By Devasis Sarangi
I must congratulate the international and national media (both print and electronic) who have really marketed the hunger of Odisha so well, that that when you think of hunger and deprivation, what pops in front of your eyes is Odisha.
Look, you mind says, scantily clad women, ill-fed children scampering around pigs and sanitation less- tiny inaccessible hamlets. Wow, a slum dog millionaire in the making, ready for an Oscar!!!
You church shows you videos of starving people, churches burning and this reminds you of the grand soap operas of India with high TRPs, which make you cry and take pity, and NGOs and so called life savers dent a hole in your pocket, claiming it saves taxes as well!!!
Add to this, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) -3 data showing that Odisha has an under-five mortality of 91, one of the highest in India and oops they have hit the Jackpot!!! You cannot deny it now they say!!!
So when I tell you Odisha can teach you farming and be the food basket of the World you think, like many of my other dear friends, this guy has gone nuts!!!
Is it not a paradox, then, Koraput - a highland plateau in the Eastern Ghats in Odisha – which tops the list of poverty-prone and food insecure district in Odisha, has an extremely rich biodiversity.
According to studies conducted by the Botanical Survey of India and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, Koraput is a veritable arbour - with 2,500 species of flowering plants, angiosperms, gymnosperms and ferns.
Its agro-biodiversity includes 340 landraces (ancient or primitive cultivated varieties of a crop) of paddy, eight species of minor millets, nine species of pulses, five species of oil seeds, three species of fibrous plants and seven species of vegetables.
A decade ago, Chandra Pradhani, 42, a Paraja tribal of Nuaguda village in the Kundra block of Odisha's Koraput district, would migrate to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh to earn a living as a brick kiln worker. He no longer does this.
Today, he is silently saluted, being one of the two tribal farmers to be honoured by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 99th Science Congress held in Bhubaneswar, early this year, but not really highlighted by the media (no deep pocket pesticide company or fertilizer company to sponsor you see!!!)
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations recently accorded the district the status of Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS), if you wanted an international accreditation to satisfy yourself!!!
Pradhani is a natural farmer in every sense of the term (which today we call by the fancy name “organic”!!!). Earlier, he used a lot of chemical fertilizers (most fertilizers and feedstock are based on naphtha, a petroleum product, so also bound be more and more expensive as also a reason for the high food inflation!!!) now he utilizes the cow dung and vermin compost used by his ancestors. For preventing crops from getting infected, he prepares insecticides using neem leaves and other medicinal plants found in the forest.
In this way, for the last few years, his annual yield has risen almost three-fold and profits have increased several times over. With an annual income of over USD 1000 (Rs 50,000 @US$1=Rs 50), Pradhani now sends his children to school and meets the basic needs of his family.
It is this hard labour and traditional agricultural techniques of tribal farmers like Pradhani that have helped put Koraput on the map of world agriculture.
It has been long tackling drought and the vagaries of weather, we see only now in some other parts of the World (due to Climate Change), which has helped it develop the expertise to combat that in a manner sustainable.
Their farming practices are more than 3,000 years old and they have been able to conserve genes, seeds, grains and water and fight against
hunger and food insecurity by using traditional practices.
Tribal farming families have, over several generations, successfully domesticated and conserved rice genetic resources. This tract is famous for the genetic diversity of Asian cultivated rice and has also been considered the centre of origin for the aus ecotype of rice (Oryza sativa) as well. What's more, the landraces of traditional varieties growing here harbour genes that protect it against ecological stress like lack of water (drought conditions) or too much of it (flood conditions) - which could help future scientists with better varieties of rice resistant to natural disasters; without having to resort to genetic modifications, marketed by GMOs, featuring "philanthropist" Bill Gates, beaming a smile while expounding the "benefits" that GMOs bring to starving people.
We typically don’t like to hear about the studies that show crop yields with GMOs are actually lower than with non-GM crops, or that they require far more pesticides than the traditional seeds, or that some are patented “terminator” seeds that don’t re-germinate, which ensures an eventual monopoly over food.
Or, perhaps one of the worst finding, that hamsters in one study became completely infertile, among other disturbing effects, after only 3 generations of eating GM soya bean (which could soon come your way marketed as the best protein alternative for your growing kids!!!).
GM crops not only destroy the environment but are unhealthy, lead to contamination, create monopoly cartels and destroy farmers. Need I say more?
We have ignored our traditional methods for quite too long and termed these tribal illiterate.
During the Jeypore Botanical Survey, conducted in 1950, the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, Odisha enumerated 1,750 landraces of rice. Forty years later, in 1990, it could trace only 324 landraces of rice. A decade later, in the year 2000, it got only 102 landraces (that is 94% lost in just over 60 years so much for research)!!!
Powerful lobbies have joined hands with the politicians, to destroy for their super profits; but we literates, have donned the role of Gândhârî of Mahabharata (we are literate and civilized, not tribal you see, pun intended!!!)
Should then only world heritage monuments like Konarak be preserved? (Hopefully this name of Odisha at least sounds familiar to you)
Do you still doubt that Odisha can’t teach you farming and be the food basket of the World and does this not warrant a genetic heritage park of international scale to preserve this for our children?
(Opinions expressed are personal and does not represent that of the organizations he is associated with. He can be reached at email@example.com)