Rice Without Rain
The streets of Calcutta are flooded with rickshaws, shouting vendors, and mangy, mosquito eaten strays. Tin roofed-slums are contrasted by pristine white-washed flats and manicured gardens. Only one site in the entire, overpopulated city holds nature’s wealth. In an array of crystal colors, fruits and vegetables are laid out in bundles and baskets at the open-sky bazaar, ready to be sniffed, grasped, and hopefully, turned into a traditional chutney or soup.
During a rail trip out to the countryside, I am lumbering past the bent backs of field hands, who with their stubborn buffalo, brave the arid sun and the voracious mosquitoes. To me it is just bovine scenery, but to the people of India it is their existence. So many lives have been plowed into the rice patties of Nabadeep. Blood has soaked into the red, clay dirt; the donors of that ruby wine have their tired eyes continuously sweeping the sparse sky, eager for it to spill its own jewels to the land.
Thus, the fate of India and its penurious farmers worries me. The bazaar may one day be destitute of its riches as India’s climate gets dryer and dryer. The monsoon season plagues the land with rain for four continuous months, and then leaves a dry spell for six more. This is particularly hazardous for farmers in India because they generally do not have a large livestock supply on which they may depend on. In these conditions the only crops that can optimally survive are tropical ones such as rice and sugar cane. Fertilizer is still not a popular product in the rural areas, and so animal manure (usually water buffalo or cow) in used as a primitive substitute. While this may be more beneficial for the surrounding wildlife, the manure mixes with runoff and pollutes the waterways of the nation, making water supplies undrinkable and choleric. In many places, such as Karnal, the mother soil has been unskillfully used, and therefore it is bereft of natural minerals and proteins.
Right now the only foreseeable option for this rapidly urbanizing nation is sustainable farming. The benefits include year around production, dearth of pests and agricultural diseases, resource recycling, and a cut of transportation costs since all farming would be localized. Crop rotation is the most popular practice, but this is not achievable until Indian farmers begin to variegate their products. Diversity is a difficult process, especially since livestock is not an important industry in India; therefore extensive diversity may not be achievable on an Indian farm. But there are many other feasible techniques, such as the installation of soil covers which lock in moisture, conserve water, and prevent mold and decay. Soil management or matching crops to plots with the ideal nutrient contents can stabilize the plantings and increase their efficiency. Additionally, farmers must be educated further in the use of pesticides. In some cases “organic” chemicals can be beneficial because they cut labor costs and increase the durability of soils. Local communities can help by creating a relationship with agricultural neighbors in order to expand the market and increase crop value. Then, eventually the connection between rural and urban communities will also be strengthened and an interregional dependency can be formed and adapted.
“I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light, and pursued my
voyage through the wildernesses of worlds, leaving my track on many a star and planet,” declared Rabindranath Tagore, poet laureate of the East. I hope to leave my track as well, next to the familiar train rails which weave through the jade pastures of my second home. My future will focus on the connections between man and nature, and not specifically on agricultural training; but perhaps this will allow me to consolidate India with its environment through the objectives of environmental stewardship. Environmental stewardship is the foundation for sustainable farming and it can be achieved with meticulous agricultural practices. India will finally be able to support its failing agricultural population, and at the same time, can improve the ever-changing global environment. Land preservation is necessary to encourage more farming amidst the consuming industrialization. If the Indian government can fulfill its responsibility and sustain its people with domestic dependability, the nation will be able to reap rewards that have not been available to its economy. When one billion civilians receive the benefits of environmentally friendly products, then perhaps sustainable farming will expand and be embraced as a blessing by farmers and consumers alike.