Wednesday, July 13, 2011

a natural system and an agricultural Philosophy

This is the latest film we have made. A short blog, some images and a short film.

We were in Punjab last year, trying to get our heads around the immensity of the issues in the area while enjoying the wonderful room service!

We had been working with the the amazing Umendra Dutt and the Kheti Virasat Mission. Driven by the teachings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, KVM are stimulating impressive change throughout the agricultural communities of Punjab.

The legacy of the so called green revolution has devastated not only the state's natural environment but also people's social and cultural identities.

No one till now has been able to offer the farmers an alternative to their chemical based, company controlled farming systems. Many told us that chemical based farming was like taking drugs. The feeling at first is really good, it's different to anything you have ever experienced, but then you need more, want more... and then there is nothing left. Everything seems dead and the only thing you have left is a chemical dependency.

KVM has started to return the Punjabi farmers to a balanced and natural farming system using multi-cropping and organic pesticides and fertilizers. A system that works with nature not against it. By using traditional systems, and then enhancing them, farmers have been able to dramatically increase their yields.

Farmers are now beginning to realise that they had been conned and the green revolution was little more than an agricultural experiment by the government and corporates to control and manipulate the agricultural commodity markets. From around 50'000 Rupees per crop per hectare before the green revolution to between 10'000 to 15'000 Rupees, their incomes have dropped dramatically. Much of this is a result of the farmers having to now pay for all their external inputs, seed, fertiliser and pesticides where as before with a system of mixed cropping, indigenous seed and natural fertiliser the input were almost zero. 

Of all the farmers we met, Amarjeet Sharma was by far the most philosophical and most progressive. He has not only returned to a traditional organic system, but is working with other farmers to develop and enhance what already exists as their agricultural heritage. All his fertilizer is produced at home using natural products like cowdung and milk preparations and what few pests he has to deal with are removed with natural extracts using cow urine, neem and chilly, all produced on his farm. 

This film is about Amarjeet Sharma and his deep understanding of his environment and the future of agriculture.

Amarjeet Sharma

Charanjeetkaur, Amarjeet's wife.

Amarjeet's father-in-law.

a natural system and an agricultural Philosophy from the source project on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Shifting Culture

Finally, an end to the endless train journeys we have been experiencing over the last few months.

Now settled in Delhi for a few weeks and about to start a project on child labour in the city and then a music video for The Delhi Sultanate, will have to see how that one goes... Thinking of shooting some of it at a local Akhada (wrestling school).

This is a short blog, a few pictures and a film we put together last week. 'A Shifting Culture'. Just over three minutes on the words of a village elder Yousef Gujjar. We wanted just to look at the way some communities are struggling with the dynamic changes taking place in their environments and their cultures. Children's changing expectations, changing diets and changing values, all within a generation.

One example of this was the corn that's traditionally grown and eaten by the community, or has been for hundreds of years. An indigenous variety, hardy and highly nutritious is now just not available. A combination of changing climate, soil degradation due to chemical use and exhaustion and people's preference to the rather tasteless (in comparison to the corn variety) wheat.

We were told that the corn was old fashioned and wheat needed to be bought, when you buy something you need to have money and having money means you are progressing, personally, socially. 
The film is just about the observations Yousef, an elder from the village of Azbander, Sonmarg, Kashmir, India.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bees, Yousuf and a Kashmiri mountain community

We had arrived in Kashmir after a rather arduous drive from Delhi with at least half the journey on a series of dirt tracks, complements of a company called SOMA. It seems that they have managed to set the standard for incompetent road building, supplying the states of Haryana and Punjab with millions of tonnes of mud, around six poor Biharis digging and re filling the same hole and thousands of ‘inconvenience regretted’ and the slightly more apt ‘SOMA, building the future’ signs, how significant. 
The idea was to drive a friend’s car up for him and then make a small film on bees/honey. A little while ago, European Union decided to ban the import of Indian honey, the reason being too many heavy metals in what should be some of the most pure honey in the world. The reason it seems is that the fruit and nut growers of Kashmir have taken to, as have many other farmers throughout India, spraying toxic cocktails of pesticides over their trees. So the bees in India, as around the rest of the world are in crisis, and still we are unable to see the warning signs flashing in our faces, we just buy Australian honey… and then its all OK.

As it turned out that the beekeeper was not there in that Kashmir village. The villagers told us he would arrive in the next couple of months and was now at least 300km away, down south. It was a bit of a blow to our trip, I had really set my heart on making a small film on a farmer and his relationship with his bees and his environment. It will have to wait, maybe later in the year, maybe in the Sunderbans.
Then the first few days were all about trying to work out where to go and what to focus on. We ended up walking through the village and meeting children who took us to their homes and their schools, while their mothers were tilling the corn fields and their fathers took Indian and foreign tourists for short trips along the valley on their emaciated ponies.


We decided to wander the mountains, first along the river and then venturing further up into the more remote areas of pastoral and agricultural activity. This I think is what Kashmir is really about and this is what Kashmir is about to loose. Gujjar communities are a truly nomadic people who still practice pastoral and shifting culture, moving their lives and their animals as the seasons change.  Their dry stone huts, clinging to the mountainsides oozed smoke from the rafters as they prepared a constant supply of flat bread and salt tea, it was almost impossible to work as my eyes smarted. 

Their openness and hospitality was what we had begun to really miss after our few days in the valley where everything, and I mean everything, revolves around money.
We met a farmer called Ishmail, a man I had met a couple of years ago. Him and his family moved as all Gujjars do to different altitudes depending on the season. He had just got back from Leh and some labouring work and we sat and talked about making a small film on him and his culture, about their changing environment and culture. I wanted to document him talking about their lives revolving around nature and changing seasons in these remote areas and how the advent of tourism and the so-called development had changed their lives. We agreed to meet the following day but when we arrived we were told he had left… as we walked away we saw him hiding behind a tree.

I think someone may have said something… we were from the government or something like that. It is the usual story… and then it’s all over.
We headed further up the mountain and met an amazing man by the name of Daud. Lived up high in a small community of Gujjars, wanted to talk and did so in such a philosophical way that we arranged to meet him the next day.
When we arrived and set up, as so often, he just froze, repeated our questions and just gave us the most amazing smiles, but it just wasn’t enough for even a two-minute film.
In desperation we moved from hut to hut, talking to different families until we finally met Yousuf.
He wanted to talk so much but once again found it a little difficult to express all that he had told us before we turned the camera on. What he did talk about was how their communities had lived over the past decades, the harsh but stress free life of praying and their relationship with their environment.
I hope we have got something, we have just got back to Delhi and now have to start trawling through the interviews, try to put a small film together, more visual and just an essence of his life and thoughts. We will start tomorrow and get it up as soon as possible, then post it. I just hope we do him and his community justice. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

From Punjab to Dhaka and back again

It’s not food and it’s not agriculture this time, but it is IDRC  (International Development Research Centre) and it was a research paper on gender inequality
There has been so much in the news over the past few weeks as the Indian census revealed what most people already suspected. So much attention on India shining that the media seemed to miss out on all those silly little social problems like malnutrition, poverty, displacement and of course, gender inequality.
It seems that a healthy economy does not always result in a healthy society. This I think must have been a great disappointment to many of our great and progressive economists around the world. How is it possible that a reasonably educated and affluent urban society such as Punjab could so successfully discriminate against girls, and then how is it possible that,  Bangladesh - a 'basket case' as Henry Kissinger called it, could have some of the most gender friendly policies in Asia.
We have now decided to travel everywhere by train… not just because of environmental issues but also because our bags now weigh a silly amount.      It’s also just so much more beautiful to be able to take in the changing landscapes, time to catch up on thinking and reading and sleeping.

Bangladesh blew us away. Far from being a basket case Bangladesh has a sense of order, it’s cleaner than India (at least the parts that we saw), there seems to be an amazing sense of community cohesion and far from being poverty ridden, people told us they were content with their lives. Somehow people seem to realise that there is more to life than just money and a new TV. 
I know the statistics contradict my experiences and observations, but I found that no one I talked to on the trip was able to quote anything more than the constant stream of facts that flow from the development sector. I was expecting a country in collapse, a country on its knees, polluted rivers and malnourished children. But I found villages and communities that reminded me of the south of Sri Lanka. A community with a strong sense of cultural identity.
I first went to the Punjab to look at some of the many issues that have contributed to a gender imbalance of 846 girls to 1000 boys… up from 798 a few years ago. 

An overwhelming patriarchal society that tends to be drawn towards a male child if and when a decision needs to be made. This is one of the reasons behind the gender inequality… then there is the access to education, access to work and finally access to health care. All of which Punjab seems to be practically weak in. 
Girls access to health care and a male dominated environment.

With the demand driven ostensibly by economic considerations, back street ultrasound gender determination clinics have opened everywhere. Of course this is illegal, but with the possibility of making huge profits, for many doctors its just too much of a temptation.  These machines are imported from China and are therefore reasonably cheap, doctors are recommended by word of mouth and in most cases will include the full package with gender determination and the abortion. (I just want to make it clear that all these photographs are of normal, ethical functioning people of Punjab at a government hospital having fat and happy baby girls and boys).

Education is again an issue of a girl's economic value and her access to work.This is not strong in Punjab and once again the boys seemed to be everywhere.

Bangladesh was a very different case, we are still waiting for the figures to come out at the end of the month, but we already know that the government has far more progressive policy in place to help adjust any gender imbalances. Many of the schools we visited were mixed, in the rural as well as urban we saw not just 8-12 year old girls but 12-16 year old.

Confident, beautifully dressed, walking in groups and riding bikes...

Girls are everywhere. It was so refreshing to see girls so visible and so confident.

Then there was access to work. This was a bit of a problem as some photographer had just been over to Bangladesh and done a piece on Wal Mart. This negative press had sent the government into a damage limitation spin and they had ordered for any foreigner with a camera, shooting on anything politically or economically sensitive to be arrested. So there was no access to show the positive side of women and access to work. Everyone had heard the same line from the media "we want to do a positive story". I managed a couple of places and a school, so that will just have to do. I find it so frustrating that so much attention, focus is put on countries like Bangladesh for poor working conditions and even poorer wages when so little focus is put on the west and it's addiction to profit maximization, unfair and unjust foreign policy and a failed global economic system still driving a non sustainable system of mass consumption. Anyway, here are the last few images on women, work and health care. (with thanks to the amazing Marie Stopes and Dipshikha)

Off to Kashmir to do some photography and a film on Bees. The next post. J