Thursday: The morning was normal: full of craziness, tea, toast, cheese, eggs, Hiru didi, ADHD Payal, possessed shower (Nora not realizing that there was an open window adjacent to said shower), and wardrobe anxiety. A wonderful way to start off the day!
This time we reached work at 10:30, and surprisingly enough the office was full. Just kidding. We were once again in first place. Work started off normally, until Dolon and Sid asked us to come down for a meeting with Dr. Sharma, one of Ashoka’s oldest and most distinguished fellows. He was elected in 1985 only four years after the birth of Ashoka International. His initial project idea which made him an Ashoka Fellow was to go to the Himalayas, where various groups were working on conservation (a new field at the time), and working to bridge the communication gaps between the organizations. Along with that he worked to provide solutions that would work in that particular area. His goal was to enhance networking and information exchange. At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Sharma laid out the disclaimer: that his idea when he became a fellow should no longer be considered his ‘new’ idea. His ‘newest’ idea has not yet been created because he is not finished thinking during his time on earth.One of the main components of our research is to find out the challenges faced by the small and marginalized farmers in India. Dr. Sharma explained to us that in the last 10 years there have 180,000 farmers have committed suicide (loan cycles, decreasing land, lack of food). The Green Revolution only sent technology and brainpower to irrigated areas and not naturally rain-fed areas, it also only focused on wheat and grain and there was no focus on marginal crops. The government seemed to focus on areas working with irrigation systems because applicable technology seemed to produce a more visual and tangible change – Areas, which were not growing anything at all, were suddenly producing crops. However the fallacy to this revolution was that rain-fed areas, which account for 70% of Indian agriculture, were producing great amounts of food. So they were not given any attention. These areas, though initially producing more than the irrigated lands, were still in need of dire assistance and were in no way producing enough yield. People needed to understand that the fact that the rain-fed areas were producing more yield than irrigated areas did NOT mean that they were producing ENOUGH yield, it simply meant MORE yield than the others. Due to this imbalance of technological placement the prices of marginal crops are rising because there is such a skew in what is researched and what is.
There are also no MSP’s (minimum support prices) on marginal crops and there are no controls over these crops. First and foremost we have to help the farmers survive and sadly at this point, without any solution for ten years, people have become desensitized to their suicide stories. The Green Revolution has brought us to this situation because the input/output system has changed. This is because the Green Revolution emphasized greater yields and the use of genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers. However, while this was good for large farms, the small farmer began to struggle to purchase the seeds and fertilizers that were necessary to produce as high a yield as everyone else. The growth has now inverted – one puts in more and one gets less in return as opposed to before. Because of the change of this input/output ratio, the farmers borrow from the market, and when the debt consistently increases the small farmers all too often commit suicide. The Indian government recently has increased credit flow, thinking that it would curb the situation. However, the problem is that once they wave a debt, the farmer is still in the same position and the cycle hasn’t changed- the farmer finds himself, in the same dilemma two years later. The Indian government and loan companies aren’t looking at the “Genesis” of the problem.
When we asked him how to achieve a higher input-output ratio, Dr. Sharma further explained that the state of Punjab is a role model for the agricultural system in India. He explained that if a person went to Punjab in the past, they would find the land to be pumped with chemicals and fertilizers. The Punjabi farmers at the time did not realize that even though it was producing a higher yield of crops, it was killing the soil, themselves, and ultimately hurting them economically because of the pressure to continue buying the chemicals for high yielding crops. The Punjabi farmers have been given a crash course in the importance of health and the importance of utilization in a country with sparse resources. So the Punjabi farmers have converted back to the traditional Indian farming system which is dependent on the cattle. They have proceeded to rid their farms of western cows (which are not organically fed and raised) and replaced them with Indian grazing cows, they then utilize the dung and urine of the cows as natural fertilizer. These farmers have realized that organic crops and growing marginal crops may give them just as high of a monetary yield as the commonly grown, genetically modified cash crops. In addition, these people are eating and selling healthier and less poisoned food as opposed to having a higher yield of crops. Hence, small farmers CAN survive if they take the right precautions. This mentality is spreading through education and Punjab is now also getting higher MSP for their wheat because it is safer to eat. There is more of a market for organically grown food because organizations and education have helped to link health to agriculture.
The main point we absorbed was that the agricultural sector usually is looked into as a rural field that cities and the industry can ignore, but people HAVE to realize that it’s deeply connected to the economy and all other issues, and that if a society ignores it then they are harming everyone because it’s such an interconnected field (we will focus more on how it is so connected to the economy and stuff like that in another post) We are all part of the food chain, and the sad reality is because human beings are on the far receiving end of the food chain people are not bothered about how the food is actually produced, or the treatment of the food, or even the transportation of the food. Today the cancer rate is growing and the connection to food is evident. The kind of chemicals used to grow food directly affects our health. In one study there were 400 chemicals found in the human body. Because of this unfortunate disconnect it’s hard to appreciate and understand the components of the food we eat. For example, the salad that people are eating in Delhi is all grown with polluted water and the movement of chemicals seeping into vegetables is much higher than it is for grains. Food isn’t just what we see, just like people just aren’t what they look like. A person’s true value is in their upbringing as is a food’s true value is in it’s cultivation.
Enough about work, even though it’s fascinating. We never thought agriculture would spark our interest as much as it does. Once we reached home we found Mohenna’s uncle working hard on a project, we asked him what he was concentrating so hard on perfecting and he replied ‘Aman’s summer homework so that his mother doesn’t kill him.’ Now we were under the impression that Aman was helping his father, but in walks Aman with his friend, drenched in sweat, holding his cricket bat, clearly he had been outside playing for the last couple hours. Wonderful!
When we went to change, we heard a brawl outside so we proceeded to check it out. Outside the gates of our house there was a crowd gathering. Two Sikhs (mafia members) had attempted to steal (heist) a motorcycle (bank) and while one got away on a scooter, the other was caught. In an attempt to grab him, his turban was ripped off. When we looked outside, a (beautiful according to Nora) man with flowing hair down to his knees was arguing with a large crowd and a fistfight looked as though it would ensue. Another man chased the Sikh with a cricket bat and began to smack his scooter with it. Hiru didi and Ashish went outside to check it out, but Aman and Nora stayed safely on the balcony attempting to document.
We then sat down to eat dinner and the conversation at the table soon turned to one where we asked them the story of how they met, dated, and finally got married. This was hilarious because immediately both Leepa (Mashu) and Ashish (Chacha) – claimed that the other person was the pursuer and both insisted that they themselves were the pursued. They went on to narrate their (totally contradicting) stories, and at one point her uncle completely inaccurately described the scene of the proposal to her aunt… Leading a secret life there Ashish? Who’s the other wife??? Through the conversation we learned a cultural value, and it seems as though here in India, the idea of shallow dating is rare, and once people are mature and have been dating for a couple years it is known that they are on the road to getting married shortly. There is little need for a life affirming moment where the man gets down on one knee and spews his heart out. To continue on with the dinner table conversations, we proceeded to think about whether we would sacrifice our lives for someone else if we could in return save theirs. Nora claimed that she wouldn’t be opposed to if that person had experienced less life then she had and if the chance of their survival was high enough after her initial sacrifice- also she would need more time than a split second to make up her mind, and every situation is very different- she probably wouldn’t fly in front of a bullet by instinct, but might sacrifice after rational thought. Ashish claimed that in the moment of death, no matter how much people would like to believe that they would save a loved one, animal instinct gets put into gear and your own survival becomes priority. Mohenna still doesn’t know what she would do because has never thought about or analyzed the level of relationships she has to that extent – she feels as though the people she would possibly save would be the same people who would genuinely never want her to sacrifice her life for theirs. What light conversations!!
After finishing rounds of mango ice cream and watching Nora eat the center of the mango much like a savage would, it was time for bed. Sleeping is usually peaceful, except tonight. Mohenna turned around at approximately 3 am to face the other way and Nora, in her sleep grabbed Mohenna’s face with two hands, looked into her eyes and loudly, not to mention incoherently, spewed some words before letting go and falling back asleep. This further adds to the theory that that Nora Graham is a possessed gremlin. Or Ghost (aka we were right all along about Moaning Myrtle). Crazy.