Farmers’ issues take centre stage at Tasting India Symposium

 While the results of the farmers protest in Delhi are yet to be seen at a wide scale, a conversation has definitely started with chefs and experts discussing the ways to tackle the issues faced by farmers

Speaking at the recently concluded Tasting India Symposium here, eminent environmentalist Sunita Narain said that in a country like India agricultural and pastoral activities are equally important for the livelihood of a farmer.

“Very poor farmers depend on the cattle and livestock they keep. The form of agriculture in the country is agro-pastoral, in which the pastoral part is as critical as growing food.

“If you demonetise and take away the value of meat of a poor farmer, you’re taking away their income. So, the question, as an environmentalist, has to be where you grow the meat, (and) how you grow the meat,” she said.

She added that food businesses also needed to turn their focus towards the farmer.

“We still haven’t found a right way to build a food system, which actually secures the livelihood of small farmers. All food businesses become focused on safety, hygiene, infections. And that turns them against the farmers, not for the farmer,” Narain said.

In another session, chef Anahita Dhondy emphasised on producing millets as it could save a lot of water, especially in drought-prone areas. 

She said that apart from being “healthy and nutritious”, millets were sustainable and consume only one-tenth of the amount of water needed for a crop like rice. 

“It’s very healthy and nutritious. And we can possibly solve a little bit of the problem in the world if we start using more millets and less wheat or rice in meals.” 

Chef Ravitej Nath, meanwhile, highlighted the disparity between the price a farmer gets for the produce and what a customer pays for a dish.

Elaborating the way a produce reaches the market, Nath said that the farmers sow the seeds, take care of it for three-four months and, if lucky, they harvest it.

It goes through three or four middlemen and reaches the market in Delhi, where they are auctioned, he continued.

“Then, it goes through three-four hands, reaches your hotel and gets to the chef (who cooks it). Then, we are able to sell it for, say, about 800 rupees or 1,200 rupees as an appetizer. And the farmers, probably gets Rs 2, Rs 3 or Rs 5 maybe! 

“So, at one end, you have chefs, hotels and restaurants making money. And, on the other hand, farmers (are) committing suicide!” Nath lamented.

And that kind of imbalance is needed to be addressed, he added.

Puneet Jhajharia, co-founder of CropConnect, attributed some of the problems faced by the farmers to the ignorance and lack of awareness among the consumers. 

Pointing out to the preference of the buyers who choose vegetable that appear good, Jhajharia said they must realise that such glow was a result of fertilisers.

“We, as consumers, don’t even understand what natural produce is. Because of our ignorance, the farmers have to pay the price,” he said.

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