance:
  • Deepti and I invested 50% of our genes into a beautiful girl baby (and I caught the birthing process on video too!). Her name is Avani meaning Earth in both Tamil and Sanskrit. I really wanted to name her "Mrinmayi" (means "made of earth") but that name got shot down saying "She will never be able to pronounce her own name until she is about 5". To tell the truth, I was just looking for a name that gives me the opportunity to explain Evolution and how she, like every other living thing, is made out of the earth and will return to the Earth. In some ways, its also to say that there is no "Heaven" or "Hell" and that its only on Earth. On second thoughts, maybe I should have named her the equivalent of "The one who was born at the Peak". She has inherited my palm prints ditto and from what I've observed thus far, she seems to stop crying immediately when there is music :)
  • I quit Yahoo! about 3 months ago to join InMobi to help with their Operations. Thus far it has been a great experience and I hope it remains that way! What with learning about everything that I took for granted in large organisations. Plus, it keeps me engaged productively while I figure out an exit from the Rat Race.
  • A used 2001 Santro is currently my mode of transportation. It was primarily purchased for the purpose of transporting the mother and the baby around to hospitals, etc., But it has also to helped fill the void left over by the missing awesome "Yahoo! Bus Service". Most of the time, I get very senti and switch off the music to listen to the Engine's murmur. Call it a "religious" practice - it makes me realize the finite nature of the very fuel that powers my and the zillion other cars that queue up on Bangalore's congested roads. Today, I'm booking a motorbike. Yet to decide which one, but its going to be one of those 100CC or 125CC ones that gives 5x more fuel efficiency, is a lot more easier to drive around in Bangalore traffic, several folds easier to find parking space and of course, pollute lesser. The thing that gets me silly proud of is the "Darwin Fish" sticker that I put up on the car along with my daughter's name.
  • The fish in our farm are doing well and so are the native organic varieties of paddy and the vegetables. Come pongal, we'll have several gunnies of organic rice fresh from the farm! We're looking for organic shops in tier 1 cities like Bangalore, Chennai, etc., that would like to directly buy "Gandakesala" (a fibre-rich, red rice variety). If you're either interested in buying red rice from me directly for your home needs, or if you know of organic shops that are looking for stocking up such rare native varieties, please leave a comment.

NYTimes mis-information on Peak Oil

oil
The NYTimes carried an Op-Ed column, contributed to by an Oil Consultant, that poorly attempted to "debunk" the myths of peak oil by making use of nothing but mockery. Of course, there is an ongoing open thread on discussing this very article and in the usual TOD style, the comments speak for themselves!

I was reminded of how the "Intelligent Design" movement, heavily funded yet weak in scientifically testable claims, was able to make a dent to the efforts to ramp up Evolution education in schools. Them IDers did indeed succeed in their effort because they did manage to distract the crowd from seeking the truth. The ID principles are generally easily believed because the notion of blind nature creating life forms tends to oppose people's widely held notions of how life forms were created (many a times, indoctrination since childhood about God's Creations). Sometimes, the simplicity of the concept can just seem nauseatingly depressing. Someone (Carl Jung?) said humans can't take too much reality - maybe its something like that?

In this specific topic of Peak Oil, I'd like to reality-adjust the famous Mahatma saying that goes...

First they ignore you
then they laugh at you
then they fight you
then you win Entropy wins
      -- Self, Circa 2009.

It doesn't really matter whether life forms descended from a common ancestor or not as long as there is food on one's plate. Peak oil, however, is different as it is quite likely to dramatically change not only the food on your plate but also how you're going to earn it.

The Peak Oil community at The Oil Drum has enjoyed excellent, data-driven open discussions contributed to by several oil industry veterans, Petroleum Geologists and Scientists from various disciplines on topics ranging from alternative energy, impact analysis of peak oil on the many aspects of the world (primarily Economy, Food, Climate, etc.,).

Although I myself can claim no expertise on petroleum geology, economics or physics, I can say with certainty that blind rebuttals like the one made by Mr.Lynch on NYTimes are quite effective in making that yet-to-be-informed person glance through the headlines that reads "Peak Oil is a Waste of Energy" and a deeper glance into the article only shows more ridicule of the "doomsayers". Its a classic technique and it works! Doesn't it?

Anyway, if you'd like to take this opportunity to objectively understand peak oil, setting aside the emotional affects peak-oil is likely to have after the Truth sets in, I suggest getting started with the many excellent introductions all over the web including Wikipedia.

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you sick.

... and then you'll understand why I spent the effort in writing this post. :)

Caste Away

spiritual
We recently constructed a Rain water harvesting pond at our farm. The construction took 6 long days of which the first 4 days I happened to be there to oversee the acitvities. It was a fun filled activity - needed operations planning, materials/people management and more importantly making optimal use of the expensive JCB (oh and I got a cool collectible - the JCB 3CX tech specs manual!). But it was also spiritually uplifting - I happened to sleep in the farm to the 3d stereo sound of insects and frogs. We ate in the farm and I even shat once in an open ground, village style! It was also an emotionally affective experience and this is what this post is all about.

This post is the story of Mani.

Mani is a 32 year old "SC guy". "SC" might not ring a bell if you've lived all your life in the city. But there is an "SC street" in every village in this country. To those who don't know, "SC" stands for "Scheduled Caste".

Did you know that "SC people" have "owners"? Yes, its true! In this Culture Rich Country, it is indeed possible for people to own people! The politicians want the caste system to stay, the lower castes continue to get oppressed, work gets extracted. In many ways, they're our farm animals only you don't even have a festival to pay any sort of respect.

Mani has been personally assigned by a higher caste guy to my family (my family belongs to the super high caste, close-to-God brahmin community). Mani was very glad, though. I nauseated at the thought of "owning" Mani and my children owning his children.

Mani has a sad story and only after this "ownership" experience, did I get to hear it: Mani's used to work in the fields of a higher caste guy. The higher caste guy offered Mani a 1 acre piece of his 6+ acre farm on Lease. Don't start imagining a Lease Agreement - out here, everything is by the Word. Boy, how those words change meanings based on one's caste! He was offered this land for a period of 1 year for Rs.27,000/-. Mani duly paid it from his savings. Mani wanted to get back his father's land that his father had pawned off for Mani's sister's marriage.

Everything looked good for once. It was time for the next sowing, dry season. The owner started pumping water to irrigate his fields. Mani waited for his turn.

The pump was shutdown after 3 days of filling up the owner's land. But Mani was denied water. "I only said land on lease. Why should the pump run unnecessarily for you?" said the land owner.

So you see what's wrong with this picture?



To me, it is a horrible way in the opposite direction of living peacefully. There can be plenty if we are wise. There can be amity and happiness for all.

Normally, you'd expect a man of average dignity and self-confidence to put up a fight for justice. But I guess we speak from a state of mind and freedom that we take for granted. How would my confidence be if someone had an unjustified right to how he'd treat / exploit me?

I don't know what the solution is. But the problem is very clear - If Mani can't grow food without water, he'd lose whatever little assets he has by way of losing his hard earnt money being enjoyed by the land owner. I don't think I can even have a solution to Mani's problem. But I believe it is possible to work with nature than against it.

Money, today, is a means to meet one's needs and wants. But the needs and wants are ultimately stuff made out of the planet. Today, the one with the most amount of money can lay claim to limitless amounts of Stuff. But money has no intrinsic value - the moment money stops working, people will gather up other means. I believe, its possible to work with nature than against it. Money only works against it.

However, Caste is a much more deep-rooted non systemic problem. I don't know if I'd be able to change anybody's lives at all. But things are coming to an end and I'm sure I'll have ample opportunities to prove that working with nature will free me of my need to meet my basic needs - that I'm no different from him, only that I have all the time to sit and think using the very brains he is gifted with. I'd like to ultimately show to the Higher castes that even oppression is suffering.

Its time to wait until the pond fills up.
spidy
A bunch of Permaculturists / zero-farming enthusiasts will meet tomorrow in Bangalore. There is no specific agenda. This is more of a get to know each other meeting besides the common theme that all participants are interested in some form or other of sustainable farming.

Venue: Cubbon Park M.G.Road entrance (opp. Jewels de Paragon building)
Start time: 10:00 AM
Date: 13 June 2009

Personally, I have the following three specific questions to the participants:

1. Why are you interested? What got you started? What have you done thus far?
2. What are you looking forward to?
3. Can we do anything locally while we're still in Bangalore? (I have a couple of ideas that we can work on, either together or distributedly: From transforming the "ornamental" gardens of the various IT Parks to a few Guerrilla gardening ideas).

... And, If you have any heirloom seeds or demonstrable interesting hacks or pictures / illustrations, used books related to gardening/farming/nature ("One Straw Revolution"? :) ) or any other interesting materials that you'd like to share / show, please do bring it along! I emphasize One straw revolution because I myself had difficulty obtaining a copy in Bangalore. I had to resort to ordering an imported edition off an online book retailer.

All are Welcome.
spidy
In my 1 week vacation at Thanjavur, I basked in the glory of so many birds and insects and night-sky stars, walked distances, talked to a lot of people besides catching the typical cold that I tend to catch everytime I go to the country side.

I met one Mr.Meenakshi Sundaram of the Tamil Nadu Organic Certification Department (TNOCD) in Thanjavur. In my interaction I got to know about the process of obtaining "Organic food" certification. "TN is India's first state to come up with a government body for Organic certification", claimed Mr.MS.

I also had long discussions with poor farmers. The simplicity with which they narrated stories of exploitation during the past flood in Thanjavur set me out to wonder how these poor farmers can be liberated from the clutches of the oppressing mindsets of the 'upper classes'. It is somehow a matter-of-fact to the upper-classes to shun the lower classes inspite of knowing very well deep inside that their 'owned lands' will be wasted without their toiling in the scorching sun.

I also have been talking to some organic farmers. I've read a lot of success stories of organic farmers in Tamil Nadu on Pasumai Vikatan and the likes. Organic farming in principle is noble and is important for a food producing nation like India to adopt. Afterall, India inspite of being the world's second largest producer of rice, trades very little and consumes most of what it produces. So if feeding oneself is vital, doing so in an independent, sustainable way should play a large role in the food production strategy of India. A democracy is by the people and for the people. When the government is going after the poor farmer's votes, it is important that we understand whether the poor farmer benefits from the TNOCD.

Before we get into the regulations put forth by TNOCD, let me explain Organic Farming.

Organic farming
Simply put, organic farming is all about using naturally available plant and animal resources (and hence the term 'organic') to grow food. Chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides are not used. Instead, what's termed "Farm manure" is used. To facilitate production and recycling of farm wastes into farm manure, cattle is a thumb-rule device of converting the waste into manure quickly. Pesticides are in the form of natural, bio-degradable materials (ex: typically involving garlic and/or neem oil and/or green chillies) - requires more effort and more time for the pests to be repelled (or sometimes, 'killed') but it works as effectively. That said, the term 'organic farming' is quite hazy. Especially given the "coolness" factor of Organic produce, especially in the west, Its kinda like how some (important) people came to term all the religious / philosophical ideas of a given region as "Hinduism" (including buddhism, jainism and even the Atheistic, Materialistic Carvaka philosophy). Many people I know of took to Organic farming having been inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka's "Zero farming" philosophy (which has to do more with Zen than anything else). I'm not blaming those who take to Organic farming... I'm just warning the reader about the confusion that prevails around terminology. So... watch out :)

All said... It is a matter of fact that today's Industrial farming practices involve heavy fertilizer and pesticide use. This has made the soil a mere substrate where plants grow only using periodically added essential nutrients. Let's not even talk about whether we fully understand all the complex interactions in nature and whether a mere spraying of chemicals can substitute everything that is missing in this labour intensive yet biodiversity depleted method of food production. Continuous layering of chemicals alters the chemical composition so badly that the earth worms and the zillion other macro and micro-organisms are no longer around in these soils.

Such a soil devoid of the eco system needs revival and revival isn't an easy process. So it is a common notion amongst practitioners of organic farming to give a 'recovery period' during which time certain practices allow the soil to regain its fertility.

During the recovery period, the obtained yield is always lesser. Even after recovery, nothing beats, for example, IR8 rice (a HYV rice from the IRRI produced during the Green Revolution). The story is the same with industrial variety anything (Wheat, Corn, etc.,). That said, native varieties have other practical advantages like resilience to floods, better yield without chemical inputs (IR8 will yield much lesser without chemical inputs) and so on. But typically, once the recovery period is over, the quality of the yield speaks for itself. Also, since chemical inputs are not used, the input costs per harvest is highly reduced besides the input supplies becoming self-sustainable.

The TNOCD seems to have pretty much done a good job in coming up with a framework to ensure Organic farming can be done. It has also come up with a set of apparently stringent testing methodologies to reject unsafe foods and thereby revoke the certification. "The rules are based on the ISO 65 standard", says Mr.MS.

That is all good... but the point of this post is this: Who is TNOCD trying to serve? Corporations disguised as farmers? Small scale, Rich farmers? (like me and the hazaar other techie wannabe-farmers of today) or the real masses of poor farmers who are fleeing their lands to urban slums? ...and ultimately, do they want the citizens of their nation consuming safe foods or is this yet another product reserved for the elites who can afford to buy from the market?

The poor farmer's plight
TNOCD is just a Certifying authority. There is no tutoring whatsoever... and having witnessed the treatment of the 'low caste', I can imagine how approachable the bulk of the authorities will turn out to be. Also, there is no incentive to the farmer besides the certificate. These two issues of Education and Incentives are very important if they want to make India's food production sustainable by using organic means.

The poor indian farmer needs an immediate yield. The rules specified by TNOCD are so impractical for a poor farmer that he will not even think about going the organic way. The impracticality of these rules will be shortly exposed by stating a few basic widely prevailing conditions of poor farmers:

1. Poor farmers rely on their land for atleast 2/3rds of the year for sustenance.
  - The mandatory 3 year recovery period is impractical here.
  - Not certifying / incentivizing the farmer for this 3 year "loss" period is a big hurdle to adoption by the poor farmer.
  - Poor farmers typically have borrowed loans from local lenders at insanely high interest rates. Its a completely different thing that banks are unapproachable for the poor farmer and that will pull us into analysing the roots of the caste system and such. Too off-topic, i guess.
  - If the farmer, consciously or unconsciously ends up doing something that fails the test (ex: huge pest infestation and ends up reacting with pesticides OR water logged from a neighbour's non-organic farm drains into one's farm)

2. Poor farmers rely on the rain and the river for water.
  - The water will be tested. Mr.MS says this as a sad fact: "Cauvery is polluted and it will definitely fail the test. so you better get a pump". Pumps cost Rs.1,50,000/- far beyond the reach of the poor farmer (I'm not even talking about the 'hidden' bribery charges around getting power supply from the grid).
  - Open wells are multiple times expensive than bore pumps though won't require electricity (which is anyway free to the farmer). In a world where everybody uses a bore-pump drilled to 300 ft, keeping water in the open well will require a lot of rain water harvesting efforts - again, requires a lot of tutoring / aid from the government.
  - To prevent water from enter one's farm, TNOCD recommends building a 'bund'

3. Too little land
  - The programme recommends using one's land for a lot more than just growing the actual organic produce
    - A buffer zone to isolate organic produce from being affected by a neighbouring non-organic farm's pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer's effects
    - Cattle is recommended to be placed _in_ the farm. There are specifications about how much sun-light can and should be incident on the cattle, etc.,  Besides the needed protection from wild farm animals (mongooses, foxes, wild cats, etc.,), someone will have to stay around in hte farm to just take care of the cattle. During the heavy rains of the previous season, the so-called "S.C.Street" (yes, S.C. == Scheduled Caste) people had to flee since the mud walls of their houses were not withstanding the rain... that is in a liveable, non-low-lying area of the village. The land they own might be pretty far away and might be so low-lying that protection from such flooding will mean raising the land level and building a more solid house - both of which means a lot more cost.
    - Manure processing + growing some stuff for cows needs land

I can only guess the unwritten goals of TNOCD: To enable AgriBusinesses and 'Rich' farmers to foray into the niche segment of 'Organic' farming. To further the class and economic divide that has already caused much suffering in this region since time immemorial.

Consider the possibility of using these 'stringent rules' for authority, control and as means of forcing the farmer to pay up bribes to 'pass' TNOCD's tests.

Ultimately, the only selling point of this certification programme is the high profits obtainable per unit yield _after_ the recovery period, as measured today based on today's open market conditions, one can make due to (today's) demand from the open market per unit yield of organic produce. A 11th standard student will tell you what happens to price as supply increases. If the government wants people to adopt organic farming and does not take steps to protect the poor farmer who has lost his 3 year yield, the programme has lost the farmer who would probably never return to Organic farming simply because it was a bad experience to him.

From the time I got to hear about "Organic Farming" I have been of the opinion that the whole approach is short-sighted and wrongly motivated (higher price yield). This also goes to reinforce that permaculture principles will be the most practical and sustainable way for poor farmers to liberate themselves from the clutches of those in power... from those who want the poor to stay poor so they can keep making promises to get the only thing they need from these poor people - their votes.

The Deccan Development Society's successful use of permaculture in Andhra Pradesh not only liberated the oppressed classes of farmers but also enabled them to switch to cost-effective, incremental and sustainable method of food production using permaculture principles. There is nothing stopping governments from not adopting practical solution like permaculture. It is so easy to see that the poor can adapt from the success stories of community permaculture efforts in Rajasthan and Andhra.

If the politicians and society don't help the poor and oppressed amongst us, permaculture can show us how we can help ourselves. 

If this post got you significantly interested in Permaculture... or if you're even marginally curious to understand how permaculture saved the people of Andhra, do watch the "Global Gardener" documentaries ("In the tropics"). Further tid-bits and stories can be found on the Deccan Development Society website.

Garden Update: Meet my new friend

spidy
Bad news first...
1. The rats are back. 12 of the 22 beans plants have been destroyed completely by the rats. And like in horror movies, it started with the nursery being removed over night and that was terrifying... and since then one plant is gone every week and I'm left here standing helpless.  The remaining beans have started yielding. However, I decided to not consume the beans. As an experiment, I'm gonna let them fall off to the ground and become more beans plants without me having to plant them any further. Their job - nitrogen fixation.

Coming back to rats... A few months ago, I witnessed one of the stray cats hunt a rat. Its amazing and simple. I was expecting some heavy-duty chasing sequences. But to my disappointment (and enlightenment) there was none. It just sat in front of one of the rat holes, patiently waiting for a rat to emerge or enter without notice... spending energy only to quickly react with his sharp paws.

2. I don't know what I did wrong. But all the orb-weaving spiders are gone. I take this as a bad sign. Something I planted must have invited something else that killed the spiders off, I guess. I don't know. But I do know that the spiders were playing a good role in catching a good amount of mosquitoes and some such flies. I've hardly ever noticed the honeybees getting trapped in the spider orbs so I believe the orbs were for most parts playing a good role in pest control... But, they're gone now anyway and its time to move on. Impermanence.

Say hello
Please meet, the potential recruit for my garden - Sivarasan. The reason I'd like to call him Sivarasan is because he is one-eyed (much like the one-eyed sivarasan who was recruited to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi) and he is going to be my new Assassin to get rid of rats! The poor thing apparently lost an eye in a cat fight with another bigger cat. Our apartment folks sent it to CUPA and got him back. We've also decided to keep him in the apartment premises itself since there are enough rats in here that need his service. But I need to do a lot of things before I can recruit him to work in the garden. He is bound to dig up the soil to 'hide' his droppings which might not always turn out to be good to the plants. Though the positive way of looking at it is that he can convert the rats into manure! He is also bound to walk on top of tender sprouting new-ones and kill them. I have a couple of solutions in mind but its not necessary that things will play out as I plan them to be... and given the distributed 'forest like' setup of my garden, it might require a lot more work than I'd initially thought

The good thing is, Sivarasan gets into the garden without explicit invitation so I guess I can deal with damages caused by him as and when it happens and learn from them. 

The Story of Bee
All said, not all is bad. There are so many honey bees visiting my garden these days.


Today, I sat in the middle of the garden with the aim of finding out where the bees go. It wasn't an easy job since the bees just vanish right in front of your eyes to get to the other side where humans don't have eyes (ie., the back). But after some difficultly, I did manage to find where they were going. They were going upwards and in the direction of a nearby tree. So I think a nearby tree has recently become home to a new honey comb so that's good! 

To keep the diversity high, I don't do too much weeding unless the weeds don't flower or the weeds are 'taking over' the useful plants. I'd like to believe that this diversity of flowers is the cause of the honey-comb formation nearby and its obviously a self-reinforcing positive feed back cycle that results in the plants and bees helping each others, of which, some of the plants useful to me also benefit.

Chillies, Watermelon and watermelon bugs
The green chillies have been growing in abundance. The coriander is reasonably successful than I'd thought earlier. So is the brinjal, though none of them are yet to start flowering. A stray mutant green chilly plant was yielding very spicy chillies while the ones I had 'planned' and planted was giving not-so-spicy chillies around 2 months ago. Today, I plucked out the not-so-spicy chilly, and like a hero bit a piece. I was not only stung in my tongue but I was also enlightened. Cross-pollination, after all, has resulted in the stray mutant chilly's spicyness spread over to the otherwise bland chilly plants too.




Some misc photosCollapse )