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The Narayana Reddy Column

Go local – reduce food miles

“The wise man should consider that health is the greatest human blessing. Let food be your medicine”.

Hippocrates

“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art”

La Rochafoucauld

Food is not only a nutrient for the growth and maintenance of any animal including human beings, but also a source of medicine that influences the attitude and mentality of the consumer. All the three characteristics of any being i.e., Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic depend on the food one feeds on.

The food habits in a region have developed along with the growth of civilization based on the climatic conditions and social structure of that particular region. For example, the coastal population uses coconut oil for cooking, the upper part of Deccan Plateau uses groundnut oil, people in the southern plains of the same Deccan plateau use gingelly oil, the northern part of the Deccan Plateau use Safflower and Sun-flower oil. In most of the Northern States people use mustard oil which grows well in these areas.

Communities in every region have been depending on the principal food crop grown in their regions. For instance, people in the coastal areas and in hilly tracks cultivate paddy and hence rice is their staple food. In most of the northern plains where the temperatures go below 10 0 C during winter, people have got used to wheat as their main food. People in the northern parts of Deccan plateau grow bajra, jowar and legumes like redgram (arhar) bengalgram, green gram and feed on them. Communities in middle Deccan Plateau are confined to cultivation of millets and their consumption.

As a thumb rule, food cultivated and consumed within local geographic regions and seasons are ideal for a healthy living. But with the development of civilization, communication and changes in food habits, we have started going international at the cost of local food systems. “An Apple a day keeps the doctor away”, a well known proverb, no longer applies to all anymore when we understand the distances the apples travel before they arrive on our plate. Last year I was in a secondary school anniversary day of Karimnagar District in Andhra Pradesh and a ninth standard student demonstrated how a New Zealand grown apple was coated with synthetic wax to protect it from shrinking and also with poisonous colour to make it appear brighter, by scratching the apple carefully with a sharp knife and burnt it. In my opinion, we have to change the same proverb as “An apple a day invites doctor”.

Most of the problems like loss of humus content in the Deccan Plateau from 3 % to 0.3% is the result of growing high responsive varieties (not at all high yielding varieties) with use of agro chemicals in the form of chemical fertilizers. Crops not adapted to local conditions were introduced and popularized which also required high doses of plant protection materials and weedicides. The animal based protein has caused food scarcity and many health problems.

Policy makers as well as the farmers are responsible for promoting only rice and wheat as principal crops across the nation. These were done to oblige the seed industry. Growing population is not the major problem for the prevailing food insecurity but more importantly it is the abuse of food in storage, distribution, wastage and using grains for animal feed to produce animal protein.

Again 2 years back, 15 university students from Long Island University of New York State U S A had come to visit our farm. During lunch time they asked me a question about the food mileage of the food served to them. The question was very strange to me and after understanding it, I said it could be a maximum 5 kilometers, which they could not believe. I showed them that 90% of the food was grown in our own farm while the food in U S A would have travelled at least 1500 kilometers. Now any one of us can understand that one of the main reasons for global warming and a big change in climatic conditions is due to our changing food habits. By giving importance to neglected micro-millets, tubers of various kinds, let our future generation also have something for their survival, let them not curse us for exploiting natural resources totally.

Shri Narayana Reddy is a legendary organic farmer and is one of the most sought after resource persons on ecological agriculture.

L Narayana Reddy
Srinivasapura, (near) Marelanahalli,
Hanabe Post-561 203, Doddaballapur Taluk,
Bangalore Rural District, Karnataka, India.
Mobile: 9242950017, 9620588974