A couple of days ago, I met a campaigner for sustainable agriculture working for a global organisation that fights climate change, among other issues. She revealed a strange and depressing phenomenon unspooling in rural areas: farmland lying famished due to loss of biomass (the total mass of living matter within a given unit of environmental area or plant material, vegetation, or agricultural waste used as a fuel or energy source).
First of all, it was difficult for me to connect loss of biomass to places where agriculture goes on in full swing. But her studies in various states, especially Bihar, threw open bitter facts. With various modern methods exploiting technology to create utilitarian value for all kinds of biomass material, it’s come to a point where what should ideally go back to the earth reaches different destinations in different forms.
For instance, cow dung does not go back to the soil for nourishment but gets converted into dry cakes meant for fuel or gobar gas. Husk from cereals and millets gets used for fuel production, so on and so forth. Construction and home decor, especially furniture, sectors are major consumers where various kinds of biomass gets transformed into eco-friendly options.
If the soil is suffering due to lack of nutrition, so does the output. Pesticides get sprayed at frightening frequencies and quantities to prevent ‘pest’ attacks.
A vicious circle
The result? Soil enrichment through traditional methods has come to a halt! This has forced the farmers to use synthetic fertilisers in huge quantities which lack severely in some macro-nutrients and almost all micro-nutrients. If the soil is suffering due to lack of nutrition, so does the output. Pesticides get sprayed at frightening frequencies and quantities to prevent ‘pest’ attacks and consequently, the misery of the farming lot gets deeper and deeper. Finally, it all comes back to us through highly polluted and low-quality food items.
You can be an agent of change
Increasing incomes in urban areas almost regulate what is grown in rural areas. But nothing goes back. The researcher rued that a lot of biomass gets wasted in cities like Bengaluru due to landfilling. “If we find a way to convert this into quality compost and send it back to nourish the soil in a far-off land, that would complete the circle in the most meaningful way.” Her study included exploring ways of making this happen.
Is this just wishful thinking? Certainly not. Apartments generate a lot of kitchen waste which has precious nutritional value. All it takes is segregation to make sure it remains untouched by hazardous waste. I have heard of a few apartments in the city which compost wet waste efficiently and sell it to farmers. The latter then enriches or turns it into vermicompost to nourish the soil.
It takes just 10-15 minutes a day: Segregate, compost both kitchen and garden waste. It can happen at both individual and community levels. When all of us start doing it, we will have a surplus of goodwill to be loaded up and sent to our rural counterparts.
Look how endlessly and beautifully all of us can contribute to the planet’s health in so many little ways!
This article originally appeared on the author's blog and was republished here with permission.
Featured image: Flickr CC/ Trocaire
Savita has been a journalist since 1997 (Deccan Herald, The Times of India, and The New Indian Express). She loves to write on women's and Dalits' issues, HIV/AIDS, environment and tennis. For the last five-six years, she has documented all her work on her blog https://savitahiremath.com/