Monthly Archives: December 2009

‘Living Lightly’ publishes article on our work in Herat, Afghanistan

Wed, 09/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

We worked in Herat, Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 on helping the Faculty of Agriculture with their plans to conserving their local traditional varieties. Here is an article published in Living Lightly magazine, published by Positive News in the UK, in 2004.


IMAGE Article in Living Lightly magazine, UK.



Bt cotton faked as organic

Sat, 05/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

The Hindu Times of 18th November 2009 reported that there are hundreds of cases of exporters of cotton falsely selling Bt cotton as organic.


Tour of organic farms near Jharol

Fri, 04/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

We toured the rural areas around and near Jharol, Rajasthan, India, and met with three medium-scale farmers who organically grow vegetables, cereals, pulses and medicinal herbs. These farmers explained that it is difficult to make as much money organically as with conventional methods, though their inputs are cheaper.


There was much discussion with a lively input from Premilla Dixit, whose father was at the forefront of the Green Revolution. Premilla is trying to redress that legacy by promoting organics, herbal medicines and general environmentalism.


The farmers agreed that they need a marketing campaign to receive a premium for their higher quality produce. Farmers fields are quite small and they invariably use oxen.


IMAGE Farmer ploughing with ox.


We filmed activities in the field and processing of the recent harvest.


IMAGE Michel with women and their local variety of corn.



Ethical Feast, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

Fri, 04/12/2009 – John Brisbin

Conversations around food -Ethical Feast in and around Udaipur 17th to 25th November 2009, presented by our webmaster and Feast organiser and major funder, John Brisbin

Clearly, many of us have strong ideas about the recipe for a better world. It’s the challenge of ‘being the change’ that I find most fascinating in this gathering.


IMAGE This is where it starts – in the field flexing your muscles. Here hay is gathered for the animals near Chandwas village, near Jarol, two hours by car from Udaipur.


IMAGE These are the fields where the feast was grown. You can see mustard and young winter wheat. A large dam, purportedly for the distant city of Udaipur and unwanted by the locals, was completed in 2005. It flooded out 852 villagers and killed these trees.


India is a reality unto itself. Yet there are signs everywhere that India embodies the same edgy, alarming sense of imbalance seen elsewhere in the world. Farmland is eroding, cities are growing faster than pond scum, and the hot breath of material appetite is acrid on the nose. Yet amongst it all are the sublime reservoirs of cool stillness, the upright fullness of people living well, and the free-flowing beauty of existential certainty.


IMAGE Preparing the chutney, a fresh paste of coriander and other herbs, with spices.

As Craig San Roq says in the fabulous allegory ‘Dante’s Nest’ which he contributed to the Feast:

Now it is time for dinner. After all a Mystery is simply this; to give delicious form to the movement of love, sustainment to the becoming of love, the gravid powers of enduring love, despite the spider bite, the poison and pestilence in the city above.


IMAGE Caro, Varsha and John Brisbin tucking in at Ethical Feast number two in Chandwas, near Udaipur.

Here the village of Chandwas fed 600, when only 300 were expected. Chapatis of their own wheat, subjee (curry) of vegetables, spinach of Chenopodium spp (a weed of the fields), buttermilk soup with dhal, pickle of lime all served on the floor on leaf plates.


IMAGE Here Caro and Varsha help prepare the Cheel spinach dish.


IMAGE Boys peeling the taro for the subjee


IMAGE Village woman mixes up the chappatis from home-grown wheat.


IMAGE Heating the clay pan over precious firewood for the chappatis.

IMAGE Resting between preparations.


Aid Agencies and Seed

Fri, 04/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

If aid agencies are to help the poorest of the farmers they may as well invest some of their funds in helping farmers, who practically all save some seeds, to create seed networks and community seed banks.

We advise them to ask these questions: what is the local seed system like? Are there traditional local seed exchanges? Do home gardeners and small impoverished farmers have access to the seeds suitable to their food production? When commercial farmers, market gardeners or subsistence farmers replace their traditional local varieties by commercial seeds (often for the sake of productivity) what do you do? Have you planned for that?

When some of the genepool say of eggplants, another native crop of India, is further eroded, will farmers have the ability to continue the adaptation process for climate change-friendly characteristics? Incidentally Monsanto-Parry’s GM eggplant has been approved for release, Hindu Times, Nov 9th 2009.


Genepool Sacrificed for Yield

Fri, 04/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

Those who feed the cities grow crops such as okra, maize, onions, tomatoes, gingers and the pulses that typify Rajasthani cuisine on a large scale in the peri-urban area.


Farmers seem to be using commercial seeds (we have seen large empty packets of F1 hybrid eggplant and okra lying on the footpath).


On the markets we observed that there was no variation between stalls in the varieties of tomatoes, capsicums, small purple eggplants.


IMAGE Market stall in Udaipur

Not that we see commercial seeds as a complete no-no. Our point is that when farmers replace their traditional local varieties by commercial seeds (often for the sake of productivity) they lose not only some of the genepool but also the ability to continue the adaptation process for climate change-friendly characteristics. These are found in traditional varieties that may yield less but are able to cope with extreme weather. Rajasthan has a very arid climate. The farmers have selected for drought resistance in the past and therefore for times ahead.


Diversity in the City

Fri, 04/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

In two weeks in and around Udaipur, Rajasthan, we have found there is greater diversity in food plants within the city walls than in rural areas.

A typical city example is just under our window; a Shiva temple that hosts a school with mature neem, tamarind, guava, sugar apple, a tropical Annona, and a citrus with small leaves that seems to be a lime. Every rooftop harbours pots of the famous Tulsi (the precious Indian basil used in medicine), aloe vera, a delightful species of jasmine and many more. Women water them from what we can observe with wash-up water. In the older part of Udaipur water is fetched and very precious.

In rural areas crops are grown as monocultures and there is a less diversity than in the city.


Republican Grows Convict Seed for Monarch

Fri, 04/12/2009 – Jeremy Coleby-Williams

This lettuce came with the First Fleet in 1788 and we used to grow them at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney when I worked there in the 1990s. Now I am collecting seeds from my garden and will spread them far and wide, including to Buckingham Palace.

I obtained this seed from Brisbane Organic Growers in 2004 as we lost ours to possums at RBGS. This is the fourth generation grown at my place in Brisbane.


IMAGE Young seedlings a month after transplanting

So far I have had no pest or disease problems with them in my garden, even when mustard, dai gai choi, kale and cabbage are being attacked by various caterpillars and aphids.


IMAGE Mature plants growing in a bed surrounded by protective bales of straw

They’re very uniform in flowering time. The sap is very bitter, even for a seedy lettuce. They’re very difficult to photograph when young – the bronze colouration makes leaves look burned and the green looks unnaturally green in most of my pics.


IMAGE Close up of flower of First Fleet Lettuce


IMAGE A whole plant gone to seed. Each variety of lettuce looks different when it is seeding, the branches forming different patterns and the seeds held at different angles.


I harvested the seed this morning and they’re drying out and shedding now. Some are destined for Buckingham Palace’s new kitchen garden.

IMAGE Here Jude, Michel and their ever-so-smart grandaughter, Oreana, visit me just before harvest.


Tribal PhD serves spicy cup of tea of ten ingredients including pepper

Thu, 03/12/2009 – Jude Fanton

Dr Kussum Megwhal was born an untouchable and went on to gain her PhD in the significance of the Indian Constitution for untouchables. She writes and publishes on the many issues around the status of untouchables, meanwhile and maintaining contact with her village and land. Kussum has written 35 books that encompass the Consitution, how Hindu codes affect tribals and much on domestic violence. At a lunch at her house Kussum served a wonderful herbal tea of ten spices including cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, pepper and tulsi.

IMAGE Dr Kussum Megwhal with Michel and Jude Fanton