Wednesday, June 24, 2009


The graphic pictures of the First Lady in the US harvesting vegetables planted in the White House along with school children have sent a powerful message across the world viz, "act now and do not regret later" as the time is running out for this planet to save itself from depredations and destruction due to negligence and mismanagement. It is more than 5 decades since man realized that,while bulk foods such as cereals provide taste, flavor, pleasure, energy and satiety, it is the much neglected vegetables that can keep him healthy and free from diseases. Ever since that there have been thousands of studies which confirmed the inevitability of courting vegetables in a big way for a truly healthy living because of the presence hundreds of phytochemicals, high levels of fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and hormone like chemicals in most of the vegetables consumed by man, all with beneficial effects..

Preaching and practicing are two entirely different avocations and invariably there is a disconnect between these two traits in reality. India is blessed with a variety of vegetables, grown and eaten from time immemorial and most of the rural families do vegetable raising along with their main crops. Organized vegetable growing in farms provide the needs of the urban families and 'subji mandis' are omnipotent by their presence in all urban settlements, big and small. The government intervention programs over the years have considerably reduced exploitation by unscrupulous traders and middle men by setting up agricultural marketing yards for transparent deals between the sellers and the buyers. Amul type of cooperatives do operate in some places with the assistance of NDDB which helped to set up scientific collection mechanism, central processing facilities and distribution net works for ensuring equitability to the farmers as well as the consumers. Unfortunately this approach has not transformed the vegetable marketing as expected and the consumer is faced with hard choices when it comes to source their daily vegetable needs.

Looking at vegetable prices that rule during a span of 12 months in any year, the variations can be any where from 100% to more than 1000%! The consumers can buy tomato for Rs 2 a kilo when there is a glut but pay as high as Rs 50 a kilo at other times! Same is true with all vegetables, Even gold prices do not show such variations and consumer is helpless under such a situation, especially when GOI tells him that inflation is minus 1.5%!. National Horticulture Board (NHB) set up to stimulate the horticulture sector is handicapped by many factors and has become more or less a GOI arm with practically no relevance as far as consumer is concerned. Lack of cold room and low temperature transport infrastructure is often blamed for this sorry state of affairs in the country. Who is the real culprit responsible for this no-win situation? Ourselves, of course, who are good in preaching but poor in practicing!

It is time we take a leaf out of Americans who seem to be taking seriously the role of safe vegetables to protect their lives and the local produce movement and the recent sky garden strategy may still change their quality of life if translated into massive action plans. The tax incentives being offered by cities like New York to encourage roof gardens to grow vegetables for at least self consumption are beginning to show positive results and may be a fore runner of viable vegetable growing schemes in hundreds of other metropolitan regions where high rise buildings are prevalent. The innovative micro gardening technology provides the where withal for setting up such gardens with investments, between $1000 and $ 6000 depending on the size of the garden. Imagine a city like Mumbai having such gardens on their roof top which will ensure cooler houses below while meeting, at least, a part of the vegetable requirement of the owners of the apartments.

The inefficient water supply, low quality roof construction, lack of local expertise and reluctance for offering incentives by the authorities may be stumbling blocks for such an initiative. There are many Self Help Groups promoted by Banks which can step into this area while NHB can evolve workable garden models with assured seed supply and scientific growing practices. Ready boxes containing the required mulch, sand and nutrients need to be designed and supplied in urban areas at affordable cost for growing different vegetables and all the owners of apartments have to do is sowing and watering. True, foods will not drop from the sky by just looking at the heaven but the 'will to do' and hard work can make it happen.


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