Nalanda – village farmers in ancient seat of learning point the way to a sane future for all with SRI

Sumant KumarSumant Kumar photographed in Darveshpura, Bihar, India. Photograph: Chiara Goia for Observer Food Monthly

India’s rice revolution by John Vidal of the Guardian

In a village in India’s poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?
India’s rice revolution – audio slideshow

This February 2013 article from London’s The Guardian (and Sunday Observer), is not exactly new news. I have been aware of this since researching bokashi (EM or IM – Efficient or Indigenous Microorganisms) several months ago, a method which South Korea has switched to almost completely and which interests me because of the use of micro-organisms quite similar to those used in making bread, cheese, pickled vegetables, wine and properly prepared sausages, aka ‘fermentation’.

Further, it is personally gratifying in that I was in the first graduating class of Naropa University, the first offspring of Nalanda Foundation, named after Nalanda University (Naropa was the Head Chancellor of Nalanda around 1070 AD, about 100 years before Persian Mongol invasion flattened this huge university to which came advanced students from all over the Asian world from China, Japan and elsewhere – it took three months, it is said, for all the books to finish burning there after it was ransacked and tens of thousands of monks killed by the Muslim invaders who wished to stamp out (aka ‘genocide’) all Buddhists in India. Basically, they succeeded.)

In any case, this article is about SRI (System of Rice Intensification), albeit it works with most other crops. Simply put, it’s a way of cultivating individual root systems more efficiently – and with less water interestingly enough – than traditional methods, along with good manure/compost management. Yields not only are far better than with agro-business methods, but double or triple. In short: organic methods are far more efficient and productive without doing all the damage of the life-killing methods of the ‘scientific’ approaches based on a combination of materialistic anti-spiritual pseudo-science which regards all life processes as essentially mechanical and believes that by breaking things down to their inert chemical constituents they can thereby tweak this, control that, and ultimately mimic Nature or God, thereby improving it, taming it. In fact, what this means is corporate special interests trying to find ways to commercialise basic life processes. If they can find a way to charge us for breathing in oxygen or breathing out carbon dioxide, they will. They already charge hundreds of millions of people for water, and even fine them for collecting it from their roof, or putting in a dug well, since they ‘own’ all rights to water in that jurisdiction (whose leadership class has sold out, obviously, in return for a nice bank account in Switzerland or wherever).

There is a lot in this article. Note how the officialdom of the scientific-agro-business community is so skeptical about verifiable results. You can’t really argue with a 20 ton yield being replicated by farmer after farmer in places where 5 tons is normal using their recommended (and soil killing) methods. And truth be told – and it’s there in the article if you parse it well – they are not really disputing the results, their issue is that you cannot duplicate them with machinery and technology.

Leaving aside the issue as to whether or not that is true (I suspect over time they will figure out ways to more or less duplicate), surely we should ask ourselves: ‘why would you want to do that?’. Wouldn’t it be great if small farmers could make enough money from growing high quality, organic crops all over the world? Rural community life would come back. Those who don’t want to work in call centers and Wal-Mart could go back to the land. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also not mechanical work, it changes from season to season. It is human and humane and natural and fundamentally productive. Moreover rural life breathes sanity back into the urban populations since most of the young people coming into them do so from the country. The people in the city feed off the produce grown from the rural areas nearby which in turn they visit regularly, visiting friends and family or merely as weekend tourists. It is good symbiosis. It is natural. It is the way it was in Europe for over a millenia. It works.

Agro-business doesn’t work. It is ruinous, and only because we have such dysfunctional political systems and media do most of us not see this clearly. Most of us just cannot wrap our heads around how much damage big box stores like Superstore, Wal-Mart and others do, how many local jobs and artisan sources of productive employment are lost to the minimum wage ship-the-profit-out-of-province (or country) model that we live under.

In Sydney, where I live, you can hardly buy any organic green vegetables in the two main local supermarket chains (Superstore owned by Loblaws and Sobeys owned by the Sobey family). Given Sydney’s remarkably small size of about 22,000 (it feels much bigger because it is a harbour town – albeit the Port has not yet been developed due to regional and national political obstruction going back 200 years ) the selection available is actually pretty good, albeit a tad frustrating for those of us who have travelled further afield. Still, not bad all things considered. (We even get fresh sushi now, albeit mainly only with vegetables and weird sauces, not with thick slabs of super-fresh fish.) In any case, I want organic green vegetables. They don’t have hardly any, even in season. What do they have? Both supermarket chains feature green vegetables from the Little Bear farm in Texas (of all places!), which in 2010 had everything recalled for e-coli poisoning (i.e. using bad manure, aka cow shit, on their fields which are probably large greenhouses). And that cow shit probably comes from drug-intensive factory dairy operations. Well, I am guessing. Here is intro from their website: ”

The Company

At J&D Produce, Inc. the goal of quality and service is first and foremost.  Each of our

growers must conform to stringent quality standards.  J&D Produce employs seven field supervisors who make certain that irrigation and fertilization are correct and that we uphold safety requirements for chemical application.  Our supervisors also ensure that cultivation is performed properly and that produce is handled gently during harvest.”

J&D is owned or distributed by http://www.katzmanproduce.com/jd.html, a list of whose producers on the left margin of the page is quite long and includes entries such as Central American Produce

central american fieldsHere we see classic ‘agro-business’ mono-culture which depends upon endless external inputs onto dead soil. Plants grown on such dead soil are unhealthy with compromised immune systems (not unlike many humans with insufficient nutrients in diet or damaged microbial populations from abuse of antibiotic medication), which in turn attract infestation by insects, fungus and so forth, which necessitates the (perceived) need for pesticides which in turn further deplete, if not entirely eradicate, sub-surface soil life. Moreover, the already unhealthy produce is harvested early before being properly ripe so that it can be transported thousands of miles over several weeks to its delivery point. Unripe produce has significantly less nutrient value, but who cares about that?! Indeed, most of us in urban North America have no idea what truly fresh, ripe produce – either of fruit or vegetable variety – tastes like unless we have good local produce from our Farmers’ Market AND it is picked at the right time – not early – by the farmer, many of whom themselves don’t really know the best time to pick because they were raised on supermarket produce themselves. (!)

I am beginning to rant…

SRI shows the way to truly sustainable culture. Not just agricultural or farming culture. But national culture. National cultures, societies, should be based on sound rural communities which in turn should be based on sound agricultural practices which yield good, healthy food.

Michelin recently voted on their best restaurant in the world. Guess what? It’s a small joint called ‘Noma’ in Denmark which uses only locally sourced ingredients year-round, including their bread. I will soon be ordering a new book from this bakery who supplies them (and give them a post on this blog in next few days as well). They grow their own grain – or source it locally, am not sure – grind it and bake bread which in turn is served at the restaurant. That is what I hope to do here in Cape Breton at some point, though right now there is not a single farmer on the island who grows grain, and only a handful in the entire Maritime Region (Nova Scotia, P.E.I, New Brunswick) who grown organic grain. That little factoid is in itself extraordinary evidence of the enormous, incalculable damage done by the Big Box Corporate model we have running our society these days. That we have populations of several million and only a handful of local farmers growing natural, organic grain (and very few growing non-organic for that matter).

It used to be said (by Hamlet) that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark.’ Looks like they are on the right track, and we have to catch up now….

I have a rather strange collection of posts, and offer them sporadically. But there is some sort of theme behind it all, which is generally promoting locally made goods and services and generally offering an alternative to the Big Box anti-life anti-local community corporate model which is now dominant. I am convinced that the single main way to ‘fight back’ as it were is to support local Farmers’ Markets by purchasing things from local producers who in turn will be encouraged, both financially and psychologically, to expand, and of course also more people will become producers. This takes significant effort, especially for those of us living in Northern climates. Supermarkets are not all bad, or wicked, necessarily, but they have gone too far and their model undermines local economies and culture far more than it should. I simply refuse to believe that there are sane, good reasons why we get all our greens from agro-business mono-culture-grown Little Bear in Texas – both chains buy from the same source apparently. We have good greenhouse technology in Canada and could be producing far more for local consumption – even agro-business model style which I don’t like obviously. We could have far more preserved (lacto-fermented)/pickled vegetables during the winter which have high vitamin content rather than getting unripe produce on chemical life support from thousands of miles away.

Anyway, this SRI business is important. Staring us in the global face is a way out of systemic insanity. It is being done. It is known. There are no fundamental problems other than rotten leadership which all of us continue to support by not insisting on doing better.

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2 thoughts on “Nalanda – village farmers in ancient seat of learning point the way to a sane future for all with SRI

  1. I cannot agree more about “Wouldn’t it be nice!”

    But I cannot agree that it works, here and now in this time and place, where everything runs on the oil-age economy and society.

    I like Alex deNicola’s saying: “Collapse now and avoid the rush.” But it is so difficult to collapse correctly.

    Thanks for the detailed, thoughtful articles. Suzanne

  2. Suzanne, that’s interesting about collapse. I recently resigned from FM Board here in Sydney precisely in order to collapse it (temporarily) since it wasn’t working (too few people with too many other commitments making it almost impossible to schedule meetings, so no major scandal, just ordinary, basic dysfunction). So now it is ‘collapsed’ the membership has to step up to create a new Board but in doing so, hopefully consider why it has been so hard to get a working one the past few years. It’s not just time, it’s also how it is perceived and run which in turn relates to how the FM Cooperative is perceived and run by its members. It’s all good, basically, but there are some challenges.

    But I heartily disagree with Alex in that any solution that accepts the starvation and/or murder of millions is simply not acceptable (even if I happen to agree that this is probably what is going to happen!).

    The solution is right there in front of us. It could be put into action within a couple of years with sufficient political/societal will. Of course it won’t. But it could. And the fact that it could is worth being aware of. Even if it won’t!

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