This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to join the sociology class at my school in their discussions around food with the local farmers who are active in the movement to maintain control over food, seeds, and livelihoods. We saw a short film (see below) and discussed these issues with local members of the Food Sovereignty Alliance in Andhra Pradesh.
Although the film doesn’t discuss waste per se, it’s certainly central to the concerns addressed in it. One of the primary aspects of food sovereignty is water: having access to clean, unadulterated water is essential to farmers and food. But in India, pollution from garbage in waterbodies makes it more of a challenge than it should be. Also, when I walk around the farmlands surrounding my school, I’m forever collecting waste–mostly plastic waste–and carrying it off. I asked the farmers, after the film, how they thought about waste and its role in their lives. The response was illuminating–not so much for what they said, but the fact that they were quite honest. Because in my dealings with waste–especially with adults–I find they never want to accept responsibility for the waste they produce. But these farmers both recognised the problem and also talked about how they are trying to deal with it–in very small steps–because it’s as much of a problem at home as it is on the farm. One example of how they are trying to deal with it as a community sheds light on the direct relationship between farming and waste. Instead of purchasing fodder for their livestock, which comes in plastic or cement sacks (which they do reuse for various things), they began making their own. The result was not just that the cows and goats became healthier, but that there was no packaging they had to contend with.
The second area of waste management I brought up was related to one farmer talking about using drip irrigation, a technology that goes back hundreds of years in India (despite the fact that Israelis seem to think they invented the technology and have, unfortunately, convinced far too many Indians of this). I asked what materials they used for this method and they said plastic. Which is the problem with most of the modern versions of this ancient practise: because it doesn’t last long and actually, in the long run, produces more waste. But in India, especially in the Northeastern states, drip irrigation has always been done with bamboo (which we actually have quite a lot of even down here in south India). Sadly, they hadn’t thought to use bamboo, but it led to a very interesting idea that one person had about doing workshops with adivasi farmers who also tend to use bamboo for this purpose.
The day following the film and talk we went to one of the farmer’s homes nearby so we could plant some fruit trees and discuss organic farming, and more significantly, their decision to live a life that is deeply meaningful. Of course, we also had delicious food: imli rasam and modak!