Farming Food Nicely

  Vibha Varshney |     December 16, 2021

Babbi jumped out of the car and looked around the unusual farm. There were bushes interspersed with different kinds of trees and small patches of vegetables. Nearby, was a yellow patch of mustard crops. She could hear a cow moo at a distance too.

“Is that custard apple?” she exclaimed excitedly running towards the tree. But the moment she spied a beehive there, she scampered back. However, she couldn’t be at ease for long as some chicks began pecking at her feet and she screamed aloud. Amused, her mother calmed her down by showing her an onion flower and the butterflies fluttering around it.

Just then, the farm-owner arrived, “Welcome to my permaculture farm. What would you like to buy today?”

Babbi frowned for a moment mumbling, “What farm?...”

“Permaculture farm. In permaculture, we make the most of the things available naturally, such as sunlight, wind, and rain. So, in my farm, we grow tall trees to protect small plants from scorching sunlight and raging winds. We have about a hundred plant varieties on our little, two-hectare land. We practice mixed cropping to enrich soil with nutrients. Like, we sow millets with lentils and chickpeas.

They are nitrogen-fixing plants which are good for millets. We even allow weeds to thrive and use them as mulch. Plus, we let local grass to flourish, which we use as fodder and roof thatch.”

“Wow… such multifarious uses!” Babbi was amazed.

“At the heart of permaculture, lies the idea that a plantation should offer multiple benefits—right from food and fodder to timber and fertiliser,” summarised the farmer.

As Babbi’s dad placed ripe, fresh farm veggies inside the car, the farm-owner plucked a custard apple and generously gifted it to Babbi. Feeling in awe of a fruit presented straight off a tree and relishing a mouth full of its sweet pulp, Babbi declared, “This is, by far, the best custard apple I’ve ever had! We should visit such farms more often.”

“Hehe, that’s a great idea,” said her mom, “But all farms are not the same,” pointing to the fields alongside the road. Those fields looked just like a lawn with only a single plant variety being cultivated. Babbi noticed a few people walking between the rows of plants with a machine on their back. They were spraying a foul liquid on the crops.

Her mother explained, “This is intensive agriculture. It is carried out by using toxic pesticides and fertilisers, which is what those folks are spraying on the plants. This type of farming is the most common across the globe.”

“Let’s hope something good comes out of the United Nation’s Food Systems Summit and we are assured of some healthy food in future,” sighed her father, annoyed by the pesticide odour.

“What Summit???” Babbi screeched as she missed out its complicated, lengthy name. But since it seemed related to the heavenly custard apple she just had, she remained glued.

So, her mother elaborated, “Last month, all the member countries of the UN got together in New York. They were figuring out how the food we eat can be made better not only for us but for the environment too.”

“You mean, the food we eat is bad for the environment?” Babbi was puzzled.

“Well, every year, the food systems alone release about a quarter of the Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) emitted by us, humans. ‘Food systems’ mean everything from growing and harvesting crops to processing, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposing them. Their emissions cause climate change. And since we cannot live without eating food and have to feed about 7.8 billion people on this planet, we urgently need to improve these food systems.”

“Gosh! So the way in which we grow and make our food itself is polluting the planet!?” Babbi exclaimed.“Exactly,” said her dad in a monotone.

“So, talks are on about what kind of action can reduce this pollution. How do we improve our food production practices? How to reduce water and land usage? How do we better manage food loss and crop wastage, change our diets, diversify our food base, and promote local food? In fact, something called ‘Planetary Health Diet’ is being promoted these days. It categorises the food on the basis of the amount of GHGs it emits during production and discourages any food that adversely impacts the environment and human health. For example, it suggests that we consume less meat and more plants.”

“Okay, so… what was decided at the meeting?” Babbi asked.

“Just like you throw a tantrum every time I tell you to eat sarson saag instead of French fries, people around the world are not happy with these suggestions,” mother looked pointedly at Babbi, who smartly avoided the look.

“The rich will need to give up the food they are used to, like meat, because that causes the maximum food emission. Countries, like Sweden, will have to reduce eating red meat by almost 90 per cent! Their food emissions per person are already twice than that of a person in a poor country, like Malawi in Africa,” mother encapsulated.

Dad detailed further, “Producing some foods, like meat and sugar, releases a lot of GHGs. But as these are staple foods, farmers get a lot of help from governments to produce them. Therefore, the logical way to our reduce food emissions is to reduce this help to the sugar and meat producers, so that they shift to less-polluting foods, like millets. But, sugar and meat industries stand to lose money because of this shift and do not support these changes.”

“Oops! So, this means, we are in a fix! We have the problem of food systems’ pollution. We can solve it by following eco-friendly food habits. But we can’t develop them because (a) old habits die hard and (b) some people are actually benefiting from these polluting foods,” concluded Babbi.

“Smart girl! So, at this UN meeting, the food corporates hijacked the agenda. They talked more about money than good food. They ensured that we keep focusing on intensive agriculture, packaged and junk food. Hence, you’ll see more of those lawn-like fields and your lovely permaculture farms will keep suffering in future too.”

“Oh, no!” Babbi felt nostalgic about those cute, furry chickens that had pecked at her feet.

“We need to bring these people to this farm,” Dad smiled at this innocent outburst. “Negotiations are still on. Let’s hope, people’s voices would be heard,” he pacified Babbi who was in tears. Fearing the looming disaster, she swore to give up the pizzas and burgers for a good time now.

About the Author

Associate Editor, Down To Earth

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