Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

major issues around mining

the path to prosperity via the industrialisation route hinges on the manufacturing sector, namely automobiles, electrical and electronics, machinery, construction which depend on the metals manufacturers.
metals comes from ores which are mineral deposits lying under the earth. the processing of these deposits require coal which also lies underground.

so following the link, the industrialisation route will heavily mine these minerals.
mining is not clean work.
anyone who dusts their house will know how much irritation their noses bear with during this process. imagine that scenario escalated many many times and on a 24x7 basis.
that is the likely scenario around mining areas.
and of course, water is required in copious quantities and there is heavy use (aka exploitation) and pollution of all local water sources.
all this is simple elementary knowledge.

to what extent this industrialisation route will lead people/companies to do can be sampled at:
1. tehelka's cover story on the reddy brothers of karnataka.
2. kafila's report on major action against locals/tribals by police under the behest of Tata Limited.

while you are at it, you should also read arundhati roy's massive essay on her trip into the hinterlands of maoist-dominated india.

Friday, March 26, 2010

millets - hardy and nutritious

our first tryst with millets started with making kanji - soul food.
on moving to pR, the early months were all about growing vegetables.

as our work and knowledge is growing, we are readying to move to the next phase - growing our grain.
the popular grains - rice and wheat - are inappropriate (definitely at pR, but also for most other rain-fed/dry-land regions) for many reasons, mainly excessive water requirement. as the green revolution elevated these 2 grains to brahaminical status, the millets were deemed pariahs, reflecting what the respective social classes eat.
but it is clearly established that the millet family (ragi, jowar, bajra, etc) is hardier and more nutritious than rice/wheat (ok - outlook is not the best place to go for technical information on nutrition).

as we use the summer time for preparation for the planting, here are 2 simple charts with all the local millet types.

as i could not find the correct source - i acknowledge it as anon.

try to shift to a millet based diet twice a week.

morality of career choices - prayaag joshi

while attempting to respond to survey san's comment to articulate the thinking process while moving from mumbai to pR, i came across this well written article by prayaag joshi - Morality of Career Choices.

i fully agree with prayaag and feel a sense of oneness with his trajectory.
though a dated article, i tracked prayaag down to the imlee mahua nai taleem center of learning in chattisgarh.

remarkable. i remember writing about teaching in a similar school just over a year ago.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

toads, tadpoles and assorted frogs

we have a large pond at pR. and a few other minor water bodies.
post rains, i am imagining that the amphibious creatures must have had a blast.
jan-feb would have been the massive hatching growing scene and we have had to share a significant portion of the bathroom space with them.

after the initial and partial squeamishness (remember the many times you spotted one in your city home), we allowed them into our lives (they had already allowed us into theirs).

as summer grows and the water bodies shrivel up, their populations are now stabilising.
while k and i were discussing their presence, she highlighted a significant point.

the toads, tadpoles and assorted frogs are the sole reason, why we do not (repeat DO NOT) have any mosquitoes at pR. (remember the All-Out mosquito repellent ad)

with a plethora of the aforementioned water bodies, it is but natural that mosquitoes too must have had a blast post rains.

this is the beautiful balance of nature.
the prey-predator cycle sets up and it is fascinating to see it unfurl.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

ground nut day

we are in the middle of groundnut harvest season.
it is a 90 day crop. pretty fast in comparison to the grains.
so most farmers in this area have sown a good part of their winter crop as groundnut, which they planted in mid december to early january.

we love groundnuts and we were eagerly awaiting this period.
and boy did we jump in (and continue to do so) into groundnut harvesting with gusto!
first take a look at the pristine fields (picture perfect settings of our neighbourhood farms).

the day before the harvest, the field is soaked in water to loosen the roots.
and then, we just grab the stem and yank the nuts off their earthly cocoon. and shake them well to drop of the mud (and proudly display it to the camera-person for post-harvest blogging).

it is fairly simple, but of course, takes a toll on your back.
this yanking is done in the early morning to beat the sun.

now comes the fun part.
how do we dis-associate the nuts from the roots?
"beats me!", did you say?
well, "that's the right answer!"

you beat them. in the classic washerman method.

and the pile keeps growing like this.

we did all this in classic wendell berry's neighbourhood philosophy (and not as a blogging story philosophy).
read this while we enjoy the nuts of our labours over this weekend.

Friday, March 12, 2010

the local economy - wendell berry

inspite of all our best efforts at eating local, etc., we will never be able to fully grow 100% of all our food requirements.
we will get to a significant level (say 75%) in a year or so.
the tough ones to crack will be tea/coffee/oil/spices and suchlike.

either we could move to a diet which is very low on the above 'tough ones', or we take it from the market.
here is where i would like to pause and try to define 'market'.
and i shall fully invoke wendell berry (one of my inspirations).
his epochal 'in distrust of movements' and the 'unsettling of america: culture and agriculture' (mini presentation here) were instrumental in making the idealogical turn in my thinking.

he does another masterclass in defining the 'the idea of a local economy'.

currently we are in a total economy:
A total economy is an unrestrained taking of profits from the disintegration of nations. communities, households, landscapes, and ecosystems. It licenses symbolic or artificial wealth to “grow” by means of the destruction of the real wealth of all the world…
principles of local economy:
So far as I can see, the idea of a local economy rests upon only two principles: neighborhood and subsistence. In a viable neighborhood, neighbors ask themselves what they can do or provide for one another, and they find answers that they and their place can afford. This, and nothing else, is the practice of neighborhood. This practice must be, in part, charitable, but it must also be economic, and the economic part must be equitable; there is a significant charity in just prices.
principle of trade:
Of course, everything needed locally cannot be produced locally. But a viable neighborhood is a community; and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common. This is the principle of subsistence. A viable community, like a viable farm, protects its own production capacities. It does not import products that it can produce for itself. And it does not export local products until local needs have been met. The economic products of a viable community are understood either as belonging to the community’s subsistence or as surplus, and only the surplus is considered to be marketable abroad.
protectionism is needed:
The principles of neighborhood and subsistence will be disparaged by the globalists as “protectionism” – and that is exactly what it is. It is a protectionism that is just and sound, because it protects local producers and is the best assurance of adequate supplies to local consumers.
1. we are already trying to buy peanuts, rice, fruits from local growers (as against from the madras market).
2. we have sown some sesame to examine the scope of extracting our own oil.

and so on in our own quest, we see berry's words play out.

mechanisation of the indian farm

NREGA is the national rural employment guarantee act.
read the primer here.

as a city based 'socialist', i was certain that, well implemented, NREGA is a superb scheme.
as a village based 'socialist', i am now less convinced.
let me elucidate in a simple manner for the sake of this post:
1. NREGA is setting a minimum wage-floor assuring people of a fixed income from the state.
2. This will increase the labour cost of the farmer as the floor price is already in place.

so who bears this extra cost?
is this part of the price rise we are seeing?

so as NREGA is being implemented, the simple mathematics indicates that there is less labour available for farming operations.
and farmers are completely frustrated by the lack of timely availability of labour.

so in such situations, mechanisation makes its entry.
like this:

this is a rice harvester (a mini-version of a combine harvester) manufactured by Kukje Co. - Korea. there is a larger more powerful one, which does automatic bagging of the grain.
the owner charges Rs 1500-Rs 2000 per hour or per acre (it takes approx an hour to harvest an acre).
here is the rice stalk before it enters the machine and after harvesting.

this has to go the the rice mill for de-husking and de-stoning to become rice, it will age for 3-5 months before it lands up on your plate.

these machines are available in the range of Rs 5 lakhs (second hand) to Rs 20 lakhs (japanese Kubota range of machines).
farmers are quite thrilled to move into such mechanisation as it saves significantly on time and labour.
the farmer is also interested in the hay (sold as cattle feed). these machines lays them out in a beautiful design.

here is the field before and after.

the tangent to explain the rice harvest process is to highlight something that could become irreversible. the mechanisation of the indian farm.
making the same american mistake of converting oil to food.
causing an energy imbalance of using lakhs of calories to create hundreds of calories.
tying the cost of food to the price of oil is very dangerous as those familiar with peak oil will vouch.

and the question we may struggle to answer...
what will happen once NREGA runs its course? (am presuming here that NREGA is time bound and will not become a fundamental right).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

uppa? salta?

the tamil translation of salt is uppu.
the english translation of uppu is salt.

net net, they should mean the same thing.

our kitchen has a distinction such that this title of this post is asked as a question during cooking.
uppu = rock/crystal variety, which one hardly sees in a 'modern' kitchen.
salt = iodised powdered variety (the non-cosumption of which is supposed to cause massive health problems that the GoI almost banned the used of uppu - getting a hang of it now?)

my thumb rule is uppu for gravy dishes (wherever liquid media are usd for cooking) and salt for dry dishes (that too only if no water is used in the boiling - like potato roast).

bhairavi - our own black beauty

this is bhairavi.

she has been a pR regular. we fist saw her in mid january a bit weak and bruised/scarred.
as we have been more long staying, she has more or less plumped pR as her home.
we could never be sure as we would miss her out on some nights.

we have noticing that her overall health/looks kept improving as she spent more time with us.

now all our doubts are cleared.
she had her litter of 4 pups today morning.

here she is delivering one (you can see the umbilical cord - white colour) and the newly born lovely little one.

here is a feeding/feeling frenzy and bhairavi after the exhausting ordeal (approx 3 hours).
boy - did she lick her pups to keep them cool/warm and clean.

now realise how abodh (of welfare of stray dogs) must feel at his kennels.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

eating local

one of the objectives of being with nature at pR is to be able to eat the produce of your own fields and move to an eat-local lifestyle. this intent also stems from the fact that the food from the market is poisoned.

at an early stage, we set ourselves a goal (only vegetables and not counting onions, spices) of eating local once-a-week by march and move to full scale eat local by end of summer.

we are glad to report that we are already at 2 days-a-week of eat local as on march 1st week.
here is a pictorial view of our harvest so far.
1. bottle gourd/doodhi/sorakkai

2. cow pea/chouli beans/karamani - this was the pioneer legume crop sowed across most of the mounds and this is used to enrich the soil nitrogen (legume variety).
we allowed a lot of the karamani to ripen and partially dry on the shrub itself. then it is dried in the sun like below so that the seeds can be harvested and/or used to make yummy dals.

3. pumpkin/lal kaddu/parangikai - this is a local variety (i.e., grown by a local farmer). this one is so scrumptious, we are going ballistic over this variety in the coming year.

4. potatoes/aloo/urulai kazhangu - this was the surprise of the lot. it is common only in higher elevations/cooler climes like ooty, but unheard of in lowlands ad especially dry lands. even the local farmers were zapped that we were able to grow potatoes. this is going to be another focus area inn the coming winter.

5. radish/mooli/mullangi - seed to harvest in 35 days. this is an all year crop. so we plan to plant around 4 seeds every week/10days so as to get enough for our weekly needs.

6. tomatoes aplenty - we are now picking juicy tender tomatoes at the rate of 1kg/week.

7. greens/palak/keerai variteies - seed to plate in less than 25 days. totally awesome.

8. this is the veg bed (raised format a la emilia hazelip) when we started it and after 20 days of radish and okra/bhendi/vedakkai growing.

we are loving it :-)

Monday, March 08, 2010

continuing budget largesse

sainath tears apart the budget 2010 as a faux-aam aadmi budget.
he did it last year as well and sees a dangerous trend on masking the real intentions.

This year alone, the budget gifts over Rs.500,000 crores in write-offs, direct and indirect, to the Big Boys. That's Rs.57 crores every single hour on average - almost a crore a minute. Beating last year's Rs.30 crores an hour by more than 70 per cent. (See Tables 5 and 12 of the "Statement of Revenue Foregone" section of the budget.)
more money being funnelled into their pockets in t he guise of agricultural credit:
More and more of "agricultural" credit will go not to farmers but corporations. Indeed, "even External Commercial Borrowings will henceforth be available for cold storage or cold room facility." The budget even says: "Changes in the definition of infrastructure under the ECB policy are being made" to foster this process. Some of those changes have already happened. Several of the loans disbursed as "agricultural credit" are in excess of Rs. 10 crore and even Rs. 25 crore. And even as loans of this size steadily grew in number between 2000 and 2006, agricultural loans of less than Rs. 25,000 fell by more than half in the same period. (See Revival of Agricultural Credit in the 2000s: An Explanation. R. Ramakumar and Pallavi Chavan, EPW December 29, 2007.)
post 1991, every finance minister has been sucking upto corporate india and now that India Inc is sinking its teeth into the agriculture sector, they continue to milk us dry.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

THE bunch of girls

in nov/dec 2002, i entered into jari mari in kurla west, mumbai.
i was accompanying a resolute young lady, neha, into the girls' school she was managing.
that day was a life-changer.
i was entering Sahyog Girls' School - The School Without Walls.
the community-based school that aimed to re-school adolescent girls who had dropped out of formal school.

i walked into a computer-center (masquerading as a classroom) to meet the 4 teachers.
4 real dynamo women. raging with determination to make a difference and high ownership of the school. my life was changed from then on.
i was going to teach them english, but in reality, i became their student.
this once-a-week interaction with them over a year allowed me to into their lives and their school.

simultaneously, from dec 2002 to april 2003, i taught a group of girls appearing for their Std 10 NIOS exams.
the subject was Maths.
the medium of instruction was Hindi.
time available was 4 hours every saturday.

daunting as it seems now, i was in my late 20s then and was still blessed with energy and a boyish eagerness.
i went about the task with gusto and was certain that a few of the girls will make it through (at least 1 in 3).
talk about misguided enthusiasm and forecast accuracy. 100% tanked and by a significant margin. devastated as i was, the girls did not seem overly affected by the decimation. they were far more balanced than i was over how things had turned out!
neha, being the sensible analyst, re-calibrated my thinking into proper perspective, "look here. till you started teaching, maths scared the dupattas off them. but they have managed to overcome that fear, take the exam with confidence and deal with the failure with reasonable equanimity. is this not a significant achievement?"

in these 9 years, i have drawn massive inspiration from the girls.
in these 9 years, Sahyog has almost made itself redundant, i.e., within a decade, most adolescent girls in that community are continuing in formal school; reversing/correcting the earlier drop out trend.
claiming only a small part of the credit for this transformation, Sahyog's teachers, alumni and graduates have fuelled the desire and ambition in the girls to inspire them to continue their education, overcoming parental and other opposition.

Sahyog has won the Edelgive Social Innovation Honours 2010 award for the education category.

this post should have been written several years ago.
the awards have triggered this sub-conscious decadal story.

neha, the teachers, the alumni, the students.
THE bunch of girls.

our loft

this is our personal corner at pR.
it is not a room, a home, but simply a loft where we store our things and sleep at night.

but lets start from the main building.
this is the beautiful Pavilion. the story of its creation is a must read.
it has the look and feel of a ship. built by artisans from auroville, it is a green building to beat all other green building.

this is the entrance. friday morning kolam/rangoli brightening up has happened.

this is the groud floor. an open architecture and the coolest/windiest spot in pR.

if you noticed the ladder in the previous pic, your eyes are working just fine.
here is how we get to the first floor.
the pretty step ladder, trap door system.

the first floor is a beautiful dormitory style living space.
it is a triangular space (as against the classic cubic homes in cities) with a height of 20 feet and base of over 25 feet.
the main load bearer in the truss is eucalyptus wood, and on top of that is the framework made of causarina wood.
the flooring is with the bark of the betelnut tree.

the roofing is on a sturdy diamond trussed framework on which thick layers of thatch are tied down.

here is our lounge space (where i am typing this post from).

the loft is approached from another step ladder (visible is the above photo showing the diamond trussed roof). this is how i get into the loft.

it is around 200 sq ft. it has 2 cots which themselves occupy 50 sq ft. we lose over 50 sq ft. the balance is storage and open space. the 2 trunks represent our entire wardrobe.

we have a nice window and a very good view from them.

do let me know if you want to visit :-)