With growing awareness on health and healthy diets, vegetables have gained greater significance in the overall diet. Small farmers with limited resources, have been growing vegetables in their limited spaces or backyards.When primarily grown to fulfil household nutrition needs, vegetables are grown with care to produce safe and healthy produce, using organic inputs and by recycling resources. This encouraging trend is also quite evident in the urban spaces, where more and more city dwellers have taken up to safe vegetable production practices, be it on rooftops or balconies. In this issue, we bring some of the experiences of small farmers and urban initiatives that promote safe and healthy vegetable production.
Towards healthy vegetable production
If nutrition is important, it is imperative that vegetables need to be grown without using harmful chemicals. There is a need to shift to organic ways of producing vegetables. While farmers are interested to adopt the alternative options to agrochemicals, increased access to bio-inputs have great potential to minimize the conventional use of pesticides(Lakpa Sherpa and Ram Bahadur Rana, p.20). Similarly, vegetable farmers in Tumkur are reaping many benefits by shifting to ecological alternatives. They are also moving towards farm sustainability by diversifying crops and trees on the farms(Aanand Kumar, p.12).
‘Kutumba Kai Thottas’ or family kitchen gardens are being promoted by GREEN Foundation in Karnataka. Besides supplementing the nutrition, these family kitchen gardens are serving as a source for additional income to the families (p.10). Sustainable income generation is also possible by helping farmers add value to the produce. With changing lifestyles and growing preference for ready to cook food items, there is immense potential for processed food. Women farmers in Urulikanchan cluster tried solar drying technology to add value, with the support of BAIF (Warrier and Lade, p.25).
Small farmers are being innovative in making use of limited resources, especially land and water. Farmers in flood prone eastern Uttar Pradesh and North western Bihar are following flood-resilient vegetable farming by adopting multi-layered farming technique. (Wajih S, et.al., p.5). Also, external agencies are providing innovative solutions to farmers in helping them get better returns.The Haryana Horticulture Department and Source Trace digital platform collaborated bringing producers and buyers onto one common platform, enhancing the negotiation power of farmers resulting in better monetary returns (Venkat Maroju, p.34).
Covid 19 and urban initiatives
Community-based urban farming initiatives are proving to be an effective way to create sensitivity, critical awareness and connection with the land, farmers and ecosystems. (Deborah Dutta, p.30). Across the world, the concept of ‘grow your own food’ is gaining popularity, especially in cities and towns (Suresh Kanna, p.23). Vegetable cultivation has invaded the urban rooftops, free from the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, for a more organic diet. (GREEN Foundation, p.10)
COVID-19 has made us conscious about the quality and safety of our food. During the lockdown, a number of initiatives, though on a small scale were taken up to connect the farmers with the urban consumers. Few small and marginal farmers in Maharashtra joined hands with housing societies and farmer groups connected to the housing complexes, to sell fresh vegetables and fruits at the doorsteps of these societies. (Venkat Maroju, p.34). Similar initiatives in Mumbai brought the urban consumers and rural producers on to a common WhatsApp platform, which helped urban consumers empathise and appreciate the efforts put in by farmers.
Building immunity has gained much more importance than ever before. Farmers and citizens have tried a number of initiatives at growing safe food in kitchen gardens and rooftops. Besides keeping the environment clean, establishing urban gardens has increased access to safe, nutritious and fresh food.