Big developments in the agricultural biotechnology world in the past few days:
First, Scotland announced it would ban the cultivation of GMO crops. This follows the recent EU policy change allowing member states to make their own decisions regarding the use of biotechnology. Given that no GMO crops are currently being grown in Scotland, this is symbolic. It would be interesting to know if they will stop importing GMO feed for livestock as well.
Kenya announced that the ban on GMO crops would be lifted in two months. The ban was put in place in 2012 as a reaction to the now retracted Seralini study. Scientists had been pushing for the ban to be lifted, pointing to the potential benefits of biotechnology particularly in view of the disease affecting maize, the main crop.
In India, activists announced their decision to oppose the possible approval and introduction of GMO mustard. Mustard oil is a traditional and healthy cooking medium. Currently, India is unable to meet consumer demand for mustard oil and has to import from abroad. The GMO mustard seeds are expected to increase yields and meet domestic demand, in the process farmers incomes would also rise. The research was funded by the government but approval is likely to be a slow process due to the unfounded fears surrounding this technology.
Interesting times ahead……
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The answer, it seems, is at best a weak “maybe”. Still it was heartening to see an article in the media that was nuanced enough to acknowledge the public’s unfounded wariness of biotechnology with the pragmatic acknowledgement that in this instance, genetic modification is the strongest option in the tool box. The piece also explores the reasons why relying on banana biodiversity alone cannot suffice. This is really the middle ground that we should be focusing on, instead of the yelling-across-lines-in-sand type of communication which characterizes most food debates. The problems are real and the solutions will be a combination of various options and rejecting some options out of baseless fear is not an optimum step. Some solutions and even, improvements, have been suggested, the hope is that they will not be blocked.
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Lately it seems like every discussion in the food world centers around GMOs/organic/local. It is all about what we see on the plate and getting caught up in it, I realized I was no longer paying attention to the journey of food from the fields to the fork as is the stated goal of my blog.
That got me thinking about the people who make this food journey possible: farmers and farm workers. And around the globe, it would seem, crises are everywhere: in Mexico, farm workers are striking and stopping work to demand better wages and conditions; in Bangladesh farmers specially from minority groups are being forcibly dispossessed of their land, an issue which resonates next door in India as well; a theme that is echoed in Egypt. And in a closing of the circle, Chipotle says it is paying close attention to its customers and banning GMOs, but perhaps need to better care of their workers who bring the food to our plates.
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Today is the Bengali New Year, so Happy New Year dear Readers! This calendar dates to a phase in our life when we we moved in tandem with harvesting and planting. Many of us have moved to towns, other states or even across the globe but the day is still marked for the diaspora with Facebook and Twitter wishes and much nostalgia for the sweets which are such an important part of the memories of past celebrations.
For the farmer of course, it is more than a matter of fun, the harvest determines his future and that of his family. The Green Revolution brought bumper harvests and cause for celebration to many and now there is the possibility of a second revolution bringing better times. And so this post is to celebrate a farmer who participated in both, was an active adopter and participant in research and is a strong believer in the benefits of science for agriculture. The International Rice Research Institute celebrates him with this story.
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Posted in Farm Technology, Farmers view, Food Security, GMO, India
Tagged biotechnology, Farmers voice, Farming Technology, food security, Genetically Modified Organisms, Hunger, India
Though I have lived in the US for a while now, I just learned about the tradition of eating “Hoppin John” on New Year’s day. The first description I read of it involved black-eyed peas, pork, rice and some greens. The black-eyed peas represent coins and the wish for prosperity, the greens of course represent cash. This immediately reminded me of a favorite recipe from India and I thought I would use it. And so our first meal of the year was this bowl of golden goodness, glowing with turmeric and a little chilli powder, with a sprinkling of cilantro standing in for the greens. To me, this represents the best of all possible worlds, memories of the infusing the adventure of the present.
Further reading brought interesting facts to light: the original dish used red cow peas not the black-eyed peas used today; the rice used was Carolina Gold and the story of how this variety disappeared from the market is a fascinating story: the soft lowlands on which Carolina Gold rice was cultivated were unsuitable for the use of machinery and there was not enough labor for the intense work required, a hurricane added a further blow. So rice production shifted to other states and other varieties. But a resurgence of this variety was brought about from grains obtained from a seed bank and a small number of farmers are growing it. (One wonders though how the issue of labor/mechanization was resolved, material for another post perhaps!)
As I write this, I discovered yet another Indian take on black-eyed peas, this time with curry leaves, which I love, and coconut, looks like day two of the new year may also involve black-eyed peas…
The school lunch is in turmoil: efforts to ensure that students get nutritious food that will keep them healthy have run up against problems. Sometimes, schools do not have the resources to provide all the recommended elements of a healthy lunch, sometimes parents object to what they perceive as an imposition by the government on their child’s diet, and sometimes the children reject the new menu. Still, it is good to know that the efforts to make sure kids eat properly continues. In Washington DC, a chef and a dietician collaborated to offer new choices to the students in a local school. Instead of the usual carrot sticks, children were presented with three differently prepared options and the Asian style version won the day and will form a part of the school menu. This experiment gives an interesting insight: today kids, specially in an area as diverse as Washington DC are exposed to a variety of cuisines, what they eat at home might be quite different from the food served at their friend’s home and also differ from what is offered at school. Where possible, substituting the somewhat sad looking boiled sides with more flavorful options might mean that less food is thrown out. of course, a major stumbling block remains: school kitchens are often equipped with only heating and freezing appliances, so the possibility of actually cooking food is limited.
When we hear demands for changes or objections to the new rules, we must remember that these need to be looked at in the context of the troubling problem of childhood hunger. In many households, children are going to bed hungry and rely on school meals for a significant source of nutrition. All too often, we read about children who have to go hungry when snow days are called. In such cases, the school lunch is not so much a matter of taste or liking but one of making sure children do not go hungry.
In another example, experimenting with the school lunch not only helps to achieve the goal of keeping children from going hungry but it also addresses the problem of malnutrition. In India, a government sponsored program provides freshly cooked meals to children in an area with high rates of anemia. The program serves the dual purpose of bringing the children in to school with the promise of a meal and getting them an education; and by incorporating iron fortified rice in the meal, the widespread problem of anemia is also being tackled.
The shape that a lunch program takes would seem to rest in the context of its use, we can use it to address big challenges. That is an important lesson to remember when we start to get disappointed because the lunch plate does not look exactly as we might want.
(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)
Posted in Food Choices, Food Security, Hunger, India, Living, Nutrition
Tagged food decisions, food security, Hunger, India, nutrition, school lunch
For a Bengali, fish is not just food, it is connected to everything in life. We celebrate our cricket and soccer team wins with fresh fish curry; and send out gorgeously decorated fish to the bride’s house as part of our wedding rituals. Our culture grew in the low islands and mangroves of the Bay of Bengal, awash in tales of the delta and the fearsome legends of the Bengal tiger. With climate change, some of these strands of our heritage will disappear forever. The tiger is in danger of extinction, the mangroves are shrinking and the lowest islands of Bangladesh are being reclaimed by the rising waters.
Still, we thought, we had our favorite fish, “ilish”( Tenualosa Ilisha). It was a momentous treat when I was a child: the first elish of the season which would be prepared in a golden mustard gravy with a bright green chilli pepper, served up with steaming rice. It was an expensive fish, not to be eaten everyday and certainly not during the breeding season. But somewhere along the way, all this changed. With prosperity came an insatiable demand, ilish was being eaten around the year and exported all over the world. Now, we may have to live in a world with only our memories of the delight it brought to our lives.
Efforts are on to conserve ilish by several organisations and the Bangladesh government. Bengalis all over the world are praying this will work (watching our own ilish consumption would also help!). Perhaps we can look to a conservation success like the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay or the mix of restrictions and incentives that Brazil has used to successfully reduce degradation in the Amazon rainforest to ensure that the ilish continue to thrive.
For a look at the life of people living in the ecosystem of the Bay of Bengal, “The Hungry Tide” by Amitav Ghosh is an absorbing read.
(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)