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Our Food Habits and Biodiversity Conservation

Text & photos by Bhaskar J. Barua

The post Covid world has laid bare our lack of defences against nature's wrath. Consequently, a tiny microorganism has brought the entire world to a standstill, reinforcing once again that the human race is expendable and that the world can flourish even without us. And, to survive, humans need to be extremely responsible for conserving our biodiversity and our health. And, to do that we will need to change our agricultural methods and our food preferences and habits.

Agriculture in the present form with sole emphasis on productivity and year-round production with huge supply chain management has led to enormous greenhouse emissions. Traditionally, farmers across the world practised organic farming and their farms catered to the needs of their immediate families. The surplus went to the local community. Our food preferences were seasonal and indigenous, based on the geography of the area. With the advent of the market for agricultural produce, the rat race for productivity overtook all other parameters, and consequently, the need for chemical fertilisers and pesticides began to increase exponentially. To sustain and increase their profitability, these chemical manufacturing companies started dabbling in hybridisation and gradually into genetically modified seeds. These activities, overtly promoted by respective Governments, have had devastating consequences on our lands, existing biodiversity, indigenous species, health and local economy.

To cite an instance, during President Trump's visit to India, our Government allowed the import of dairy products and chicken manufactured in the United States. These are the perils of a global trade economy today, which discourages local farming based on local geography. Big corporate houses with huge financial powers and connections in the corridors of power have started mass productions of food items, which travels thousands of miles to reach our plates. Consequently, agro commodities and food transportation are emerging as one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and ever-increasing carbon footprints. We need not reiterate the effect of these on global climate change.

The World Health Organisation states that annually 30, 00,000 people around the world are suffering due to the effects of pesticide residue in their foods. And, 2, 20,000 among them die every year. Many life-threatening conditions such as brain damage, foetal failure, cancer, sluggishness, depression, central nervous system failure, etc. are a direct consequence of chemicals and pesticides in our food.

The overt use of chemicals and pesticides on our farms, apart from affecting our health, also affects our environment and ecosystem in diverse ways. For instance, nitrogen seeps through the soil and contaminate our groundwater, which runs off to the nearby water bodies and affects our fish and crustaceans. Nitrogen can persist in water for a long time and thus its ill-effects on aquatic life lingers on. Pesticides, often considered as a quick and inexpensive solution for controlling weeds and insects, are even more dangerous, contaminating almost every part of our environment. The residues affect our air, soil, the surface and groundwater. As a consequence, non-target species ranging from beneficial microorganisms, insects, plants, fish and birds are innocent victims. And, we by consuming these, become unwilling victims as well.

This problem and its after-effects are so encompassing that we have become pawns in the hands of big chemical corporations. Our efforts to globalise our food habits, at the cost of the indigenous food, have thrust our lives into a medical predicament. The changing food habits create artificial demands for non-seasonal food, leading to ever-increasing usage of dangerous chemicals. We are now in the midst of a vicious cycle, which threatens the lives of our future generations as well.

The only solution out of this mess is to revert to local and organic food. Shunning food items produced by off-farm inputs, including chemical fertilisers, pesticides, genetically modified seeds and plants, preservatives and additives, is the order of the day. Patronising our organic farmers, producing local and seasonal food with natural fertilisers such as manures and composts is our only salvation. After all, our forefathers have shown us weed control through crop rotations, hand weeding, natural mulching, and tilling. Invasive weeds such as water hyacinths are a naturally rich source of nitrogen. Mixed with manure from cows, buffaloes, goats and poultry, they make excellent compost. Natural and biological pest controllers like Ladybug, Spiders, Ground Beetles, Green Lacewings, etc. are God's gift upon us. Naturally derived pesticides like neem extracts, cow urine, garlic and ginger mixes are all excellent pesticides.

It is high time our policymakers and environment crusaders launch a massive campaign for organic farming for conserving our fragile ecosystem and strengthening our immune system in the process.

About the Author:

Bhaskar J. Barua is an Engineer by education, conservationist by heart and farmer by passion. Founder of Agoratoli Resort and founder President of Kaziranga Foundation and in his own words a Wildlife photographer by chance.

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