Millet golgappas, tumdee potato parathe, kundru chutney and mahua murukus may sound exotic but they travelled a long way from farm to plate at the Ashadh Mela in Delhi recently. In an attempt to help the native grains of the country make a comeback on our plates, Bhoomi Ka, an organic food campaign and INTACH put together the day-long organic food festival, centred around foods that have, over the course of time, become unpopular.
“There is a large group of small and marginal organic farmers all over India. We thought it was time for all of them to come under one umbrella so that we could provide some manner of semblance in this fragmented organic domain and bring small-scale farmers into direct contact with the consumers,” says Ashish Gupta, Bhoomi Ka. The Ashadh Mela has been held in other parts of the country and is touted to extend its reach gradually.
The festival, which was held last week, showcased demos on how to cook traditional foods such as mahua, ragi, millets, and bajra, among others. There were film screenings as well as open discussions about urban organic farming, and conversations on how food travels from the farm to the table, along with the various benefits of adopting these foods, which are not only beneficial for the consumer but also for the farmer as well as the environment. Emphasising on sustainable agriculture, Ritu Singh, Director, National Heritage Division, INTACH, says, “Unless we change our farming practices, we can neither save water nor the soil. By just buying organically produced food, you are not only increasing the nutritional intake of your family but also doing your bit for the farmer and the environment.”
While there has been an increasing shift towards organic farming in the country, a trust-worthy market link is yet to be established.
However, this is not the only challenge that initiatives such as Bhoomi Ka, INTACH and their collaborators such as Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Millets for Health and Delhi Organic Farmer’s Market face. “Our focus now is on training the farmers, then hand-holding them through the process, enabling them to make the switch while ensuring profitability,” says Sanjay Singh of Gandhi Smarak Nidhi. He adds, “The state of the farmers right now is abysmal and they are aware of the perils of farming using chemicals. They get nothing from the current farming system. The expenditure is high. They are steeped in debt and there is no income. In this scenario, if the farmer does not commit suicide, what else will he do?”
While the input required to till land organically is cost-effective, the yield does not match the demand. However, Gupta and Singh are convinced that as more and more farmers adopt organic farming practices, the produce will be enough to meet demands. In addition, is the question of pricing. The scale of organic farming currently does not allow for the produce to be sold at competitive prices.
At the festival, amidst impassioned pleas to go organic, were demos that made visitors aware of the ways in which these foods can be incorporated into our diets. “This food has disappeared from people’s thalis. People have forgotten the taste and how to cook it. We have become a nation of rice and wheat eaters. A push from the consumers’ end has to come in for organic farming to flourish. These are mainstream foods and we teach people how to cook them. It’s the only way of bringing about behavioural change,” says Pallavi Upadhyaya, co-founder, Millets for Health.