Friday, January 24, 2014

Marketing and Changing food habits!

Couple of weeks back on twitter, a person tweeted about the games we used to play during our childhood. It took me back to my childhood days as well. I started wondering why we are missing so many little things in life! Be it games we used to play, be it seasonal fruits & veggies or the freedom to spend time freely with friends(we never used to come home for whole day sometimes!)

A close look at the games will remind us, now a days we don't see kids playing Goli(marbles), Chinni-Daandu, Lagori, Gaali Pata(Kite), Mara-Koti, kabaddi (few still play but same % anymore) and everybody's favorite an old tyre :-). Unfortunately some of these games are termed now as "Poli hudugara Aata"(sorry can't translate to English)! Now we see kids play very few games out doors and most games on gadgets!

Same thing is happening(happened) with our food! I remember very well, all seasonal fruits that used to grow in my dad's govt quarters at Nanjangud. Every summer when I went from Mysore, I would literally sit on the mango tree with some salt and eat straight from the tree! Same with Guava & Papaya, we have eaten in almost all stages! When it's raw it tastes little hot and as it ripens taste changes. My favorite was always "Dorgaai" the word for papaya which is is in early stage of ripening ! Then we used to have other friends who had gooseberry not the one we get in the Market which is "Bettada Nelli" but the one called "Kiru Nelli" it's almost on the verge of extinction as it doesn't have any commercial value!, other types of mangoes etc!

While visiting retail stores in US, I used to wonder how come these stores have all fruits all the time! Except Strawberry & few other fruits, others were available always! Especially apple! That too many kinds of apples. We used to love "Gala" for it's taste over other varieties! We enjoyed them everyday as the saying goes "An apple a day keeps doctor away"!

After coming back to India and making a career change into farming, I met quite a few progressive farmers . And soon my views on eating un-seasonal fruits & veggies started changing. But not before quite a few discussions and debates with friends, family, internet etc.  

While reading a book, I found a comparison between Guava(our own backyard stuff) and Apple! It was quite interesting and made me think, what made us move towards Apple discrediting Guava! I am attaching similar comparison from net. Have a look! If it's not readable please the following URL.

comparison shows, our own Guava is as good as Apple(even better) in terms of nutrition but we have developed a mentality that eating Apple is better than eating a Guava ! 

There are quite a few factors for this. 

1.Who were growing this in bulk - Western Countries and some in Kashmir
2.How Apple was marketed as a superior fruit - Again as it was consumed mostly by Brits, we have picked it up as a status symbol! And the saying "an apple a day......" was very catchy!
3.Why it was necessary for them to market Apple over Guava - This is simple. They could grow very few item in their weather conditions and as always our population attracted them as potential market!
4. Look and feel - No doubt Apple has much better look & feel, with vax and other things to make it shine & last for over a year. YES, the apple you consume may be a year old! 

I understand there's nothing wrong in marketing and of course Apple is good for health, why not consume when it's available at our door step!

For the above points let's look at the process involved in moving Apples from Kashmir. I am not even talking about other faraway countries!

1. You need to increase shelf life - It's a proven point that fruits grown using chemicals have lesser shelf life than the ones grown organically. Hence more chemicals will be added to maintain the fruit for such a long journey.
2. You need to maintain the look & feel - Again to avoid wear & tear apply vax & costly packing
3. Cost - Other than the production cost, transport cost , costs of chemicals, advertising, Packing, vax etc will be added.
4. Build consumers/market base which prefer Apple over other fruits! - This was done by creating a feeling in public, that this is superior to other fruits by means of advertising, sponsored research etc. Also that Indians never invest in research helped to hide qualities of Guava for very long time.

All of the above is making Apple sold @ 160/Kg and Guava sold on road side in pieces ! As it's sold as a status symbol, we love to buy them in bulk and show off! This makes other customers buy it, as they too feel, can afford to eat a fruit which is 160/Kg!

This is where the concept of localization comes in. The advantages are many.

1.Consuming local produce which are fresh, doesn't need "magic" to increase shelf life,
2. Available at a much lesser price
3. Same or better nutrition value!
4. Gels well with local weather conditions and hence no adverse health issues

This also makes us to think, what grows best in and around our place, in what season, why except very few fruits and veggies all others are seasonal, in what kind of weather, what kind of food one should consume in different weather conditions etc!

I know it's tough task but we better start that journey now! Best way to learn about this is to do the most boring stuff the youngsters can ever think of. That is talking to your parents,grand parents. And understand how things used to be in those times! Other way is to observe food practices in different parts of India but with similar weather pattern. For example Observe food practices in  1. South Canara & Kerala, 2. Northern Karnataka & Andhra.

What I have observed, is the type of rice used in Kerala & Mangalore/Udupi are similar, the oil usage is similar. People in extreme temperatures/dry weather use more chilly than in colder place, People in cold places tend to use Potato more than other places. This shows food habits are developed over a period of time based on what's good/suits for that weather and also what could be easily grown in that place without much of an effort so on and so forth. 

So next time when you stop in front of an aisle with Apples,  think over and get few Guavas as well!. If the store doesn't have them ask for them. If few customers asks for any product, store will realize that there's market and start selling them! This is one way we can make a difference to the local farmers and also save a lot in the process!

And of course all this shouldn't stop with Apple & Guava but we should extend this to other fruits and veggies. I can bet, If I ask you to list vegetable used in your household, your mind won't think beyond Potato, Onion, Tomatoes, Beans, Carrot, Radish! If you spend little bit more time, you would add Pumpkin, Brinjal & Cabbage to the list. But to give an example of varieties we have, I was told the tribes in BR Hills grow 15 types of veggies which grows under the soil(Gedde Genasu)! Similar to yam! Which are nutritious, cost effective, grows naturally without much of manual intervention and have long long shelf life(which runs into months)! So one other way to normalize the prices of common veggies & fruits is to diversify your food habits.!

So homework for the weekend is to use 2 rare variety of veggies! 1 for breakfast and one for lunch! Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How organic farming help farmers!

As the debate about downside of India's green revolution spreads across the country, it's time to revisit the need for natural/organic farming. This is the only way we can help farmers to come out of vicious debt cycle and be independent in true sense!

First look at the main arguments put forth for the chemical based farming.

1. Organic/natural farming is unable to produce enough food for India's growing population 
2. Native seeds/plants doesn't yield enough per acre food when compared to GM/hybrid seeds/crops
3. More scientific(?) than the old natural/organic farming!
4. Farmers' income would increase by the use of chemical fertilizers!

Corporate world is trying its best to target areas covered in first 2 points. First they need to debunk the theory of natural/organic farming saying it's not enough for growing population. Second they are trying to instill an inferior feeling in farmers' mind about their own native seeds/crops. Both of these are benefiting 2 sectors of corporate world. 

1. Producing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides etc
2. Companies who are into Biotechnology to develop genetically modified crops.

There's one more way to demoralize farmers that is to call their way of farming unscientific! We in India were following organic farming right from beginning! If you read Krushi-Parashara(, which is all about agricultural practices, you would be astonished to see the level of understanding our ancestors had with respect to soil science, astronomy, monsoons, rain water harvesting etc! After thousands of years of foreign rule we lost interest in our traditions/practices and started asking for "Scientific reason" for everything without trying to put any effort in understanding the science behind the practices!

The last point is increasing farmers' income! Now if this was true, after 30-40 years of "scientific farming" using most advanced chemical inputs, farmers would have made it to "middle class" league at the minimum. But look at the condition of farmer across the country! Due to mono crop practice they grow only 3-5 major items(all are cash crops). Paddy ,Cotton,Sugar cane are the top 3 in that list! But even then every year farmer is getting into more debt, moving away from farming and worse committing suicide!

So why practice natural/organic farming? Let me quote D.V.G's Kagga to keep this short! 

This is exactly what we do in summer. We try fan/a.c but when/if power goes off, we try with a paper or a book to get some cool air. Soon our hands ache and we try some other means. But naturally blowing wind will be much more cooler and satisfying than any man made stuff.

Applying this to farming, all we need to do is to replace the word "Sukha" with "yield"! we get the philosophy of natural farming & realize what's happening to the average farmer! Gives us reason why we shouldn't be trying to achieve higher yield with external inputs against the natural ability of a plant. Why it's always better to provide suitable environment with minimum interference and allow nature to take it's own course. This way farmer is out of debt, happy with income he'she gets and most of all move towards sustainable farming! Once the soil fertility increases, ecology of the farm is stabilized, plant yield increases and even if in case there's any natural calamity like drought, heavy rain, wind plants will be strong enough to withstand them all. Even in worse case if they fail to withstand, farmers won't be in debt and all they need to do, is to plant the trees again! There are 100s of examples in front of us where farmers are getting better yield just by using natural farming.and many who have implemented "forest" model to move into sustainable farming with good yield!

Enjoy your food!