Making Sense of A Fragmented World

I read Mihir Shah, agriculturist, in The Best of Times The Worst of Times in the Hindu newspaper (13 June 2017) on the agrarian unrest in parts of India earlier this year; and listened to P. Sainath, the face of investigative rural journalism in India, in Nero’s Friends (2011) and in a 11 June 2017 video Why Are Our Farmers Angry. These two catalysed the consolidation of the many bits and pieces of thoughts and data whirling with an increasing intensity through my head these past few years. Some resurfaced from my personal experience of a very political youth opposing urban domination and caste, participation in peasant movements, and a rural life in a Western Uttar Pradesh village in the 1970s and 1980s, some came to me from of my contemporary 5 years experience as an organic farmer of 6 acres in Mangar village in Haryana since 2012, others from my becoming vegan (‘no milk products’) from a lifelong vegetarian in 2015 and the huge benefits to my health, some from experiencing the dramatic destruction of traditional livelihoods and ecology in the parts of India that I travel to once very few months. The state of civilisation across the globe consolidated my confusion and sense of despair, and validated my worst fears for the future. This desperation, perhaps not so paradoxically, provides me determination to make a difference in the ways I can.

It is indeed emotionally overwhelming to navigate the complex and inter-linked contemporary markers of inequality: the global landscape of markets, industrialisation, impact of modernity and technology, the status of agriculture and peasant life, rural and urban contradictions, and then the differences of caste, religion and region in India. As it came together, very slowly, my understanding grew and my anger rose. I realised that none of these markers of inequality are purely domestic issues, which they are, but to comprehend them fully requires one to possess a global perspective. Like minded people in the Rich post-industrial and Poor agrarian nations alike must come together in solidarity and resistance to make a difference at whatever level we aspire to.

Farming in India is enmeshed in multiple existentialist crises, though it is but one fly in the spider’s global web of the ‘market’. The problems of Indian farming are a proximate result of the long-standing extraction of surplus from agriculture and starving rural India of capital investment by the ruling urban elites since 1947. While the colonial British extracted wealth for the mother country, the post-independence leadership (with noble exceptions) extracted it for their interest. Till today, the higher castes in India overwhelmingly constitute the urban, educated elites running the bureaucracy, corporations and all private and public institutions; with a minority of aspiring middling rural castes co-opted into this closed club. However, the crisis today – since the 1991 victory of the markets, of consumption, of technology and private public capital that supports global markets – is more than the domestic causes of inequality in India, it is global superimposed on local. Humans have mastered the deepening and widening of an unsustainable and exploitative civilisation that treats people, all other living species, and planet Earth as comprising ‘resources’ to be made productive for consumption no matter the impact on human civilisation itself.

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A Civilisational Crisis

This crisis has been building for over two hundred years in the now Rich post-industrial nations, and it has rippled across the world in the past 50 years to engulf the Poor agrarian nations. What is development, how does a nation measure the wealth, prosperity of its people, and progress of its civilisation? How much of it is material, and what else is there? What will remain if there is enormous paper wealth, but no Earth as we know it? The dominance of our species over all others is causing irreversible harm to the environment, and while we can claim with confidence that we dominate all other species this dominance has not increased the ability of humans to live in peace with each other. There is, in fact, is no change for the better in Psychological Man despite this visible progress.

Development has established a fossil-fuel dependant, energy-intensive and inorganic waste-producing system that burns unsustainable amounts of raw materials torn and sucked out from the bowels of the earth. While mostly true of most urban settlements worldwide, Indian cities are specially unlivable and amongst the most polluted on this planet with dangerous levels of air and water pollution, overflowing and untreated sewage, terribly polluted rivers, inadequate and expensive public transport, and waste on the clogged streets. And this acute crisis of urbanisation when only 33% of India’s population is urban or peri-urban, what will happen in the next 100 years when this percentage reaches Rich country levels of 90% + urbanisation? Does anyone who advocates a model based solely on urban living as a higher method, divorced from nature in every possible way, think of the implications to Earth?

Capital to finance a consumption-driven model is firmly in the hands of a few faceless oligopolic (if not monopolistic cartels) mega-corporations, and they pretty much do as they like across national boundaries in their quest for maximising financial returns. It is a massive global enterprise. The lives of people across the globe are ruled by consumption of what they don’t need and didn’t know they wanted, and the globalised production machine we live in spews out uniform goods (food, clothes, shelter, luxury et al) without regard to either traditions or to the cost to the environment. Borders have hardened for people movement due to strident nationalism that excludes all the people-not-like-us, while consumption goods flow across effortlessly. A globalised consumption world is at hand, the local no longer holds sway. The livelihood of the hand weaver in Assam or Kutch is devastated by products from power-looms in Ichalkaranji, and global industrialism works hand in glove with a globalised domestic business class. Witness the ‘jobless growth’ in the formal sector during the past two decades in India, as capital intensive industrial machinery at from the Rich nations is deployed to meet the consumption needs of the well-off in India; and in turn the services sector ‘de-industrialises’ India. The distance between the displaced weaver / landless laborer and the urban middle class is an insurmountable chasm that grows deeper and wider every day. A recent study by Chancel & Piketty, in July 2017, states inequality in India is at its worst level since the government started collecting income tax data in 1922.

The visible result of development is inequality within Rich and Poor countries, and between Rich and Poor nations. Only 0.2% of India’s households earn more than Rupees 100,000 a month – 2.4 million households, in a nation of over 1.2 billion people. One can overlook the economic forces of post-industrialisation only if one is ideologically committed, but can even one such disregard such massive and growing inequality? There simply aren’t enough jobs around in the traditional industry and service sectors, and the ones in the hinterland are being destroyed at a fast rate. In addition, the learning – language, technology, educational institutions – to master the modern levers of production is increasingly held with a handful of elite disproportionately living in Rich nations and in the cities of the Poor nations; this establishes systemic and unsurmountable barriers for the poor. The microscopic number of the brightest from the urban and rural poor who graduate to the urban elite don’t – cannot – look back.


It Started Here

Agrarian Crisis

An irreversible crisis envelops rural India, home today to 67% of India’s population. 58.5% of India’s households (5 people each) are agriculturists who live on only 14% of the nation’s GDP; 92.9% of rural households live on less than Rs. 20,000 a month; 85% of landholding households own less than 5 acres; farming input costs have trebled and more since liberalisation in 1991 while farmer produce prices remain dependent on the vagaries of increasingly erratic weather, the ‘free’ market and exploitative middlemen; cash crops have taken over our 160 million hectares, and traditional food crops like millets and lentils have been crowded out with a terrible cost on nutrition security for the farmer families and on the environment. The intensive farming techniques of the green revolution of the 1960s have led to a sickness of the soil that has created this unfolding ecological crisis.

Thus, millions of family-farmers with small and marginal land holdings, millions of landless laborers dependant on the farm economy, and millions of rural artisans whose traditional livelihoods have been destroyed by modernity are in an existentialist crisis. Notwithstanding the visibility of large agricultural corporations, 70% of the food eaten in the world is yet produced on the farms of these very smallholders.

The current agrarian crisis – we have been in almost continuous crisis in agriculture, so each time the crisis levels reach a peak it is almost as if it were a new crisis – has deep roots in the attitude of India’s urban elites of politicians, bureaucracy and middle class towards agriculture and their rural brethren. Villagers were lesser children of India in British times, and also in the post-Independence decades when Nehruvian thought was enamoured of the politically sexy Soviet-style Socialism without regard to the geological, geographic, social and economic conditions of our vastly diverse subcontinent. The post-independence ‘brown sahibs’ were even more dismissive, if it were possible, of the villagers than the British. This attitude led to ‘priority’ being given to villages and agriculture, while resources were overwhelming extracted from the rural areas and allocated to cities and to industrialisation. This attitude dominates today, even as the contemporary ‘brown sahibs’ coat themselves in the saffron of a non-existent, monolithic Hindu religion.

This prioritisation of the city – where industrialisation and services predominate as livelihoods – dramatically accelerated since 1991 when economic liberalisation provided a lesser role for the government in production as well as marked a withdrawal of oversight of the private sector and the ‘market’ – exactly when it was needed the most. This liberalisation was itself was a product of the Urban Bias in Indian, and global, re-structuring of society where post-industrialisation and consumerism was seen as the panacea to all ills. For those impatient with the number of people dependant on agriculture and who want these villagers to either disappear and die, or move to ‘modern’ occupations, I am sorry to say even in 2050 AD rural India will be home to over 800 million Indians. The village will not die.

Peasant Agitations & Suicides are the most heart-rendering manifestations of the Agrarian Crisis; these are the ones city dwellers hear about the most and hence feel is the Agrarian Crisis itself. More indebted, desperate farmers will join the 300,000 farmers who have taken their own lives over the last two decades before any solution – even if sincere and immediate – can have an impact. More likely, the terrible conditions in Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra (where 65% of all suicides take place) will continue to claim lives. These deaths, as terrible as they are, are just a manifestation of the two core issues that are at the root of the agrarian crisis: the capital and social starvation of agriculture and a turning away from creating rural non-farm livelihoods.

Ecological Crisis

The interactions of humans with animal and plant life and the environment is one of dominance, violence and extermination. In the same vein, human civilisations across the globe work to ‘master’ nature with extreme exploitation of the soil, air and water without a thought to sustainability. The establishment of the extensive market economy has forever changed the human-nature relationship from growing food to growing for the market. The state we are in today is a natural progression for humans, and there is little to look back with nostalgia as our ancestors too pushed for Man’s dominance of the natural world and conflict with fellow humans. Man, in this analysis, remains unchanged – exploitative and totalitarian.

For thousands of years before the advent of water and steam power in the 18th century, humans lived in a kind of forced harmony with nature and other species because Man had not yet discovered the means or built the hubris to ‘conquer’ nature – they did not have an alternative, as they did not possess the modern tools we hold today that can extract ‘resources’ to mould into ‘products’ that people can ‘consume’ in an ‘efficient market economy’. The acceleration of urban settlements and industrial civilisation in the Rich nations from the 1600s is well documented; we have by now reached in fact exceeded the limits of growth, but we carry on nonetheless.

We continue to poison the soil, the environment and ourselves with chemicals manufactured with high-energy intensity using fossil fuels. Since the 1880s, when fertilisers first made their debut, we have dramatically increased the use of chemical fertilisers specially after the First World War. Today we apply 200 million tonnes a year of chemical urea, phosphorous, potassium to the soil worth $130 billion annually. Pesticides first started being manufactured in 1946 by the suddenly silent factories of the Second World War, and we will apply 4 million tonnes of pesticides in 2017 worth a $81 billion. Not surprisingly, 98.9% of all agricultural land on Earth uses these chemicals and only 1.1% of all agricultural land on earth is farmed without chemicals. (Ironically, 65% of this ‘organic farming’ is in Australian pastures that feed industrial beef farms.) South Asia is the biggest growth market for the global chemicals industries, with India applying 30 million tonnes of fertilisers a year in 2017 from 141 fertiliser plants i.e. over 100 kg a year on every hectare of arable land; a far cry from 50,000 tonnes in the entire country in 1950.

Large corporations in Rich nations apply these chemicals and other unsustainable, industrial farming methods on large (thousands of hectares) corporate owned farms – hybrid and genetically modified seeds, monoculture crops, fossil fuel based large sowing and reaping machines. In Poor countries like India, tractors have replaced bullocks, and expensive machines continue to replace abundant labour which is good for Mahindra but not for the landless peasant whose livelihood is eliminated. Traditional, sustainable methods that should have been updated using contemporary technology and tools have instead been long forgotten. Input-heavy farming of cash crops for the market (cotton, sugarcane, oilseeds), food crops for the market (wheat, rice), instead of food crops for consumption (millets, lentils) now are the cause of farmers to fail on repayments of risky loans taken for applying expensive chemical-heavy and hybrid and GMO seed inputs.

Why, when there are tens of thousands (FAO says 7,000) of crops that are known to be cultivated by man, are only 30 odd grown widely? Of these, why do only 3 – wheat, rice and maize – constitute 50% of all food crops grown on the planet? Farmers across India too have reduced cultivation of ‘coarse cereals’ from 28% of total cropped area in 1970 to 15% in 2009, wheat moved from 10% to 15%; oilseeds increased from 10% to 14%, sugarcane doubled from 1.6% to 2.5%, fruits and vegetables also doubled from 2.5% to 5% in the same period. Fruits and vegetables (cash crops, for the urban population) were in fact 25% in terms of value of all crops, second only to Cereals. These significant changes in cropping patterns have changed eating habits that are democratically impacting the health of all classes of the Indian population. The Indian medical fraternity and policy makers are running scared with the epidemics of heart disease, diabetes and cancer that are already upon us, and they say the worst is yet to come in the next 30 years.

Seed Sovereignty Three massive corporations with a collective market capitalisation of over $250 billion – ChemChina+Syngenta (China), Bayer+Monsanto (Germany), and Dow-Dupont (USA) – own over 75% of the world seed market. These same 3 corporations are also the largest pesticide corporations in the world, with global revenues of over $30 billion a year. And these same corporations are the ones most heavily invested in genetically modified (GM) seed research, the next frontier that they hope will give them absolute control over the production of food in the coming century.

Water Crisis. We are pumping out more water from the earth’s underground rivers than we are able and willing to replenish and, in our mindlessness, we are poisoning the overground rivers, ponds and lakes with industrial and urban waste. Two thirds of the pumped-out aquifer water is used by agriculture in India, 28% by industry an only 10% by households. Tens of millions of farmers use submersible pumps to feed their post-Green Revolution water-inappropriate crops of sugarcane and rice in North-West India. Wheat, the high yielding Green Revolution variety, needs twice as much water as traditional tall wheat varieties like the MP306 that I grow at Aman Bagh. In Maharashtra, 3% farmers on 6-8% of the agricultural land use 65% of the water to grow sugarcane; encouraged by political leadership who looks away from this race to the bottom. Punjab has no ecological reason to grow rice in a water deficient area, but it remains the largest producer of rice in India – our Malayali brethren in Kerala (rice growers once and rice eaters all) all eat rice grown in Punjab (wheat eaters all), if you can believe it. Basmati exporters export the rice, along with it they export our precious water: in the name of prosperity of the farmer and agriculture the companies that make tractors, pumps, fertilisers, pesticides all make money hand over fist; th trader, the middleman, the politician and the consumer all gain. The farmer gets impoverished in direct proportion to the growth of wealth of the rest of society.

Combine this voracious farmland appetite for water in India with climate change and erratic rain, and cities that wastefully use water as well as poison the water bodies with sewage and industrial waste – we have a massive crisis building. Cities are unique as their concretised roads and buildings stop water acquirer recharge from rains. Society has to revive old methods of water availability and establish new systems to stop the agricultural, industrial and urban poisoning of water, instead we have hugely expensive, grandiose and environmentally disastrous plans approved by politicians to link rivers.

1 kg of potatoes takes 100 liters of water, wheat 1,000 liters, rice 1,400 liters, and 1 kg of beef takes 8,000 to 13,000 liters of water to produce. The world eats more and more rice and beef every year, each person in some Rich nations eats 150 kilograms of beef each year: thereby drinking 1.5 million liters of water a year.

A case in point is an urbanised village of Saligao in Goa: a resident (also the Sarpanch, or the democratically elected village head) extracts many tankers of water every day from land he owns and sells them all over the state to the many tourist hotels and homes. Business is good as he buys new tankers every year to add to his fleet as the demand in water stressed Goa explodes every tourist-overrun summer. There is no legal definition of the rights he enjoys to the underground water aquifers which flow to his land from the surrounding hills, there is no method to control how much water he can withdraw, and for what purpose. The state is unable to provide water for the uncontrolled and environmentally disastrous growth of the tourist and construction industry, and closes its eyes when a private entrepreneur fills that gap for personal gain. This story of water stress and underground water extraction is repeated across millions of locations across rural and urban areas.

Health Crisis

Cropping patterns in Indian agriculture changed from more coarse millets and lentils in the 1970s to favour wheat and rice since the 1990s. India has witnessed an exponential increase in food processing and packaging technology – with artificial colouring, preservatives and added hydrogenated fatty acids to enhance product shelf life – for the increasingly numbers of urban consumers with little time to cook fresh food in their busy lives.

Cooking oil use increased exponentially as India prospered and trade in agricultural commodities increased with the onset of the WTO in 1995, and palm oil is now the largest commercially used cooking medium in India; imported from Malaysia and Indonesia where tropical forests have been cleared to make room for this profitable cash crop. This toxic oil, considered terrible for the heart, now runs through the arteries of a majority of Indians; in addition to vegetable oils that are being overused in our predominantly vegetarian nation. Land under Sugarcane and its output has multiplied, and consumption of sugar has gone through the roof especially in newly urbanised India – we are today the largest consumer of sugar in the world though per capita only in the median at 20 kilograms. The corporations salivate, there is so much more sugar to be sold to the hundreds of millions.

We have witnessed an exponential increase since the Seventies in the use of food preservation chemicals; a change from hand processed multiplicity of cereals to machine processed and de-nutrified wheat and white rice; increase in the usage of oil by more and more people; massive increases in sugar consumption and equally huge increases in consumption of animal fats in the form of meat, milk, ghee, cream, paneer and yogurt. To top all these dietary changes, the urbanising populace is increasingly employed in sedentary service jobs, and they have no culture of physical exercise as they age.

Is it any surprise that the Indian population is at the cusp of the worst multiple health epidemics of diabetes, heart disease and cancer that we have ever seen?

Urban Crisis

The civilizational break where food is grown in the village and consumption takes place in the rapidly expanding cities is one of the causes of the terrible state of urban life. The organic cycle of growth and decay has been rent asunder and the city has no knowledge of how to absorb the organic and inorganic waste it generates. This waste simply piles up in tens of thousands of waste dumps spread around our cities, and poisons the environment.

In India, home to many of the most-polluted and chaotic cities on Earth, the urbanisation project has either already collapsed or is constantly on the verge of collapse. The speed of consumerism and the inorganic waste it generates, rural poverty that attracts vast numbers of the dispossessed to the cities, and the widespread corruption and sloth in our urban administration makes for a perfect urban storm. Indian cities are simply unliveable, not only for some time in the year as they once were, but all the time.

Cities built without the human at heart. Cities without effective and affordable public transport, cities with scores of vast malls but without public libraries, good public schools and universities, roads without rain water drainage, concrete and glass buildings without sensitivity for the local weather, cities with condominiums but without water or sewage systems, administration without service. Imitative cities, exploitative cities, cities that leave us empty.

This isn’t what we expected when we set out to replace the casteist, patriarchal, exploitative village society while retaining its precious proximity to nature, the life of freedom of the self-cultivating peasant, its quiet solitude and its sense of shared agrarian community.

Our Paths

I see these multiple crises of human civilisation clearly today, bringing acceptance, anger, and a renewed desire for action. The ideal solution – if there is one – is for regular people like me to influence public policy actions required to address each of the crises, actions that influences the courts, governments, and corporations. Influencing consumers is useful, but that diffused path to systemic change is slow and time, as always, is short. However, not all of us can be a Sunita Narain – most of us walk our own lonely paths.

I write to share perspectives so these may take me further along the path to collaboration with others. I farm naturally, without inflicting pain on the earth. Aman Bagh provides employment to 5 marginal peasant and landless households. I support handloom and handicraft communities, and I increasingly consume mindfully and consume less. I can and will resist, it is never to late for that.



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A Movie on Aman Bagh. 2017

Aman Bagh ( is an organic, natural farm on 6 acres in Mangar village, in south Haryana, India. This 20-minute movie was created from a powerpoint presentation made at a private forum in July 2017, and is therefore without a voice-over. It starts with the political economy of inequality in India, and then takes the viewer through a summary of 5 years of our experiences & cultural practices since we commenced farming on this land in mid 2012.

Farming in India finds itself enmeshed in multiple existentialist crises, though it seems to me that it is but one fly in a corner of the spider’s global web of the ‘market’. The problems of Indian farming are clearly a proximate result of the long-standing neglect of domestic agriculture and rural India by the ruling urban elites since 1947, and by the colonial British before that. Till today, the higher castes in India overwhelmingly constitute the urban, educated elites running the bureaucracy and private and public institutions; with a minority of aspiring middling rural castes being accepted into this closed club. However, the visible and increasing inequality in India today has more than purely domestic causes, it is global since the 1991 victory of the markets in the Indian economy. It has been a victory of conspicuous consumption, of technology, and of private capital that integrated across global markets. Humans across the world have mastered the deepening and widening of an unsustainable and exploitative civilisation that treats people, other living species, and planet Earth as ‘resources’ to be made productive for consumption.

The dimensions of the problem are overwhelming, and the limits to growth have long passed. We are deaf to the voices of future generations.

Organic farming on self-cultivated small farms, aiming for sustainability of resource use instead of exploitation and a race towards ever-higher production, can be one part of the solution in India where more than 80% of peasant households own less than 5 acres and many are yet organic by default. However, organic food in India is currently just another facet of consumption by the urban middle class; it is simply another market. The conundrums are many.

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The Weight of Income and Wealth Inequality in India: 1922-2014

Momi carries the weight of his 5 member family on monthly wages of Rs 9,500. What you and I spend on a dinner for 3 at the Oberoi.


With Sincere Apologies to the Crocodile

The line graph below is unusually poignant, the reptile opening wide its jaws as if waiting for unsuspecting prey to feed its insatiable appetite.

India’s Top 10% Rich Share in National Income

By 2014, the richest 10% of Indians owned 55% of national income, and the poorest 50% had dropped to 15%. Chancel & Piketty remind us that while the process of divergence of income (and hence wealth accumulation) of the ultra rich commenced during the reign of Rajiv Gandhi in 1984, this really took off after the ‘liberalisation’ of 1991 by Narasimha Rao that formally marked the end of India’s experiment with ‘Socialism’ and ‘freed’ large swathes of the economy from state control.

What ‘liberalisation’ really did was create very unequal access to opportunities for wealth creation for the already rich through a ‘deregulation’ processes skewed heavily in their favor, and spiralling corruption as the entire elite classes dipped their hands in the till.

To help us understand the depth of the systemic problem of massive and growing inequality in India, well known economists Chancel & Piketty have released, in July 2017, their insightful analysis of Indian data, with all the challenges of data integrity between income and consumption surveys of our government. This follows a similar 2005 report on Indian incomes by Banerjee & Piketty.

The data is electrifying, even to someone of my very limited knowledge of economics, and is a severe indictment of Indian society. The conclusion, all the more stark and powerful bereft as it is of any hyperbole : “Current income inequality in India is higher than during pre-independence period.” is a damning conclusion of Indians in every section of the ruling elite. The independence in 1947 from the mercantile and ruthless British was welcome, but not this wholesale submission to the evil genius of the unregulated market.

India’s Top 1% Rich Share in National Income

This inequality grows exponentially as we analyse the share of the super ultra rich in Indian national income – the top 1% of earners capture 22% of total income in 2014, up from a low of 6% in the early 1980s – this is “its highest level since the creation of the Indian income tax in 1922.

The focus of policy makers (bureaucrats, economists, politicians) – has been on GDP growth, or on growth of personal income, or on a reduction in poverty rates. While India has been successful in all of these measures, the dramatic rise of inequality of incomes since the mid-1980s has been hidden away from public gaze: the richest 1% of Indian went from 6.2% of national income in 1983 to 21.7% in 2014, the top 0.1% went from 1.7% in 1983 to 8.6% in 2014; and the ultra rich 0.01% went from 0.4% share of national income in 1983 to 3.8% in 2014.

What matters for social harmony, and is the greatest good of all, is the distribution of the wealth created in society, the growth of wealth simply cannot be an end in itself.

Total Growth Rates of Income Groups: 1980-2014

Figure 11 (above) compares four economies,very different in their structure and stage of economic and social evolution; but is very instructive in the sense that while it shows growth of inequality is endemic in the world India is worse off than the others – thpugh the USA competes effectively “income growth rates in India over the 1980-2014 period substantially increase as we progress upwards through the distribution of income….India’s is the country with the highest gap between the growth of the top 1% and growth of the full population. It is also interesting to note that bottom 50% of earners grew three times more slowly in India than in China, the middle 40% six times more slowly than their Chinese counterparts, but that the incomes of those at the very top of the Indian rich have grown at a faster pace than in China.”

Figure 12 (below) is equally eye opening: this shows the share of total national economic growth captured by different income groups … “the top 0.1% earners captured more total growth than the bottom 50% (12% vs. 11% of total growth) over the period. The top 0.1% of earners represented less than 800,000 individuals in 2013-14, this is equivalent to a population smaller to Delhi’s IT suburb, Gurgaon. It is a sharp contrast with the 389 million individuals that made up the bottom half of the adult population in late 2013. At the opposite end of the distribution, the top 1% of Indian earners captured 29% of total growth, as much as the bottom 84%”

Share of National Growth by different Income Groups: 1980-2014

The Stock of National Wealth is Terribly Unequal Too

There is thus growing inequality of income, which flows into ownership of wealth stored in capital and land. Amongst key middle-income nations ownership of total wealth, India is just behind warlord-capitalist Russia: an overwhelming 58.4% of wealth is owned by the richest 1% of Indians. As recently as 2010, the top 1% held a much lesser 40% of the wealth. Just 57 individual billionaires in India now possess wealth equal to the bottom 70% of India’s population: 900 million people. 57=900,000,000. Wow

Isn’t that enough of an unequal equation to urge one to thoughtful action?

Percent Share of Richest 1% in Total National Wealth


This post mainly consists of extracts from the July 2017 report “Indian income inequality 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?“ Lucas Chancel & Thomas Piketty. July 2017. Full document here:

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LPG: Gas of a Different Kind

How has LPG worked for the impoverished masses of India? No, this is not about gas cylinders, this is ‘Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation’ as my young professor friend Pravin refers to it.

Doesn’t matter which species of government, Congress or BJP, all are votaries of the rich, elite, urban, clamoring classes who have gained most from the Great ‘Opening Up’ of the Indian economy since 1991. i.e. people like moi. What has certainly come about is a massive increase in inequality (9 dollar billionaires in 2000 AD; 101 dollar billionaires in 2016), and a complete turning away from the poor in general and specifically from rural India and agriculture.

There is only one narrative that holds the attention of those in power – of the private market, of conspicuous consumption, and of the interests of the (this is key) urban consuming classes. The BJP leadership personifies this so well, in their manicured clothes and public persona. Not that the Congress didn’t. It is clear that the BJP is = the Congress + Cow – Family = same as Congress. Blood relations all, colored by greed and self interest; aligned to the very same businessmen who not so long back vociferously supported the Congress; and then some more new ones. The Urban Bias remains valid, Congress or BJP.

Please watch this NDTV interview between Prannoy Roy and Rakesh Mohan, an economist … but after you read my post and obtained my perspective. They both are discussing the ‘transformation’ and ‘liberalisation’ of India for 28 minutes, while pitching Mohan’s book, but what struck me singularly is the absence of common people in their discussion. Yes, it is a limited time window on expensive TV prime time, but is there another TV program where these two worthies and their clones in their suave, gentle, polished ways; in suits and public school english discuss the issues of the vast majority of India that, would you believe, is terribly poor? How did 1991 and post 1991 policies impact the life of the poor, the peasant, the landless, the traditional artisan? Were their livelihoods enhanced, and why not? Who benefited? Has anyone asked? Is anyone bothered? Not Prannoy and Mohan, which is par for the course, but really which politician or bureaucrat or businessman’s heart bleeds on seeing the terrible inequality?

Prannoy, a truly wonderful representative of rich, elite, urban India reminds young Indians ‘how lucky they are’ for the times they live in. ‘How gloomy it was’ ‘ things have improved’ ‘days of public sector’ ‘moved from closed to open economy’. He obviously is talking to people like us, the 2% households who earn more than Rs 50,000 a month; OK let’s be generous and include the 12.8% of Indian households who earn more than Rs 20,000 a month. He clearly isn’t talking to the 87% who earn less than 5,000 a month per head. Or he never really intended to?

Which India are they talking to, or talking about? Not the one most Indians live in. So what if they have that mobile phone. In our democracy that is so brutally captured by the rich and powerful, all policies have been constructed to enrich the already wealthy and privileged; even more viciously since 1991 when the rule of the free market jungle has been unleashed with all its ferocity.

See the programs headings in this interview, so well presented to an urban audience lapping it up “Industry Transformed, Trade Transformed, Import Duty Slashed, Financial Sector Transformed, Stock Market Transformed, Infrastructure Transformed: phones, airlines, airports, housing loans, retail lending”.”Everybody is buying mutual funds” Really, Prannoy? Who is? Who travels through these airports, buys those easily available consumer goods, obtains those loans, buys those shares? Small scale industry reservations as something for Prannoy to laugh and sneer at, something to throw away not something that serves a national purpose for the poor and needs deep reforms; these could have created employment for the tens of millions, but what we have is Big Industry – that does not create any new jobs, but generates wealth for those already with enough – crowing over devastated handlooms and other traditional artisanal occupations.

At 16:42 minutes, more than halfway through the interview, Mohan lets out – truly puzzled – that he has not been able to understand why India never concentrated on Agriculture …”somehow it never received the focus”. Prannoy quickly steers him away in 10 seconds, back to Trade.

Interestingly, (my uncle, who I am quite fond of) Ajit Singh is mentioned by Rakesh Mohan at 3:40 minutes as the real progenitor of the 1991 reforms. AN Verma and Mohan were both in the Industry Ministry in 1990 when Ajit Singh was Industry Minister in the VP Singh government and Verma and Mohan formulated the ‘liberalisation’ plan that was the foundation for the 1991 one that Narasimha Rao, Manmohan Singh and AN Verma finally pushed through. Hmmm. You will see the irony of the farmer leader being the originator of economic reforms in which the winner -private capital aligned to the ruling elites – gives nothing to the village. Not even lip service.

I don’t cling to any ideology, and my understanding of the world is based on universal humanism where human-created barriers and inequities of caste, religion, gender, race and class are overcome on a continuous basis. I’m not a Marxist as I don’t like totalitarian regimes of any ism, neither am I a supporter of ‘free-market’ Capitalism even though I greatly benefited from it. I am, however, as much a bundle of contradiction as anyone else. But I do have a visceral dislike of the existence (and growing presence) of so many terrible inequalities in my society, a people and culture I am defined by. Inequality gets me really hot under the collar, specially as I grow older and understand what is really going on. I do some things about it where I can, the first being becoming truly aware of these inequalities and secondly writing about it much more than I ever did busy as I was with making a living. It was that time for me, it is this now.

My Jeep sticker since 2011 speaks to the two biggest contributors to disharmony in India: caste and religion. इंसानियत, न जाति, न धर्म I say “Only Humanism, Not Caste, Not Religion”

I will accept and work for solutions for our many inequalities that take from all isms and ideologies – as someone (!) said, the color of the cat doesn’t matter is as long as it catches the rat. The biggest rat I see is the one that embodies inequality.

Here is the interview. Let me know what you think.×7/prannoy-roy-rakesh-mohan-on-25-years-of-economic-liberalisation-464133?pfrom=home-lateststories

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Why do Farmers Protest?

Why do Farmers Protest? Continue reading

Posted in Books i'm Reading, Policy & Politics, Rural Village Life | 5 Comments

Want Not, Waste Not

At the urban condominium in Gurgaon where we live, our home composts our kitchen waste in pots and use the organic matter for the happy plants on our balconies; nothing organic goes to the garbage collector. I limit my needs, and the consumption of things; though I yet manage to consume heavily without trying. I am also occupied with farming organically and sustainably, with respect for the earth and my farming ancestors; aware of my responsibility to future generations, on 6 acres in Faridabad, Haryana. I am a bundle of contradictions.

The Gurgaon condo, happily, has some individuals aware of the mess of urban waste management, but most residents could not be bothered. Efforts are underway, led by a very sincere Jean Saldana, to segregate waste and compost it in-house instead of sending it to the urban dump at nearby Bandhwari.

The Overflowing Bandhwari Urban Waste Dump for Faridabad and Gurgaon cities.           Photo Courtesy Hindustan Times, Jan 2017

But this is no longer enough for me, at the cusp of a paradigm shift in my understanding of the consequences of urban living. I must engage more with the world out there, and metaphorically climb the mountain of waste I see every day on route to Aman Bagh. Wasn’t that what the mountaineer said when asked why he wanted to climb the mountain? Just because the mountain is there.

The Cycle is Broken

Albert Howard’s An Agricultural Testament published in 1940 never ceases to amaze and delight me, decades after my first tentative reading. I deploy his arguments from a world that once was, but as you will see, it is increasingly real in India today.  He was a genius, prescient no end. I start with his conclusion.

“The Industrial Revolution, by creating a new hunger – that of the machine – and a vast increase in the urban population, has encroached seriously on the world’s store of fertility. A rapid transfer of the soil’s capital is taking place. This expansion in manufacture and in population would have made little or no difference had the waste products of the factory and the town been faithfully returned to the land. But this has not been done. Instead, the first principle of agriculture has been disregarded : growth has been speeded up, but nothing has been done to accelerate decay. Farming has become unbalanced. The gap between the two halves of the wheel of life has been left unbridged, or it has been filled by a substitute in the shape of artificial manures. The soils of the world are either being worn out and left in ruins, or are being slowly poisoned. All over the world our capital is being squandered. The restoration and maintenance of soil fertility has become a universal problem.”

Albert Howard, An Agricultural Testament, 1940. ‘Conclusions and Suggestions: A Final Survey”. Chapter XV, page 255. 

Urban, educated and rich (a potent combination in unequal India) society’s sole focus on ever-increasing GDP growth and farm production mists over the ugly realities of the consuming post-industrial service economy; and the outcomes of urban living in India. The problem of urban waste under which our kasbas, towns and cities are drowning under has its roots in our total rejection of the agricultural life and the concomitant belief in urbanisation as a cure-all solution despite its terrible social, environmental and health costs. Listen, please, to Howard from 1940: growth has been speeded up, but nothing has been done to accelerate decay.

“Practically none of our urban waste finds its way back to the land. The wastes of the population, in most Western countries, are first diluted with large volumes of water and then after varying amounts of purification, are discharged either into rivers or into the sea. Beyond a little of the resulting sewage sludge the residues of the population are entirely lost to agriculture.”

“From the point of view of farming the towns have become parasites. They will last under the present system only as long as the earth’s fertility lasts. Then the whole fabric of our civilization must collapse.”

Albert Howard, An Agricultural Testament, 1940. ‘Developments of the Indore Process. The Utilisation of Town Wastes’. Ch VIII, pg 125

The real issue: the towns have become parasites. How long will all the production be based in the villages, and the waste be generated in the cities? Why can we not see this linear trajectory of the missile that is urbanisation? Can we get together civic groups of concerned bureaucrats and citizens who realise the cause of this ocean of urban waste  management lies in this fracture between town and village, factory and farm as it were, and that we must rebuild this connection?

“The present system of sewage disposal has been the growth of a hundred years; problem after problem has had to be solved as it arose from the sole point of view of what seemed best for the town at the moment; mother earth has had few or no representatives on municipal councils to plead her cause; the disposal of waste has always been looked upon as the sole business of the town rather than something which concerns the well-being of the nation as a whole.”

“The problem of getting the town wastes back in to the land is not difficult. The task of demonstrating a working alternative to water-borne sewage and getting it adopted in practice is, however, stupendous. At the moment it is altogether outside the bounds of practical politics. Some catastrophe, such as a universal shortage of food followed by famine, or the necessity of spreading the urban population about the countryside to safeguard it from direct and indirect damage by hostile aircraft, will have to be upon us before such a question can even be considered.”

Albert Howard, An Agricultural Testament, 1940. ‘Developments of the Indore Process. The Utilisation of Town Wastes’. Ch. VIII, pg. 127

Enough said ! Lets do, and do it now. I know there is no substitute to implementing.

Brown ‘Waste’

Over the past 2 years, I have been taking tonnes of dried leaf material from Leisure Valley Park near my Gurgaon Condo for using as mulch at Aman Bagh. I met up with the helpful Manish Sejwal who works for a NGO that manages the RGEP next door, and have his renewed commitment to help collect this. Often, over these years, I also carried similar bags from my Gurgaon condo. Once in a week to ten days, we are able to carry 10 bags (125 kg) of this ‘waste’ and spread it around happy trees at Aman Bagh to protect the soil microorganisms, for enhancing water retention, and for building organic nutrition. Over this period, then, we must have kept about 8 metric tonnes of leaf waste out of the landfill and used it to build our soil. To expand this collection, I recently spoke to the horticulture head at Faridabad Municipality – and met a stone wall of ignorance and indifference. Doesn’t he know? “We have installed a 35 Lakh rupee machine at our park, and we plan to compost our material there …”. Nevertheless, I yet have 10 bags of leaf waste a week available – that is the carbon and cellulose. We will get to the city municipalities sometime. नया ज़माना आएगा, नया सवेरा आएगा 

Green ‘Waste’

I really like organic retailer I Say Organic and its brother-sister founder pair Ashmeet and Aakansha Kapoor. Fundamentally, organic retailers are as much a part of the consumer project and the urban problem as we all are …. nevertheless, it does feel like organic commerce in a callous ‘bad’ consuming world is a positive step. It does look like just another consumer product, and I worry about that.

We spoke about the green and nitrogen and micronutrients rich organic waste they generate daily and monthly  – tonnes of vegetables, fruits, dal milling remnants and so forth. Representative of the broken cycle of growth (at the farm, where nothing organic is ‘waste’) and decay (in the city, where it is only ‘waste’), it worries. With Ashmeet’s involvement, could we bring this waste to my farm and compost it using Howard’s Indore method and complete the cycle? I can do this practically as their waste is certified organic, couldn’t if it was from a regular mandi where chemically poisoned food abounds – it sounded right. Their warehouse though is 30 kilometers from Aman Bagh, and this would add more fossil fuel pollution to the already most-polluted-in-the-world air in Delhi, and add more costs to my already hugely subsidised farm. The debate continues, as do the actions. We got the first lot last week, and the first bed of 160 kg of compost was laid with this green waste, and dry leaves from Leisure Valley.

I also received 50 kg of dal milling ‘waste’ – its wonderful, organically grown moong and arhar (toor) remnants, and will go to feed our cattle. On this visit, this unexpected bonus will pay for the Jeep’s fuel.

We’ve started on a path that will make the soil happier. The urban waste comes back to the village soil; making the circle complete, triangulating the urban disasters of Gurgaon, Delhi and Faridabad. I love doing Something That Matters in the jumble of messy contradictions that is life.

“There is therefore a distinct saving when humus is used. This, however, is only a minor item on the credit side. The texture of the soil is rapidly improving, soil fertility is being built up, the need for chemical manures and poison sprays to control pests is becoming less.”

Albert Howard, An Agricultural Testament, 1940. ‘Developments of the Indore Process. The Utilisation of Town Wastes’. Ch. VIII, pg. 130
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Vanya – a Food Forest in Madhya Pradesh, India

” The twin problems of soil degradation and erosion have plagued humanity since the dawn of agriculture…. When I considered the history of agriculture through a geological lens, I saw a boomerang effect – how we treat land determines how the land will treat us, and for how long. I also saw that we can avoid the common fate of ancient societies as long as we do not repeat their grand folly of stripping off fertile topsoil at an unsustainable rate. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we are doing, only this time on a global scale……  Life makes soil. Soil makes more life. Put simply, that is the story of the past half billion years. The evolution of plants and the rise of life and land fed the soil and the soil, in turns, fed more and bigger plants that nourished increasingly complex communities of animals. Life and soil were partners until modern agriculture changed the game. How long can modern agriculture keep us alive by breaking the soil-life bond? Viewed over any geologically meaningful time scale, an agricultural civilization that degrades the soil will be transient – it cannot last if it destroys its own foundation. ” 

“Dirt – The Erosion of Civilisations”, by American geologist David R. Montgomery 


Vanya – Patanjali Jha’s ‘Eureka Food Forest’ in Madhya Pradesh. 

It took us 2 hours to drive 100 kilometers south of Indore to Vanya Organic Farms near Khal Bujurg, on the banks of the Narmada. The last few kilometers to Vanya is through a nondescript and scraggly village located on a kutcha dirt road, through semi-degraded and rocky land, then through a stream to reach what looks like a tropical forest. Once inside, you are overwhelmed by the sounds and sights of a true forest  – the man responsible for establishing this 40 acre man-made forest is Patanjali Jha, my energetic host. He calls this his ‘eureka food forest’.

Patanjali Jha at Vanya

Patanjali Jha guiding me through his dense, tropical forest at Vanya. 22 October 2016

To understand Vanya, in Patanjali’s words, read and watch a brief video


This is what the land is before Patanjali works his wonders

An area being planted – the land is sparsely forested before Patanjali works his wonders.

We walked through parts of the dense forest over the two days. Tens of thousands of trees, heights varying from over 50 majestic feet to 15 feet, and lower in a new definition of ‘multi story’ – a huge biodiversity of hundreds of varieties : 400 mango trees, 5,000 drumstick, 5,000 citrus (rangpur lime, mausambi, kaffir line, grapefruit, kagzi lemon), 7,000 papaya, 5,000 Subabool, 500 Neem, and thousands more of perennial Arhar, Amla, Amrood, Kathal, Ber, Pink Pepper, Jamun, Banana,  Babool, Glyricidea, Teak, Phalsa, Sharifa, Bel, Wisdom Tree, Swarn Champa, Khajoor and Coconut; and finally the understory of thousands of plants of Ginger, Turmeric, Aloe Vera and millions of slips of Khas grass (Vetiver). What a feast for the eyes.


Patanjali walking through a dense understory of Khas grass (Vetiver) which serves multiple purposes – ground cover, dense mulch biomass, aromatic roots and a source of micronutrients that these deep roots bring to the surface. This species is indigenous to South India, and is non-invasive. Read more at

Vanya is visibly a labour of love and intense, single-minded effort over the 12 years since his parents bought the first ten acres; to which his partners have added land for him to manage with his green fingers. Patanjali credits the Japanese no-till farming visionary Masanobu Fukuoka and the Gujarati natural farming pioneer Bhaskar Save for inspiration, though Patanjali’s implementation of this vision is clearly his own creation.

40 feet high Murungai (Moringa or Drumstick) tree. Vanya has

30 feet high Murungai (Moringa or Drumstick) tree. Vanya has 5,000 of these. Read more about this wonder tree, with more nutrition than one can imagine and a staple for its leaves and fruit all over India. ” Moringa Oleifera contains more than 92 nutrients, 46 types of anti-oxidants, 36 anti-inflammatory agents as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B4, B7, C, D, E, and K.”

Vanya’s main produce – alas, we are all bound to the revenue cycle – is citrus, papaya and turmeric.; with plans to add pink pepper. Of the total 40 acres, planting of the bio-diverse food forest continues apace on 20, while the rest is already well forested.

Turmeric grown in the shade at Vanya

Turmeric growing in the shade at Vanya

Over two days, Patanjali and I jointly investigated the principles that underlie our implementations of ‘natural farming’. While we follow the same principles of mimicking nature, primarily studying the self-sufficient forest, our tree and crop growth is made different by our vastly differing ecology, geography and climate i.e. the tropical climate and sandy loam soil of Vanya next to the perennial Narmada river; and the semi-arid sandy soil of Aman Bagh in the rocky Aravali mountain range. We both grow a wide biodiversity of locally adapted plant and tree life, including many nitrogen fixing trees, with a preponderance of perennially fruiting trees and shrubs. Vanya implements zero tilling as they do not grow cereals, while Aman Bagh tills actively for growing multiple cereals, lentils and oil – though increasingly with reduced intensity as we release land from annual crops to perennials : what is common is the wide poly-culture approach to cropping. Then, we both have multiple layers of biomass (the leaf and branch detritus of our trees, chopped or just dropped) deposited on the soil in layers one on top of the other for years (decades, in the case of Vanya) as mulch that creates the topsoil. Aman Bagh commenced adding cattle dung as the initial biomass and fertiliser as we had so few trees in 2011, only now are we in a position to prune trees and add their residue.

More Papaya along a path in Vanya

7,000 Papaya plants abound, with 5,000 more being planted in random all over Vanya’s 40 acres.

Papaya saplings protected by mulch of Khas grass

Papaya saplings protected by mulch of Khas grass

35 feet high Papaya tree at Vanya

35 feet high Papaya tree at Vanya

The perennials trees and plants are grown in multiple ‘layers’, and are carefully selected locally adapted or ‘desi’ (local) species some with leaves (Moringa or Drumstick, for example) small enough to allow sunlight to filter through to the lower layers. This bio-diverse tree growth forms the biomass that enriches the soil and feeds the thousands of kinds of microorganisms and animal life (a world of bacteria, fungi, Protozoa, nematodes and larger animals and birds as well) that thrive on decaying plant matter. The sunlight that does reach through the trees in the sky and the mulch on the soil has lost the harshness that could destroy the living organisms feeding on the mulch from trees. And, obviously and necessarily, the most important exclusion is that of man-made chemicals of any kind from the farm ecosystem. Vanya does not use cattle manure, as their vast quantities of varied biomass from the trees are sufficient food for the soil, while Aman Bagh actively uses cattle dung as fodder as our drier climate and depleted soil needs all the organic matter it can get. Neither does Vanya use any organic or natural pest repellant sprays recently made popular as he believes healthy soil creates healthy plant life – and if there are insects that eat some fruits or leaves, let them too live. I couldn’t agree more. These creatures are pests for man, not for nature.

Extensive ground mulch at Vanya over 12 years has made the soil soft, water absorbent, and bountiful.

Extensive ground mulch at Vanya over 12 years has made the soil soft, water absorbent, and bountiful.

Patanjali has an infectious enthusiasm, specially when he talks about planting food forests in 10,000 acres in the coming years. While the principles of what he calls ‘eureka farming’ are clear, what provides him the confidence to dream big are his visible implementation successes. He also feels – and I love this big hearted approach – that as long as core principles are followed one must plant with abandon, without too much science and too much design. I could see this attitude in his directions to the Vanya staff on planting 5,000 papaya sapling in the coming few months. Once these are established (in the 1 year after planting) in between the existing trees, his people will leave it to nature to grow them, making them maintenance free.

Thanks to generous Patanjali I carried back gifts from Vanya to Aman Bagh  – a few hundred slips (saplings) of Khas (Vetiver) grass and thousands of seeds of open pollinated Moringa, yellow papaya, sharifa (custard apple) and grapefruit; as well as local turmeric. His spirit of sharing makes a bygone era come alive when seed commerce did not exist, and neighbours exchanged saved ‘open pollinated’ seed varieties freely. He rekindles hope in collaborative farming and in ‘co-creating’ a future of plenty, as more of us natural farming practitioners learn from each other and from the ways of the forests and that of nature.

Wild Indian Basil as undergrowth at Vanya

Wild Indian Basil as undergrowth at Vanya

Aloe Vera, used extensively in Ayurveda and elsewhere, grows a healthy undergrowth at Vanya

Aloe Vera, used extensively in Ayurveda and elsewhere, grows a healthy undergrowth at Vanya

An interview with Patanjali Jha in Indian Periodical, on his version of forest farming.

Harsh & Patanjali at Vanya. 23 October 2016

Harsh & Patanjali at Vanya. 23 October 2016



Vanya, on the banks of the Narmada.


Resources discovered thanks to Patanjali Jha

The inspiring Ernst Gotsch, a Swiss farmer settled in Brazil, and his unique Agroforestry approach to food forests and Entropic farming, with many things to learn for organic, permaculture or natural farmers.

“Open areas have no future, it’s going backwards. Areas without trees don’t generate resources, they drain resources.” Ernst Gotsch.

Gotsch’s Principle #1. Mimic the structure and functioning of the natural ecosystem of the place (that you farm in). Choose tree and plant species that fit in. Imitate nature, and the natural succession of species as it takes place in the forest.

Gotsch’s Principle #2. Create a system that produces its own fertiliser. (Grow locally adapted trees, and prune them heavily for fertiliser for the soil).

Five amazing videos on YouTube:

“We are part of an intelligent system, we not the only intelligent ones … and if we would accept that it would be completely different because from all the other species we could look and see what they do and understand the profound truth and knowledge they impart” Ernst Gotsch.


“Our soil teems with a multitude of organisms which provide the necessary environment for healthy plants to grow free from disease, pests and infertility. These interconnected interactions and feeding relationships (quite literally “who eats who”) help determine the types of nutrients present in soil, its depth and pH, and even the types of plants that can grow”. Elaine Ingham, Innovative Farmers Conference, USA. 2016. 


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A Sustainable Village Life

Sustainable farming is variously called organic, natural, biodynamic or permaculture; all of which are overlapping methods and systems to feed ourselves mindfully. Each system brings something for a farmer and consumer to understand, absorb and practice.

A sustainable agricultural life is lived on a self-sufficient and ‘local’ farm, where the farmer adds continually to the health of the soil by as closely mimicking the ways of the forest in nature, and minimising physical farming inputs from outside the farm. In India, sustainability methods include the many ancient farming traditions and farming systems from across our wonderfully varied ecosystems that enable us live the rhythm of an agrarian way of life using appropriate technology. ‘Appropriate’ includes, for example, rejecting or dramatically reducing the use of the tractor (minimising the use of fossil fuels) while applying drip technology (saving on scarce water in my arid surroundings); and the use of bullocks to plough the land as a non-polluting, very low cost source of energy. This includes an absence of factory produced chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and instead the use of cattle dung as manure; and the dung by-product methane from the ultimate in appropriate technology: the Gobar gas plant. Aman Bagh applies each one of these appropriate methods, and some more.


Life in the Slow Lane

Sustainable farming, in its larger meaning of a society in communion with nature and humankind, extends beyond building healthy soil or growing healthy food as it includes the many intertwined issues of economic and social inequality in a poor agrarian nation like India and the ever expanding rural-urban divide. Economic and social exploitation have always been integral to farm size and land ownership, and what was a very wide divide even 50 years back in India has today become an impassable canyon due to even more unequal rural and urban access to land, livelihoods, education, health and technology.

To self-cultivating small farmers in India with less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land, which are 80% of all agriculturists in India, sustainable farming had been their way of life since time immemorial – till the advent of the Green Revolution in the late 1960s. They were organic before this time and even today many in the hinterland remain organic due to the high cost of becoming chemical farmers. Their barrier to living a life of plenty was and remains uneconomic land holdings, or no holding at all, regressive social systems, and a debilitating urban bias in our development discourse and resource allocation.


A Different View

Sustainable farming as a way of life – peasant cultivation, chemical free farms, bullock power – went out when industrial farming entered the rural areas in the 19th and 20th century, specially in the West, and the profit driven nature of corporate capitalism and the power of urban civilisation today is ensuring it will not return. Organic produce, however, is the fastest growing segment of consumer spending on food in Western societies, and in wealthier parts of urban India, as city dwellers fully realise the baleful aspects of modern life, with corporations growing thousands of hectares of organic produce using environmentally unsound methods to feed another ‘segment’ of the consumer. Commercial organic farming by large companies, for the most part, does not create sustainable ways to farm or brings new small holding farmer families to the land. Small farmer (or small farmer groups) produced organic crops using sustainable methods is the way forward in organic production and consumption, specially in India, where our average land holding is 1.2 acres and in the USA is over 400 acres. Each nation and society must find its own, unique ways to loosen the stranglehold of corporate control over their lives and their unsustainable food habits.

The long-term objective in India must be to have fewer people dependent on the farm, and more employed in rural non-farm jobs and urban manufacturing and services. The only way this can be done over the long term is to implement a well thought out nationwide program for building handcrafted small industries that can be spread across the villages in India, and not a few manufacturing jobs in proximity to large cities. Little of this is happening though, as we witness handloom, for example, being destroyed by automation. That however is a story for another dialogue.

So, where do I fit in, a well-to-do, urban Indian, as an unlikely small holding farmer?


Unlikely Farmer ..


.. On a Learners License

In 2011, the software services company I had helped found was bought over by a larger company, and I thus found myself without having to work for a living that till then had been my consuming drive in life. This event made me question priorities and plans for the time I have left – could I take a path less travelled? I wanted a vigorous, challenging, and non-commercial occupation that aligned to my commitment to health, my political persuasion and the environment. Small farming was a hands-down winner, and I found the ideal location in a picturesque Aravali valley in Faridabad. This is one 45 minute commute from Gurgaon, where I live, that I look forward to every day. By serendipity, I am just 10 kilometers away from the village of Sihi from where my maternal peasant ancestors migrated to Meerut in 1860.

I have long been uneasy with the urban-rural chasm and the continuing urban elitist bias in India’s development discourse and practice. My family’s strong rural roots as well as vacations spent in my paternal village in Ghaziabad established conflicting feelings – an empathy for the sounds, smells and ways of the village of my childhood; disquiet about the endemic poverty and caste inequity within the village; and anger at the urban bias in India’s development. Throughout my city life, these anomalies festered – here now was an opportunity to dive deep within the reality. I grabbed it.


There are four specific reasons for my pursuing farming in the challenging, often inhospitable, environment of the Aravalis of Haryana. First, I hold well-defined ideas on lifestyle and health, ideas that have evolved over decades of reading, practice and experimentation on my mind and body. I now produce for my family and friends exactly what I think we should eat. Second, I consider myself a grassroots activist showcasing (by doing, not philosophising) how a smallholding peasant family can make a reasonable living growing chemical-free produce on close to 6 acres by following the ways of their ancestors; along with some new thinking on sustainable farming. Third, I’m an idealist and the farm provides me with a controlled environment to establish a community comprising different castes and religions; while keeping older farming traditions alive. Finally, there is nostalgia for a childhood spent often with my grandmother when I smell the upla burning, hear the sound of the cattle, sit next to the choolah and eat wholesome meals, and am lulled by the language and sounds of rural life.


Sounds of an Old Music at Aman Bagh

Aman Bagh, with 5+ acres of land, provides a model for sustainable farming for other small farmers and for consumers wanting to understand what ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ means. Aman Bagh and the peasants who work the farm are maturing in knowledge and now have the confidence of success to share our model of sustainable farming for those who want to listen and learn. We welcome your mindful visit.

(A version of this blog post was written for, thanks to some friendly nudging by Priyanka Chhabra)

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Monsoon Guava

A version of this article was originally posted on the I Say Organic blog

Don’t eat guava during the rains from the commercial market, they are all shot full of chemicals. If you do proceed, cut the guava carefully and look out for squiggly fruit fly larva !

Aman Bagh has 50 Allahabadi Safeda guava trees that are today 4 years old, and we took our first fruit crop this year. I was excited at the first flowering of the guava trees in March 2015, and looked forward to eating the fruit off the trees. On my walks around the farm, as the fruits matured, I would break off a guava and bite into the soft, juicy and sweet fruit. I was in organic orchard heaven, and wondered why fruit farmers sprayed their crops with poison when it was so easy to use organic methods to keep pests away … when reality struck. I spied little white squiggly worms in one guava that I had just bit into, disappearing quickly into the flesh of the fruit. I cut deeper into that fruit, and some more, to find what was going on and was horrified to find almost every other ripe fruit infested with larva. I was at a loss on where this came from, thus commenced my Fruit Fly education.

A cousin of the common housefly, the Fruit Fly species that infests guava in India in called Bactrocera Dorsalis (B Correcta and B Zonata are around too, we leave these details to the zoologists).

Bactrocera Dorsalis

Adult female oriental fruit fly, Bactrocera dorsalis (Hendel), laying eggs in fruit. Photograph by Scott Bauer, USDA.

Fruit Flies and IARI: I found the information necessary to educate myself on this problem, but the solution needed a lot more time. I was fearful of an entire crop in danger: would I need to cut down these trees so lovingly planted and cared for? I raced to the mecca of Indian commercial agriculture IARI (Pusa) in Delhi. An acquaintance sent me to the sleepy horticulture department, where the scientists I met were nowhere as concerned as I was. I was given a dismissive lecture by a senior expert to forget organic methods as “chemical sprays are totally fine and there is too much fuss about too little”. His recommendations were to spray the recommended pesticides and move on. Hmmm. It was food for thought, but not digestible at all.

I went back to reading as there was no solution at IARI. I discovered the larva develops quickly; the female fruit fly lays eggs into the partly mature or mature fruit by the ‘ovipositor’ in the tail by which she pierces the fruit and deposits her eggs. A female lays over 1,500 eggs in her life cycle of 30 days, and she sits but briefly on the surface of the fruit, so she is extremely. Development of egg to adult takes just 15 days, and a week or so after that for the female to reproduce. Temperatures above 30 Degrees C with humidity are happiness for the fruit fly, and the monsoon is ideal for its propagation. When the infested fruit fall to the ground, diseased & weakened by the larva feeding on the inside, the larva converts to pupa, and quickly matures into adult flies. So the fly is continually reproducing in the shadow of the very same tree whose fruit it destroys. Most farmers don’t see the pupae and fly emerging, they few even understand the fruit fly life cycle or even that the fly is the cause of the larva infestation.

We Know So Little: I didn’t understand the problem, why should I look down on less educated farmers. A complex ecosystem thrives under the peaceful, green foliage of a farm; and we know so little about it. There are all kinds of living beings, invisible and visible, inter-connected to each other and to the trees and other plants in thousands of ways some of which we know and many we do not. That is what I learn each day at my farm after years of daily effort, and I find my lack of knowledge remains breathtaking just like our collective arrogance of thinking we know what to do by implementing short term, reductionist methods like spraying pesticides.

With the rains on us in late June this year, the organic Neem-cow urine repellant concoction (which is applied each week) got washed off and eliminated what little effect it had in repelling the flies. I went by the book and had all the fallen fruit picked up, closed in black plastic bags so that the larvae would die and buried these diseased fruits 3 feet under the ground. But the infestation continued unabated. Little did I know then that the flies had done their bit by the time I found out about them in July – the eggs had been laid, and I could do nothing to win from this onslaught by a more knowledgeable foe fighting for the survival of its species. I did not know then that the farm next door has 300 trees of guava, where the farm hands spray their trees weekly with massive doses of pesticides but are not able to eliminate the fruit flies as they keep emerging from the fallen fruit!

What could I do with my orchard wide infestation? I do not use chemicals, and my organic repellants were a failure. With a burgeoning fruit crop, I had read that pruning the tips of the branches with the flowers in May would have been the only sure shot way to eliminate the larvae. With no time and little knowledge on how to combat the fruit fly (all this action took place in just 2 weeks in July 2014) I took the only way I could find such that these do not reach consumers. I pruned all the fruit of all the 40 trees – hundreds of kilos – and fed them to my cows. Now, I had breathing space to figure out what to do in the next season, a year away.

Guava Crops: Guava has multiple crops – the monsoon fruit in July-August, winter fruits in November-December. The study by an Indian guava researcher in Lucknow who had pruned the flowers off an orchard with 7 year old Guava trees by end May and thus eliminated the monsoon crop entirely, and took a full 80 kg per tree harvest in winter. It seemed theoretically possible to eliminate the monsoon crop flowers if pruned at the right time and thus encourage the tree to flower profusely in September for fruiting in December. Why is there little infestation in winter? Simply because it’s too cold for fruit fly sex! With cold and dry days and nights, the environment is not conducive to reproduction. But I was not yet ready to give up on my Fight with The Fly in the monsoon yet, in which I was as of now the loser though an increasingly knowledgeable one.

Sex Traps: I researched and read more and along with my recent experience made sense of what was recommended by organic and chemical producers and academics all over the world. I discovered PCI’s Pheromone based fruit fly traps sold in India: these female sex hormones attract the male which then enters a fly trap and dies as it cannot figure out how to exit. Voila! No male flies, no copulation, just sexually aroused females flies buzzing around that die pining for sex. The fly in the ointment – as I realized when I practiced this method for this season – was that these pheromones don’t eliminate all male flies; they just reduce their quantity. It takes just one male to service the females and keep the progeny machine going at full speed. These traps work as excellent as advance warning that fruit flies are around, but alas do not do eliminate all male flies. I did not know this in February 2015 when I bought one trap for every two trees (ten times the density recommended); and sprayed the trees weekly with an increased concentration of pest repelling organically made sprays. I hoped for success, but the effort to eliminate flies was doomed from the start thought it would teach me a lot.

For the uninitiated, organic pest repellants (with components like Neem, garlic, green chilies and cow urine and a host of other plants that have a strong odor) are exactly that – they repel pests, without killing them and are of no harm to the consumer. Chemical, pesticides are the very opposite – they leave a toxic residue on the surface and inside the fruit which kills the insects they are sprayed on besides being harmful to the human eating them. In the case of the fruit fly, it has been agreed worldwide that only pesticide-based control is quite useless but in our country the only solution for pesticides is more pesticides.


Many Fruit Fly in the Pheromone Trap


One That Got Away

To my lasting disappointment, our efforts to control the fruit fly did not work. We caught scores of flies in the pheromone traps, and were enthused that we were winning – but it was a false hope. Enough males must have escaped to enable the females lay their eggs in the forming fruits, and on breaking open the fruits we could see that a good 40% of the crop was infested. I yet don’t exactly know when the female lays its eggs – in the flower, or the early fruit, or in the semi ripe, or in the fully ripe fruit – but it was enough to keep us looking with anxiety at the fruits every day. We did manage to send more fruits to the market this year as compared to last (which was not really difficult as we sent zip last year!), but it was simply too much effort and stress for too little return.

Conclusion: The fruit fly wins, and we win. We are wiser after this years’ experience and understand the problem as well as the non-chemical solutions, and have decided to prune the monsoon flowers on 30 May 2016 and wait for the winter 2016 fruit. As of now, we don’t know whether it will work but we will have the satisfaction of having rolled with the punches the little fly landed on us. They will look around quizzically for fruits next June, and on finding none in our orchard buzz back to the neighbor. The cold December weather will dramatically control the fly population in any case, and we will continue to use the pheromone based traps as well as the organic pest repellant spray.

Wish me luck, and hope you get to eat clean and sweet winter guava.


Aman Bagh uses only ‘farm yard manure’ for fertilization, from cow dung from my 10 head of cattle, mixed with leaf compost made from the 700 trees we grow. We also use a homemade pest repellant concoction made from Neem oil and other plants fermented in cow urine, which is generally quite effective in repelling insects from most crops.

There must be a way to deal with the fruit fly on a national mission basis, without causing harm to the environment or the consumer. Here is a possibility, as it seems was done in Japan “All Japanese territories were declared free of the oriental fruit fly in 1985, after an 18-year program of eradication combining insecticide-impregnated fiberblocks or cotton containing the powerful male attractant methyl-eugenol, and the sterile insect (sterile male) technique. Steiner traps baited with a lure and toxicant are also used to monitor the presence and control of the flies.”  

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Why Small Is Beautiful

Click to access epw-farm-size-2011.pdf

Click to access Farm%20Size.pdf

Small farms the word over are more productive per unit of land, especially in Asian nations (China, India, Japan) where land is a limited resource per head and average farm size varies between 0.6 to 1.4 hectares (and is fragmenting each year). This is in significant contrast to the USA, Canada, Australia and some some nations in Europe where average farm size is much larger (and growing), ranging from 52 hectares in Denmark to 178 hectares in USA and 273 hectares in Canada.

This is My Land

In this 2011 article in the Economic & Political Weekly, the authors conclude that smaller farms in India are more productive per acre than larger farms, in contrast to the USA where labor saving technology (farm specialization in crop or cattle, heavy mechanization, genetically engineered seeds, chemical herbicides and a host of inventions to increase productivity of labor) has enhanced productivity.

Marginal and small peasants (80% of all landowners in India) work harder on their land, use more fertilizers, have more land under irrigation, have more crops per year than their larger and wealthier cousins. They are better at every aspect of farming than the bigger farms, simply because their survival depends on it. However, they remain dirt poor and below any kind of reasonable ‘poverty line’ as the land they possess is so very little.

The authors conclude “Smallholders do not lag behind other farm size categories in adoption of improved technologies and use of fertiliser and irrigation. Moreover, marginal and smallholders make better use of inputs as revealed by the lower fertiliser imbalance index. Crop intensity, which is the main source of growth in agriculture in India was found to be the highest in marginal holdings and it declined with an increase in farm size. The inverse relationship between farm size and productivity based on the aggregate of all crops has been quite pronounced in the recent years. Advances in technology and the scale factor in production did not dilute the superior performance of lower size holdings.

What is critical is that “holdings despite higher productivity due to lower per capita availability of land” – which means land with the marginal farmer is inadequate to make ends meet. 62% of our landowners own less than 0.8 hectares of land, which is why they are so very hand-to-mouth despite being ahead in productivity of their larger compatriots.

The solution by these authors, which I fully support …. “Serious steps should be taken to create employment avenues for smallholders outside agriculture, but within the countryside so that the workforce in small farms gets work and income from rural non-farm activities without leaving the farms. This seems to be the only way to achieve higher productivity and to sustain agricultural growth together with augmenting the income of smallholders for improved livelihood.

Chaudhary Charan Singh’s peasant and farm-first ideology influenced me deeply in my younger years, not quite surprising in some ways seeing that he was my grandfather, though I live this reality up close now as a small farmer with less than 2 hectares farm land. He would have been delighted to read the analysis and policy prescriptions of these authors : he believed the solid foundation for India’s progress was through peasant agriculture, by giving primacy to small and marginal farm holders, and simultaneously creating small (‘cottage’) industry work opportunities near the villages so these hundreds of millions of pitifully poor peasants do not migrate to a life of even worse servitude in the slums of our cities.

Not going to happen though. The governments in Delhi and in the States are busy finding ways to enjoy their hard-won privileges in the cities they inhabit, and finding ways and capital from big business to win the next election.

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