Posts tagged agriculture

Bhils

Bhils of Central India and the mythical story of why they cannot farm

Bhil children from MP (Source:Wikimedia Commons)

This is a mythological story of the Bhil tribe that is settled in parts of Central India, primarily in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra,and Rajasthan. The Bhils live in a highly arid and drought-prone part of India. Thus, farming cannot be their primary occupation. Traditionally, they have been hunter-gatherers and engage in animal husbandry. The Bhils are quite economically backward. I found this story interesting because it is being passed on through generations in the Bhil community, the elders explaining to the new generation why they are so poor and why they cannot engage in farming. This story also illustrates the importance of animals, especially domesticated animals, in helping tribal people achieve prosperity.

As the story goes, once Parvati and Lord Shiva were sitting in their abode in the Himalayas having a discussion about the mortal world. Suddenly, Parvati realized that her brothers were coming  to meet her. Parvati greeted her brothers with great joy and spent some time chatting with them. When the time for them to leave came, she asked Lord Shiva to give them a parting gift. Lord Shiva said, “I’m just an Aghori Sadhu! I dont have any material possession to give as gift to your brothers. I’m sorry”. Hearing this, the brothers felt sad and left. But Parvati insisted and Lord Shiva, unknown to the brothers, placed a silver pot in their way. But the brothers failed to notice the pot and walked away.

Parvati felt sad. She thought, “If my brothers failed to notice a gift from God, how will they achieve any success in their life?”. She went to Lord Shiva again and asked him to give her brothers a valuable gift that can help them learn and achieve success. Lord Shiva said, “Alright! I will give your brothers my precious bull (Nandi).”

Nandi Bull (Source:Wikimedia Commons)

Parvati was happy. She said to her brothers, “Oh my dear brothers! Take good care of this bull and you will become rich and prosperous.” The brothers were very happy and took the bull to their home.

However, after reaching home, the brothers started to get very impatient. They thought that since Parvati asked them to take care of Nandi, there must be something valuable in it. One of them suggested that they kill the bull and see if there’s any treasure inside. Another brother resisted but in the end, all of them became greedy and agreed to kill the bull.

When Parvati heard that Nandi had been killed by her brothers, she grew very angry. She confronted them and said, “You fools! Nandi was the most powerful and the most sacred bull in all the three worlds. You could have used him for tilling your barren land and for farming, however, you gave up this opportunity and instead killed him.” So she cursed her brothers – who belonged to the Bhil community – and their descendants that they will never be able to farm again. And so the story goes for why the Bhils do not (cannot) farm on their lands.

Such stories also pass on an important lesson of respect towards the natural world to the younger generation.

PS: On a lighter note, a little bit of irrigation and proper groundwater management practices may help some bit in lifting Parvati’s curse :)

Genetically modified plants and agrobiodiversity

There is lot of buzz that is going on whether genetically modified plants (GMOs) should be given clearance or not. There are different points in favor and against this issue. Issues like safety for human and animal consumption, seed security of our farmers, adverse effects on land fertility are some of the most prominent issues which get headlines of all major newspapers and magazines. Another harmful effect of GMOs is loss of agricultural biodiversity. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, has already warned the world for the loss of agricultural biodiversity. According to their reports some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost since 1900 as a result of excessive cultivation of genetically uniform, mass-produced crop varieties. GMO plants are derived from genetic modifications of a specific variety of a plant which produce best phenotypes in terms of either yield or quality. So effectively, all the plants of a field where GMOs are grown are the product of a monoculture. In USA for soybean and maize, two most important crops, GM plants accounts for 93 and 52 percent of total cultivation, respectively. In a country like India, where government has limited control over the distribution of crops on agricultural land, uncontrolled cultivation of GM rice or wheat varieties could lead to a catastrophe. The scenario will even be more serious in case of plants which are the major source of food for the country. For example, a rampant use of GMO rice will result in extinction of many of the native varieties. Imagine a situation where GMO rice is being cultivated on 60% of our rice cultivating areas. Pathogens can always evolve and attack GM plant variety and destroy the produce for that year. This will bring down our economy on its knees.

World map of GMO production (2005). US, Canada, Brazil, China and Argentina produced 95% of world’s GMO crops. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I once got an opportunity to ask this question to a top official from Monsanto. In his presentation he had shown the rosy picture how farmers in Gujarat are being benefited by GMO cotton and tried to make a case that India should give clearance to GMO rice. I asked him that if a situation arises that a pathogen has evolved against which your rice variety is very susceptible, then what is the minimum time in which we can provide a new set of seed of a resistant rice variety to our market. He said it can take minimum 6 months to flood the market with such new seed variety. That means it will take minimum 10-12 month that the next rice produce will reach to the market. The question is what will happen in these 10-12 months how will our government feed its citizens.

The protection of agricultural biodiversity is another very important point that our law makers and scientist have to ensure before giving clearance to the GMO plants which provide basic food to our country.

First published on Biodiversity of India 

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