Planetary Wellbeing: transforming ecology with organic agriculture
Decades of industrial farming in India have dealt a heavy blow to the environment. But the impact is not irreversible.
One of the earliest memories I have of growing up in Punjab is of me and my parents relaxing together on a Saturday morning, in the lulling heat of the early sunshine, sipping tea and listening to the birds chirping before the day would get too hot and force them to seek shelter in the shade. It was in these peaceful, poignant moments of silence and contemplation, that the love between me, my family, and the nature that surrounded us, really cemented itself.
As the years went by, the chirping died down. By the late 60s, it had died out. The Green Revolution, launched in Punjab in 1965, had transformed my homeland into India’s breadbasket, but poisoned crops with pesticides — and, by consequence, the wild animals that ate them.
Today, Punjab and its life support systems — its soil, water, air, environment, and the health of its people — are going through an unprecedented crisis, affecting everything from agriculture to economic development. The practices of the past are no longer working, but the question remains: how do we overhaul our agricultural system, when the use of environmentally unsustainable practices is so ingrained within the rewards structure?
The story of Surinder Singh, a life-long farmer from Punjab, offers a glimpse of what might happen if we collectively open our minds to possibilities beyond the status quo. Disillusioned with chemicals, Surinder started producing organic compost at home. He was positively surprised to find that weeds could be controlled by organic compost alone, and that the basmati rice he sowed simply was looking green and firm, instead of water-guzzling.
“Living on a farm and seeing the life around you is incredible, but it’s very vulnerable to our influence. It’s important to make sure our food choices don’t impair that. When we switch to organic, we think beyond ourselves. The choices we make have a huge impact on every other part of our ecosystem.”
“It’s important for us to know what’s in our food and that we’re doing the best we possibly can for future generations,” said Surinder. “We can’t keep using chemicals the way we have been for the last fifty years. You don’t want poison in your food and don’t want other people to consume toxins either.”
Surinder’s decision to stop using chemicals, reviving the land with sustainable methods and organic fertiliser (using compost manure, green manure, or bone meal), is by no means a novel idea — but it will take a lot for the whole of Punjab to adopt such sustainable practices.
And yet, the evidence in favour of organic agriculture is incontrovertible. Using organic methods ensures the quality and authenticity of crops, as each farm will optimise its local resources by relying on its unique proximate environment. Authentic, healthier crops — and thus healthier food — make for healthier people, with nutrition playing the single largest role in a person’s Physical Wellbeing. In addition, organic farming nurtures a more sustainable relationship between man and nature, thereby aiding not just our own wellbeing, but that of the planet too.
The benefits extend to the community too, as farmers stop focusing on profit margins and swap a competitive mindset for one that cherishes the gifts of nature and seeks to preserve and protect the land that feeds us. Organic agriculture unites producers around a shared respect for the planet, contrary to the division fostered by the competitive, industrial model.
A beautiful conduit to Wholistic Wellbeing, organic agriculture ensures physical and emotional health, community harmony, and ecological balance. Extending these principles to those who need it most, the RoundGlass Foundation has worked alongside farmers who recognise the importance of transitioning to organic agriculture. In the spirit of easing the transition towards long-term sustainability, we are happy to ease anxieties about short term profit loss. Our initiative is therefore designed to recoup each farmer’s deficit during the three-year transition period.
As the threat of environmental collapse continues to build, accelerating the adoption of organic agriculture across Punjab — and indeed, across India — is paramount. Our land is fortunate enough to be blessed with bountiful earth, naturally rich resources, and the inimitable asset of solar power. But we still need to enact change. And the time is now.