Ugao: Food For Thought
“The damage done by agriculture is social and political as well. A surplus, rare and ephemeral for foragers, is a principal goal of agriculture. A surplus must be stored, which requires technology and materials to build storage, people to guard it, and a hierarchical organization to centralize the storage and to decide how it will be distributed. It also offers a target for local power struggles and theft by neighbouring groups, increasing the scale of wars. With agriculture, power thus begins its concentration into fewer and fewer hands. He who controls the surplus, controls the group. Personal freedom erodes naturally under agriculture.”
− Permaculture author Toby Hemenway
We live in a society where basic necessities like food and water are controlled by a power drunk state, and the inequality in distribution of wealth and resources is stark and undeniable. While some individuals have the ability to consume 4 to 5 meals a day, others can barely gather one semi sufficient meal for themselves. If you consider the effects of climate change, the ongoing refugee crisis, and an ever growing population,it may seem that a war for resources is inevitable. But, even in this age of deep detachment from nature and blind consumption of the earth’s resources, there is still hope. There are more and more individuals waking up to the idea of sustainability, especially self-sustainability. Getting down to our roots, literally,is the only way forward, though it may seem like a radical notion in today’s modernistic society. Swayampravo Dasgupta created Ugao as a platform for those who want to live sustainably and be in control of their own food security by planting and farming their own food.
Welcome to the world of Ugao- a growing group of amateur food cultivators sharing their gardens, their skills and knowledge with each other. Ugao is a boundary-less initiative with members primarily connecting over the internet. Ugao is a group of people is calling for individuals the world over to get their hands dirty and grow their own food. These people, from different countries and various walks of life, have come together to create a movement dedicated to bringing a micro level social change wherein individuals can grow their own food and therefore settle one of their basic needs by themselves. The group aims to enable individuals to grow food for themselves, their community and to help spread gardening and nutritive awareness among the masses. Their mission is dual: to help set up micro and community grown gardens facilitated by learning and connecting with other growers through a community platform and to set up a localized supply of micro farmers in case required to help set up food forests.
This is how Ugao works. Get on to their community of growers and find people in your locality. A lot of their existing growers gift seeds so that anyone can start of their own garden from these gifted seeds as well. Ugao urges people to start growing their own food, as small communities. The initiative was started by Swayampravo Dasgupta, a graphic designer based in Bangalore. “I decided to start Ugao when I started growing plants by myself and I needed help.”, he says. When asked what prompted him to start growing food, he replied, ‘Reasons of subsistence, self-dependency and sustainability.’ What Swayam is saying makes perfect sense. Farmers are committing suicide due to failing crops, bad weather and massive debts, with many young newly educated Indians choosing to opt out of the agricultural field. Centralized mass farming practices no longer seem like a sustainable idea.
Industrial farming comes with a long list of shortcomings.Let’s consider the negative impacts on the environment. Numerous ecological diseases are linked with the intensification of food production, such as loss of soil fertility, depletion of soil nutrients, water pollution and chemical contamination due to pesticides. A major problem with growing a huge amount of food in one area is that the soil structure changes entirely on applying and re using the same plots of land to grow crops. Though some farmers are well educated and know about rotating crops, very few do or can afford to practice. In small scale farming practices, subsistence farming is possible where farmers focus on growing just enough to feed and clothe themselves and their families. This helps avoid soil depletion, as the scale of produce is much lower and over a larger area of land.
Then comes a two-fold impact on people: both the individuals working on the farms and the local inhabitants of the area. According to the Orissa govt. website, agricultural workers are the most neglected class in the Indian rural structure. Here, labourers face a plethora of problems, like under-employment, under-development and surplus population. As labourers, they usually get paid low wages for doing back breaking work under harsh conditions and that puts an excessive amount of burden on them. Employment is also extremely irregular. With huge farms, the need for cheap labour in large numbers will always exist. Added to this is the fact most land labourers are either from scheduled castes or scheduled tribes, thus tuning this into an issue of caste/class. If Ugao’s dream of individual grow gardens come true, it would encourage a division of labour. Focus could shift to developing the skills of these individuals and employing them in other fields with better working conditions. It would mean alleviating an entire class of modern day slaves from their drudgery.
A quick Google search will show you numerous horror stories linked with chemicals poisoning the local people of an area, such as Monsanto in Argentina.Besides this comes the amount of land that needs to be acquired, with tribal people shooed away and trees chopped down to make way for farming land. Industrial agriculture is a threat to rural people and tribal people. On a smaller, individual scale, no one would be displaced and organic farming practices becomes more feasible as individuals bear the fee rather than cost cutting corporations. Speaking of corporations, industrial farming also systematizes the idea of corporate land holdings and promotes the use of unsustainable use of fossil fuel to transport agricultural produce. This transportation cost would not exist if people grew their own food.
Then comes the issue of food wastage. In India alone, a staggering amount of food – especially wheat and grains- are wasted due to decay during procurement, ripped grain bags during transportation and rodents devouring food grains during storage in go-downs while the countless poor still starve to death. In small scale, personal gardens, storing food is no longer a problem since each individual will have the chance to pluck fresh vegetables and fruit from their own backyard. There is a possibility wastage can become a thing of the past.
Taking all these into consideration, Ugao’s dream seems like the most obvious choice for a more responsible and sustainable future. Ugao is being evolved into a product to aid in growing healthy organic food together in communities, with help from experts and farmers. The vision of the movement is to create a micro localized economy of sorts where community action benefits everybody and creates a wholesome development of everybody in such a community/neighbourhood/apartment complex. The product which is a hybrid blog and social network platform is to aid this entire movement and is also called Ugao. The product is going to launch in BETA soon. It is designed to be a social blogging network for growers, where one can search for information and resources, meet growers and interact to build a community to solve the food problem at large by starting at the grassroots.
The group will have a website and a mobile platform as well. We can have conversations on their platform – exchange tips, find a solution or just gift seeds to grow some food.Their meticulously organized set of resources can be used to grow any food, anywhere. And in case newbies need a hand they can use Ugao’s database to find their local gardener/farmer or a micro gardening expert to help them in setting up or even maintaining your food farm. If Toby Hemenway feels personal freedom erodes under a centralized agricultural society, then surely he would approve of Ugao’s aim for a sustainable and independent garden growing future.
Written by Nayantara Gupta
Edited by Pallab Deb.