Five thousand food producers from five continents-farmers, fishermen, shepherds, cheesemakers … – will meet in Turin in October as part of Slow Food’s groundbreaking Terra Madre event. Until then the site will monitor the preparatory journeys of the project’s collaborators.
In Delhi it is hot as usual, but decidedly less humid than in the summer months. The smog reduction policies are having some success: with all public vehicles having to use LPG, the air is noticeably easier to breathe. We first go for a walk round Pahar Ganj, the area between New and Old Delhi, crammed with little shops, stalls and street vendors. At last bright colors, bustling crowds, strong odors and curious smiles. We cross the street of greengrocers and take a chai – the typical milky, sweet spice tea drunk in India – and finally meet up with Vandana Shiva and Maya Yani.
The appointment is for two o’clock at the office housing the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology and Navdanya. We get a very warm welcome as always: Priya, Vandana’s versatile secretary, shows us in and Vandana and Maya arrive in their splendid saris shortly after. We begin to talk about Terra Madre and the help that Navdanya can give us in organizing the event.
Maya, helped by an assistant, will work for Slow Food part-time and will be responsible for finding people to invite to Turin. They will be in charge of nearly all the TM logistics in India, as well as the Presidia, so far mustard oil and Basmati rice, the former still at a planning stage and somewhat problematic, the latter already well under way.
There are a further two options for new projects: sugar cane and Nap Hal wheat, for which a tough battle is being fought with Monsanto, who have patented the variety. It is good to speak with people who have become friends and want to help out in the interests of the planet.
Dehra Dun, in Uttar Anchal – about 200 km northeast of New Delhi – is where Navdanya’s farm is located. It is the second time we have been here: we came in 2001 to interview Bija Devi, the force behind the farm which Vandana Shiva was keen to set up. She is a farmer, about 50 years old, who won the Slow Food Award for the Defense of Biodiversity in recognition of her consistent commitment over many years in defending and protecting hundreds of plant species.
We notice that the road is now sealed and the farm is looking very impressive: the building work which had just been starting is now finished and boasts red colors. There is a new laboratory for soil sample analysis, a new library, a common room and rooms for guests and students. Bija is still the same: tiny, with hands which could crush a 10-meter python and enormous eyes that cover half her face, making them even more penetrating.
We eat her excellent chapatis and decide that maybe we do not need to stay in a hotel. The farm is more than welcoming and there are also some interesting people attending one of the courses run by Vandana and her staff. We look round and are again struck by the perfect order, the different shades of green, the silence and the pristine air. To think that Navadanya has saved 300 species of rice and is growing 12 varieties of Basmati alone.
We all eat together in the evening and exchange our stories. There is a Swedish film producer making a documentary about Vandana Shiva who asks us “So, how are preparations for Terra Madre going” We are astonished and pleased at the same time. How come people already know about it? Yes, they do know…
The next day we visit the producers in the Basmati rice Presidium, who live near the farm. The number of farmers who have joined Navdanya (converting their fields to entirely organic cultivation) has increased massively in recent years. The producers sell to Navdanya what they do not need for themselves and the association deals with the marketing, using its ‘buying members’ in New Delhi and the stand at Dilli Haat. Navdanya is continually monitoring the land of its members and pays about 20% more than the market price for rice produced according to its guidelines.
Rice from this zone is cleaned at a ‘mill’ belonging to a Muslim (there are very good relations between Muslims and Hindus in this area) who does not charge. The mill owner keeps the residue from cleaning and sells it as animal feed.
In the afternoon we visit the store where Navdanya holds the still uncleaned rice (called paddy). Here too we are pleasantly surprised. Each bag in the store is labeled with details of the production area, basmati variety (Desi, Dehraduni, Kusturi, Todal etc.) and the name of the producer, so ensuring the total traceability of the product.
When there is demand, the rice is taken to the mill, cleaned (the rice can be polished, unpolished or half-polished) and packed. On our way back we stop off to visit the Tibetan settlement at Dehra Dun, with its stupa, monastery and luxuriant garden. Another unexpected oasis of peace, which even surprises Vandana’s brother Kuldip, who has been with us all day.
Our last evening at the farm sees us savoring an excellent dinner – two varieties of boiled basmati rice, dhal (lentils) and alu gobi (boiled potatoes and cauliflower served in curry sauce) – and chatting under a star-studded sky with Simon, a German who has come as a volunteer to work on the farm for three months, and Federica, an Italian girl who is a research worker at the CNR (National research Council) and speaks excellent Hindi.
Then to bed by ten, which is already pretty late by local standards.
Nicola Ferrero is the Asia and Oceania area coordinator on the Terra Madre project