Category Archives: sustainable farming

“The world is too much with us”

One of the books that I had long wanted to read and has stayed teasingly in my mind long after I had read it is,  “One straw revolution” by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Fukuoka, who had been trained as an agricultural scientist, left his job to take up traditional farming in his village, minus all the modern techniques of agriculture, the chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Following a method of farming that was as close to the way in which natural vegetation thrived, he has been able to make a convincing case of how Man’s departure from the natural state of being has in fact been detrimental in more ways than just leeching of the soil and failure of crops.

Here are some excerpts :

“ Human beings with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them. When the corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as splendid accomplishments. People do this over and over again. It is as if a fool were to stomp and break the tiles on his roof. Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution”.

“The farmer became too busy when people  began to investigate the world and decided that it would be good if we did this or did that. All my research has been in the direction of not doing this or that . These thirty years have taught me that farmers would have been better off  doing almost nothing at all.”

“The more people do, the more society develops, the more problems arise. The increasing desolation of nature, the exhaustion of resources, the uneasiness and disintegration of the human spirit, all have been brought about by humanity’s trying to accomplish something. Originally there was no reason to progress and nothing that had to be done. We have come to the point at which there is no other way than to bring about a movement not to bring anything about.”

I wonder how many will agree with that and yet there is an increasing acceptance of the view that  the human race has perhaps  really  over estimated  our control over nature. The long term dangers of chemical farming, the adverse effects of global warming and the threat of global food shortage looming large have all been responsible for a  renewed interest in the traditional methods of natural and organic farming .

Most of the time, we are not even aware of the subtle ways in which the chemical toxicity of pesticides and fertilizers affect our health. But sometimes, the consequences are too obvious to ignore. How the usage of endosulfan in cashew plantations of North Kerala caused major health problems for the people there, particularly the children, is one such sad story.

Apart from the farming aspect, I’m intrigued by the philosophy of not wanting to accomplish something and just letting   ourselves be. People talk of “quality of life”, but what exactly does that mean?

What Mankind has constantly been trying to achieve , I feel, is to prolong the period of our stay on this planet , to postpone death. Just think, if we were willing to die just as readily as animals die , if we just considered ourselves as a part of this whole flora and fauna phenomenon, exulting in our existences , just accepting each day  from dawn to dusk  , eating of what was available around us, when we actually felt hungry , growing just enough for our needs, resting in the shade , listening to the gurgling brook, finding warmth in an embrace at nightfall, making love with a mate , slowly falling asleep after silently talking to the stars, having children , watching them grow and then when the time came just happily passing away, letting others continue , where we had let off, then none of any “scientific and technological” interventions would’ve been necessary. Left to the natural processes of balance , the population of our species would have maintained itself at a level of sustainable stasis.

But somewhere along the way, we alienated ourselves and having done that, we became scared of perishing, of not being there at all and so started the attempts to push death further and further away. What we have been taking  pride in the  most, is that we have succeeded in increasing the longevity of our life span. And now we rue the fact that the population increase is the basic reason for all the problems that confront the modern world.

It has become such a vicious cycle ,  more diseases than ever before because of the increasing rate of interferances in the natural order of things, more  effort being put in to contain them , more longevity and there it goes on spiralling upwards…I vaguely remember a poem by the famous Malayalam poet Kunjan Nambiar,  in which he wondered at a state of affairs where no one died. The poem was satirical , but it clearly has been lost on us.

After exhausting ourselves in the heat and hullabaloo of the madding crowds, why do we long to run away to some isolated retreat , where we can just be doing what our ancestors who roamed around in animal skins were doing…watching the clouds pass by, listening to the raindrops , sitting by the waters with our feet playing with the ripples, watching the sunrays kiss the snow? Why does that harmony still spell unadultered joy?


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Urban Roots

Internet surfing is a favourite past time for me these days. Of course this activity too contributes to global warming  and yes , therefore I really do not have any moral right to  preach too much. My only defence is that I’m going slow on many other things that could add up to the carbon footprints that  I would be leaving behind me. I don’t want my grandchildren and great grandchildren to curse me for the environmental degradation that they may have to face because of the thoughtless and inconsiderate ways we have been going about our lives.

Well, I came across this video on “Urban Roots” , which is a project that has been taken up by the citizens of Detroit , which  used to be a big industrial hub at one time. They’re growing vegetables and stuff in empty patches and abandoned plots. School children are joining in after school hours. The aim is to make fresh homegrown stuff available for local consumption using sustainable methods of farming.

The video reminded me of the little kitchen garden patch I used to have a long time ago in the backyard of the rented accommodation where we then lived. I had planted tomato saplings there and in no time , there was a lushy green little jungle with the slender stems all intertwined with each other and leaning on the thin bamboo strips I had  pushed into the ground  here and there in between the plants for providing support.

Invariably, the first thing I did on waking up was to step outside and smell the “tomatoish” scent of that patch. And then the small little yellow flowers presented themselves. A few days later, the petals withered and small green knobs showed up in the centre of each flower . How delightful it was to watch them grow slowly bigger in size. How zealously one tended to them, picking off the dead leaves , digging up the soil around the roots, watering them regularly and spraying them a couple of times .  I made sure that the small wooden gate at the back was kept closed at all times so that no straying cow could get in and finish them off as one solid meal.

My heart literally sang when the green , plumpy fruits reached their prime. Their luscious youth made them blush and the colour gradually deepened . From then on, on a daily basis , I would pluck a kilo or more of fresh red tomatoes from my very own garden , grown by my very own hands. Not the richest , reddest , pulpiest tomato that you buy from the market can ever, ever be equal to the taste of something , whose process of becoming , you have contributed to with care and affection. Of course it was affection..even the act of eating it was an act of love, appreciating each morsel of it, as it were…in total awareness.

I would so love to be part of something like “Urban Roots”. It’s not a bad thing to emulate. May be the best bet yet against days of food shortage and spiralling prices. Some day..I must have that little patch  to plant tomatoes again:-)

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