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Farmer prosperity vs food safety

We are not the last generation on earth and must conserve her resources

US President Trump, in his own dismissive way, tweeted about “good old global warming”, as he found the winter to be ‘Cold’. Recently, Trump and his fellow Republicans resolved to open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the oil industry. The future of 250 species of birds, mammals and animals is in serious question. It looks like a decades-long fight to preserve wilderness is lost to the promise of jobs and $600-billion worth oil.

Meanwhile in Germany, a new study shows that 75 per cent of the flying insects died over the past two decades and, consequently, the bird population is also on the decline. The reason for the insect decline is not known but is mostly due to an increased use of pesticides by farmers across the country.

In India, monkeys are creating havoc in urban areas and agricultural fields as humans enter their forests and displace them from their natural settings.

Stories like these suggest that human beings are being inhuman to Mother Nature, under the excuse of development and progress.

When mines are activated, they say that it’s for jobs.

When insects are killed, they say that the pesticides allow them to grow our food. When habitats are taken over, they say it’s for giving shelter to an increasing population. Of course, while fixing jobs and growing food are important, so is taking care of the planet and nature. Indeed, while food security is important, so is ecological conservation.

Humans are not the absolute owners of the planet, but unfortunately, all too often, we behave like we are. Who gave us the right to increase carbon on the planet? Who permitted us to ruin the flora and fauna in the ocean? Who allowed us to disturb the mountain ranges?

Way off the target

In the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, world leaders made emission reduction pledges to avoid a two-degree increase in global temperature, but a recent UN report shows that existing national goals will meet only one-third of the Paris climate target. We need to reduce CO2 emission by 15 to 18 giga tonnes to come close to the target and that is less likely to happen, given that the actions taken are not reducing carbon.

Climate Action Tracker, an independent group of research bodies, has warned that of the 32 countries responsible for about 80 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, 24 had set insufficient targets, and most them would not achieve even those. As a year-end gift, POTUS ensured in mid-December that the new National Security Strategy removed mention of climate change as a national security threat.

The creators of climate change are not necessarily the ones who suffer a direct impact from its consequences right now. Instead, it is the farmers whose crops are failing due to the unpredictability in climate and the people who are losing everything in monsoons and floods that are suffering, like the people in India who faced floods after the Himalayan ranges were covered with hydropower projects.

Also, our children and grandchildren will have to live on this planet, so even if someone is not affected today, they should still care about those who are now and those who will be tomorrow.

Eyes on the future

At Kheyti, we incorporate this philosophy into our work with small farmers to increase their incomes. We think about the future on a regular basis and try to feed the people of today while also thinking about the needs of the people of tomorrow. We equip farmers and their next generation to be climate-resilient and environment-friendly.

For instance, when typically 50 litres of water is used to produce a kg of vegetables, our farmers use just one litre. This is possible because we create economies in the supply chain to reduce the carbon miles travelled by food.

As another example, by using insect protection net on all sides, we don’t eliminate but significantly reduce dependence on synthetic pesticides. We strive for a balancing act between farmer prosperity and food safety. Undertaking these kinds of actions is not impossible. It takes time to plan, but it is not a burden to implement and the long-term impact is big.

Empowering women is also vital to achieving the right balance in the world. There is more data today than ever before, showing that women leadership can be more effective than that of men.

By educating and empowering women today, the world will shine better tomorrow. For 2018, we have resolved that 100 per cent of our new farmers and village representatives that we plan to work with will be women.

We do not know whether Trump’s view on climate change will ever change nor if other country leaders will increase their efforts to meet global goals, but what is known is that even one lifestyle change from individuals can make a big difference. As we move into 2018, I pledge to work with farmers in such a way that food does not mean poison, water does not mean infection, air does not mean allergies and soil does not mean contamination.

What will you do? Will you reduce the miles travelled, get a solar panel, not waste food and recycle?

We can create a healthy planet and we’ll get there faster if we remind ourselves that our children deserve a planet that is not worse than the one we inherited.

The writer is the co-founder of Kheyti, a farm-tech startup


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Sathya Raghu V Mokkapati

I love spending my time to think, innovate, adapt and implement solutions which can increase the incomes and climate resilience of ultra poor farmers in India.