As you travel around the country, you sometimes come across people who lift your spirit. They make you feel good, because they are attempting to break new ground, instead of just lamenting about problems. And some are also making experiments, to see if the ideas they advocate will actually work on the ground and produce results.
Siddharth Handa is a 28-year-old, based in Ahmedabad, who, despite having trained as an engineer, has decided to go into farming. He believes India has to become an exporter, not importer of food. He believes that organic farming is an answer to India’s problems of malnutrition and without getting the better of it, the country has little future. He is also clear that what India needs is not just “food security”, important as that is, but also “nutrition security” for all its children and adults.
Interestingly enough, and here is why we cannot discount the importance of institutions which have been plodding away to put nutrition centre stage of policy-makers’ concerns, Siddharth’s foray into organic farming came after his brush with the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad which had done a comparative study of the nutritive value of 100gms of foods and discovered that with chemical farming, its nutritional value had reduced by 10%, 20%, 25%.
The Report had also pointed out two other reasons for the decline in soil fertility. Using chemicals to revive the soil was like putting the body perennially on IV fluids, with its natural organs not being able to regenerate themselves. “If you depend only on urea, you will get stunted growth over a period.” The second factor was global warming, which was affecting the plants’ capacity to convert solar energy into nutrients.
“We have to think of long term solutions, for we are digging a deeper grave for ourselves, unless something drastic is done now” advocates Siddharth. In his scheme of things, growing local food is also very important for nutrition and wellbeing, instead of growing exotic western vegetables, or relying on processed foods, and for this a movement needed to be created to educate consumers.
The way to nutrition is to “avoid chemicals”. “I supply organic food to 100 families in Ahmedabad, and people now tell me that they feel more energetic, their skin is better and even when I stop supplying they will continue with organic foods.” Like him, many farmers are shifting to organic farming, not only because of the health factor but also because of the economic benefits it held out to them.
”We need to change this market” says Siddharth and having done farming for 5 years, he intends now to do his MBA to “learn management skills to transform mind-sets and to influence consumers”.
Not so long ago Prime Minister Modi exhorted the scientific community to do research in various aspects of malnutrition in the country, which unless addressed could wipe out India’s demographic dividend. Organic farming and its linkages to nutrition is certainly one such emerging area. It is heartening that youngsters like Siddharth are applying themselves to creating an awareness on an issue so vital for India’s future.
By Neerja Chowdhury
Ms. Neerja Chowdhury is a political journalist of repute with a strong interest in social activism, and a member of the Citizens Alliance Against Malnutrition (Citizens Alliance). Neerja entered the realm of nutrition to help with child rights advocacy. She became really interested in nutrition after the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), which brought home the realisation that rates of child malnutrition in India were among the highest in the world.