Friday, July 29, 2011


These are the days when one hears frequently about new initiatives in different parts of the world for food supply with better safety credentials. Local food movement, urban gardening, terrace top gardens, multistory green house gardens, gorilla gardening are all manifestations of the frustration among urban dwellers concerning risks involved in getting their food needs from the established supply chains. The common perception is that the "industrialized" agriculture produces food with chemical residues and microbial contamination with potential for grievously harming the health of the consumers. The organic food industry which accounts for almost 2% of the food business globally is borne out of such apprehensions and no wonder it continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. China, where there have been serious food safety violations during the last one decade, seems to be encouraging a new trend in agriculture that is bound to increase consumption of vegetables in urban households by providing opportunities for the families to raise their own crops through their own efforts. Here is a take on this new urban model which can be relevant in other parts of the world also.

"The garden has lettuce and other fresh vegetables that are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, Yao said. Her weekly trip to the garden spares her from shopping at local vegetable markets, where Yao fears produce could be tainted with harmful chemicals, as the media has frequently reported on.The excessive use of agricultural chemicals became a grave concern of Yao years ago, when she had intense cravings for cucumbers during her pregnancy, but found that the cucumbers she bought would swell up to unnatural sizes after being stored for just a few days.This prompted Yao to seriously consider growing food by herself, an idea resonated with a group of 20 parents, who in 2010 founded the Safeguard Homeland Green Consumers Association. "It's an association of mothers who joined to find safer food for their children," said Yao, who noted that the membership has grown to 80 this spring. The association made a deal with an eco-farm that uses earthworms to help fertilize the crops. The farm leased out small pieces of land, usually 20 square meters as a share, to every member of the association at the monthly rent of 100 yuan (about $15). Members could either plant vegetables themselves or hire farmers to do the work for 280 yuan for each month. "Now I can finally put my mind at ease, as the vegetables are grown right before my eyes on ecologically fertilized land," said Zhang Lushuang, one of the association's members".

Can this model be applicable in India? Probably not because land near urban townships is too costly for pursuing a low value operation like gardening. Many recent Supreme Court rulings have exposed the role of land in many financial scams and this clearly shows that there is no way such costly land can be used for urban gardening by the city dwellers, even if there are willing participants, to take up vegetable growing. China is able to do it because its governing system allows to use land without any legal encumbrance for purposes considered important from a national perspective. If GOI can evolve policies that will insist on a green belt around each town in future for which land is reserved, there is a possibility of city dwellers taking up gardening as a regular part of their daily routine. It will also call for creation of infrastructure for supply of seeds and other paraphernalia for cultivation, probably by the private sector that will make the gardening activity hassle-free, satisfactory and efficient.


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