Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

servicing the rich

on an email exchange yesterday, a friend wrote to another (on his way to doing his own entrepreneurial thing with finance+management or something like that) wishing him luck and hoped that 'another' would make it on ET (the economic times - desi) in a couple of years and FT (financial times - videsi) couple of years after that.

reading this made me wonder about some of my closest friends. we grew up in college together and had a whale of a time.

now, many of them are in top financial companies, playing the global markets, moving the indices, shuffling portfolios and such like.
and it struck me that they are making a lot of money by making the richest people on the planet, richer.
and in my own world, i just cannot think of a more wasteful occupation or preoccupation.

in my limited economics, i am convinced that poverty reduction will not happen until the rich give up their riches. this is derived heavily from tolstoy's what then must we do.

as i made the shift to pR, i was telling myself that this is my own pursuit and i should not wonder/worry about how others live their life. that would be just destroy the very essence of our move to the land.

but (you knew there was one, right), these reminders have not had their desired impact and i do keep judging people on what they do and how they live.
of course, we have our own different economic theories. thus using my scales to weigh their actions is flawed. there should be no moral superiority in the life i chose to lead.

writing this here is one way of reminding myself to stay focussed.

and then there were three

pR will grow to be a community of around 10-15 adults as full time residents. and another 20-30 odd part time residents/outreach partners.
this main group of 10-15 will work and stay and grow together.

after over 8 months being just the two of us, we now gratefully welcome siddharth into pR.
sharp readers will recall his presence during the ragi planting.

i know siddharth since 1991 - he was one year senior to me at engineering and we were in the same hostel.
he was also a senior at b-school, though he graduated when i joined.
after around 8 years in the IT business, he moved to be a farmer in 2004-05. and after various experimental rounds in rural karnataka and tamilnadu, he has chosen pR as the next nesting site.

and the fun will continue.

Monday, August 30, 2010

planting trees - lots of them

this year we have planned to plant around 400 tree. refer item no. 5 in things are afoot.
we should get upto 350 trees based on our current count.
around 300 will be pongamia pinnata and the rest will be a mix of fruit trees (coconut, mango, sapota, guava, etc)

a lot of tree planting drives are carried out by a variety of organisations, typically on occasions like World Environment Day, etc.
most of them are utter rot.

tree planting is tough work and takes energy and care. you need people with the utmost dedication and devotion - who do not care about the photo ops and the newspaper publicity and the conscience laundering.

we planted around 50 trees in early june when we had a series of wet days. and after 3 months we have 47 survivors. we are proud of this survival rate.

so it all boils down to timing - timing of the rains.
we were readying the plant the remaining 300 trees sometime in september, just after a good spell of rain from the SW monsoon and then the NE monsoon will take over.
we had got an expert pit digger, arjunan, to dig the 300 odd pits. each pit is a cube of length 18 inches. gap between each tree is 25 feet.
his work requires an altogether separate post. filling up a a pit is such hard work, imagine digging it.

and as per his advice, we filled up 130 pits today with 1 cu ft of manure and shovelled in most of the dug out soil. at the next rain, we would plant the trees.
this filling up we did today afternoon under mild, pleasant weather.
at around 330 we were getting ready for our regular evening chores of watering, sickling, etc.
as we set out, the skies opened up for 15 mins. heavy showers.

so stopped all other work.
wheel-barrowed 25 saplings and started planting them.
by the time we were getting to the end, the skies opened up again. yes, again.
almost perfect synchronisation with the rain gods.
the newly planted trees get their first fresh dose of life-giving water directly from rain.

scintillating feeling. maybe this is what giving birth feels like.
targetting planting another 50 trees tomorrow.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

how to end famine forever?

"by abolishing the word famine from the laws of the land."
sainath is caustic and scathing as ever.

this must rank very high in "top 10 absurdities"...
In 1963, the government of Maharashtra ended famine forever in the State. It did this without adding a morsel to anyone's diet. It did so simply by passing an Act in the Legislature that deleted the word ‘famine' from all laws of the State. No kidding. This was called ‘The Maharashtra Deletion Of The Term “Famine” Act, 1963” (And was dug up after decades by an independent researcher from Bangalore.)
what to do with the excess grain rotting in the warehouses?
Meanwhile, say the ‘experts,' the millions of tonnes of grain rotting in open yards present a “golden opportunity” for India to export this in bulk “and seize on the high prevailing global prices of grain.” That is also what the government hopes to do. Its affidavit in response to a slap from the Supreme Court speaks of liquidating the excess stocks by open market sale (read exports).
and what are the solutions to end food production shortfalls?
... we look around for ways to make up our production shortfall. Indian companies are buying land in parts of Africa to grow foodgrain. This finds approval with the Working Group on Agricultural Production set up by the Prime Minister and chaired by Haryana Chief Minister B.S. Hooda. Its report says “We should seriously consider these options for at least 2 million tonnes of pulses and 5 million tonnes of edible oil for 15-20 years.”
this solution is quite imperialistic and needless to say, idiotic.

sainath finishes with his trademark cynicism.
Will the courts say anything about the notion of shipping grain abroad when millions go hungry at home? Will the government say something other than ‘no' to the needs of the hungry? Will the NAC rethink its stand on a universal PDS? Will Parliament accept fraudulent definitions of food security? Will anyone speak for the Directive Principles of State Policy and how policy must work towards strengthening them? It would, of course, be silly to expect a government of this sensitivity to care a fig for the Directive Principles. But perhaps we can hope that the Supreme Court does?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

the trip of scientists

when scientists come up with discoveries like "most significant breakthrough in agricultural science since the “green revolution”", it is quite amusing.
The achievement by scientists from the universities of Liverpool and Bristol and the John Innes Centre in Norwich would “revolutionise” wheat production leading to greater food security and lower prices, experts behind the research claimed.
lower prices?? spending too much time in smoky labs could be the reason.
The data, a version of which would be placed online so that farmers around the world could have immediate access to it, would help “accelerate the speed and accuracy of plant-breeding”...
how will farmers accessing the gene sequence help them?

all this research is aimed for...
...raising the prospects of bigger and faster disease-resistant crops to meet the looming global food shortage.
the food shortage is simply related to lesser people spending their efforts in growing food. there is no other way to solve the impending crisis, but for an increase in the number of farmers.

the ability to play god is an ego trip.
the ability to control nature is the hitlerian ego trip. and many scientists seem to have booked into this trip.

and here is a beautiful piece of 'scientist news' which made me smile...
Plants can summon insects to their aid to avoid being munched to death by caterpillars, scientists have found.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

guess who came visiting

photo courtesy - DV

our local veteran - annamalai - says that it is his first ever sighting in this location.

Monday, August 23, 2010

watched peepli (live)

for a blog which has a tag on 'sainath', peepli (live) has nothing new to tell.
but it tells a familiar story in a very entertaining manner.
a story not so much on the farmer suicide issue as much as about the television media.
through most of the movie i was chuckling.
the news channels have been hilariously ripped apart for their TRP-crazed approach to journalism.

in general, this movie has given many urban residents/viewers a first look into the depressing life of debt-ridden farmers. and many of the oohs and aahs and ouches seem to be emanating from this crew. the final scenes segueing (always wanted to use this word) into credits stating "8 million farmers have quit farming from 1991 to 2001" attempt to re-remind the audience of the grimness underlying the story.
will it provoke them to dig deeper and ask some tough questions?
it will. at least as much as TZP and 3 Idiots got the very same crew to mull over the issue of school and college education.
which is - not much enough.

for movies to be both entertaining and seriously thought-provoking, go see anbe sivam and arai en 305il kadavul.
interestingly both these films flopped while peepli (live) is a hit.

watch this very space to see how many farmers quit farming between 2001 and 2011. it could be in excess of 25 million...

you can read brangan's and sukanya's reviews for their take.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

some light - govt red lights mining in orissa

i am against mining companies, not against mining.
so when the environment ministry recently stopped POSCO and illegalised Vedanta from continuing their work in their respective areas in Orissa, i read it with gladness.

will it last...will the environment ministry able to guts it out against the opposition from the industries ministry and the state govt?
may be they will bend over. and this could all be a nice game being played by jairam ramesh...
lets see how things develop.

when the rice drowned

readers will be happy to know that the rice we planted survived the initial drowing to sprout well and sturdy.

we had 45 minutes of high intensity rain on the morning of 20th and here is our paddy field.

under 1.5 feet of water.

there was still some hope that the rice would survive (miracle, if it did) it the waters receded in 24 hours.
then august 21st saw continued rains.
it is likely that the field will remain under water for at least a week.

effectively that would mean that our paddy experiment has been washed away.
sad as it could be, the rains always take priority and after all we planted in a pond, who's primary karma is to store water.

as a back up, we had planted a paddy nursery a week ago.
if it works, then we may still do a paddy transplant in the SAME field...
you have to hand it to us for persistence :-)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

rains continue to bless us

the summer of 2010 has to go down as one of the best rain times for tamilnadu.
the rain data shows that majority of the districts have received much in excess of the normal rain.

last night we reaped the benefit and continue to reap the largesse from this cloud cover.

i used to track the monsoon in mahrashtra religiously, and here is the latest (Aug 2010) district rainfall map.
mah should have nothing to complain. of course, this is assuming that enough water has been stored up in the ponds, lakes, dams, reservoirs, etc.

2010 overall monsoon over india is a considerable improvement from a dismal 2009.
other than a very strong feel-good factor, i think that the above data doesnt matter!!
what say?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

gopalkrishna gandhi - respect

gk gandhi is special. he has a pedigree which is unquestionably of the highest class.
grandson of mk gandhi and c rajagopalachari.

but he is in a class of his own.
from the time he was the governor of west bengal (2004-2009), he has been in the limelight with his doings.

came across his latest speech to lawyers of the madras high court- titled 'respect'. superb

his earlier 2010 convocation address to the IIT madras graudates also shows his class. (if anyone can link the entire address, do send).

Sunday, August 15, 2010

varagu - planting

those who recall my post on hardy and nutritious millets, may also recall that we planned to convert to a millet centric diet and hence plant a lot of millets (csm - what are the chances?!).

ploughing away, some of you will recall us keeping to this promise based on our planting ragi.
a few may have raised eyebrows when they read that we had planted rice.
(those who have successfully remembered all the above posts should seriously read a few other blogs).

but rice planting was after we planted varagu (kodo millet in english, kodon in hindi, kodra in marathi, harka in kannada and arikelu in telegu).
we had our first taste of varagu (available in reStore in chennai) when my bhabhi made pongal (the sweet as well as the breakfast variety) using varagu instead of rice.
very tasty and filling.
for interested cooks, do a find 'rice and replace with 'varagu' in sambar rice, khichidi or above two items. guaranteed better results - taste and health.
more millet recipes here.

i had part ploughed a piece of land around 2 months ago after the pre-monsoon showers.
to add fertility, we sprinkled some dried cow dung and we had planted some sunn hemp.
a month later, we ploughed the field again and the sunn hemp into the soil.
now it was ready for planting in the aadi maasam (mid july to mid aug).

the day we planted rice, we planted varagu.

the seeds were broadcast.

the common method after broadcasting is to re-plough the field with bullocks to cover the seeds.
since we could not arrange for 2x4 legged animals, we used 2x2 legged animals.
using crudely devised methods and implements, we ran over the field hoping to replicate the effect of a plough.

it looked well covered at the end of it.

if the heavy rains which filled up our rice field has not washed away the varagu seeds from this field, in 5-6 months, we should have a good harvest.
it takes around 1.5-2 weeks to sprout. so we are waiting with bated breath.
watch this space.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

appudu is here!

after copping a lot of flak for poisoning the toe-nibbling rodents, we have taken the most obvious and simple solution...

appudu is here.

4 months old, jet black, watery eye, he has already set upon himself to keep the pavilion rodent-free.
he was on our acquisition radar for some time, and it was rather sudden that the deal was finalised.
his claws will, over time, damage the ropes that hold up the pavilion. but we shall conjure up a solution.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"we are all valedictorians"

do read this wonderful speech by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010.

a telling commentary on the current public education system in the USA. it is quite the same in India whichever education service provider you choose (government/private).
Erica lays it out quite dramatically...
But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared.

The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it.

Monday, August 09, 2010

planting in the rain

it rained on saturday night (august 7, 2010).

after a period of nearly 2 weeks.
our sowing plans were getting out of sync. the aadi maasam (mid july to mid august) is an auspicious sowing time in tamilnadu. the SW monsoon rains would have blessed the soil with enough moisture. and there would be a few more sporadic showers in the later months during the crop growth phase. sufficient to raise a crop before the big rains during the NE monsoon.
but the 2 week dry spell left us wondering if this crop could be considered at all.

and saturday happened.
and we jumped up with glee and jazzed up for planting.
the selected crop was rice. the breed is called nawabi kolam. the source was the legendary bhaskarbhai save. it is a 175 day crop and grows to around 6 feet in height.
the selected spot is a small pond - around 1500 sq feet area. very small indeed. but we were just going to trial rice growing.
this pond gets filled up with the run off from the nearby areas during heavy rains and we expected that the top soil settled in its bottom would be reasonably fertile. in tamil, pond/tank silt is called vandal man. and is very rich. and farmers lap it up.
we had ploughed the plot 3 weeks ago in anticipation of the sowing.
here it is.

the grass bundles are for mulching once we sow.

the idea is to grow rice without the conventional methods - nursery preparation, transplanting, flooding for weed control, etc.
we were going to plant the seeds directly into the soil and water as and when required without flooding. we were hoping that in case it rains and the pond fills up a bit, it would not affect the crop.
so we hunkered up and planted seeds in gaps of 1.5 feet.

it took us (3 people) around 2 hours of work. one would make a depression with a stick and another would drop in a couple of seeds and close the depression. (yes, i did some of that and not just clicking pics).

and guess what.
it poured sunday night. the highest rainfall ever since we landed here. and the early morning sight that greeted us was...

wait...all is not lost. we have found out that the seeds we planted will survive this flooding (any other planting method would have been wiped out).
if the pond dries out reasonably within 2-3 days, the seeds will sprout and the experiment will continue.
what amazing rain and what amazing timing!

sharing habitats

we had a serious problem with the rats and adopted a shock-n-awe approach.

but this new fellow is in an altogether different league.

scorpions, like rats, by virtue of sharing the same habitat as humans, run into serious conflict.
snakes on the other hand prefer to live in their own places.
others like lizards, frogs, ants, etc share our habitat, but are harmless and can be easily ignored.

back to this black lissome stinger. we sighted her at around 11 pm in the night of heavy rain. we immediately increased our potential energy and from that vantage, we observed her perambulate casually.
over 2 mins of frenzied parlays, it was decided to get 'rid' of her. and i chose a long plywood and did a steve waugh slog sweep over mid-wicket. i could not bring myself to stomp on her...

we found out that she is not an impulsive stinger and her first mode of attach is through her pincers (painful as it is) and has a 'no-first-use' policy with her stinger.
so we tread with a little less fear.