Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Where Does Our Food Come From?

Interacting with residents at a slum in Orissa
Elizabeth Jones is the Acting Public Affairs Officer.  Before joining the Foreign Service, she worked as an education consultant in Chengdu, China.  She has a degree in Chinese Language and Literature from Middlebury College.  In India, she enjoys shopping, traveling, and playing with her new Hyderabadi puppy.

One of my favorite parts about working in Public Affairs is meeting new people and organizing connections between Americans and Indians.  When James Godsil came from the U.S. to India to share his expertise on aquaculture, I got the opportunity to connect him with community leaders and farmers in Orissa. 

James Godsil is one of the co-founders of Sweet Water Organics, an innovative project that raises fish and vegetables in the same system.  Godsil is passionate about sustainable organic food for everyone, and the Sweet Water project shows how good food can be produced effectively and efficiently even in the middle of a city!
Since he was here to talk about sustainable agriculture and aquaculture, we decided that Orissa was the perfect place to go to learn more about farming, fishing, and water issues.  (Also, I had never been to Orissa, and I was eager to see it!) Our first stop was an urban slum in Cuttack where an NGO was working with tribal women to grow their own produce in organic kitchen gardens.  The villagers were proud of their work, and they had every right to be. Although they were constrained by space and resources, they were able to grow their own organic food and feed their families. 
Next, we drove out of the city to lush rice paddies and sugarcane fields where the farmers had set up an irrigation system from the river that runs through the city of Bhubeneswar.  The farmers told us that the river water, pure enough to drink 15 years ago, was now polluted with raw sewage and heavy metals from industrial waste. The farmers did not know what kind of health implications this pollution would have on them or the people eating food produced in these fields, but they knew there was something wrong.  The farmers were frustrated, they told us, because they were farming the same way generations before them had with simple, effective techniques, but the quality of the water was deteriorating due to factors out of their control.  They are communicating with scientists who test the water and submit reports to the state government, but it will take a long time to clean up the river and develop an effective waste management system other than the river.
My favorite part of the trip was seeing Chilika Lake, one of the largest lakes in India.  It is technically a lagoon and it is filled with brackish water as the rivers flow into the ocean.  Early in the morning we took a boat ride out into the lake on the search for Irawaddy dolphins, natives of India's brackish water bodies.  We were lucky enough to spot a few dorsal fins!  Speaking of fish, I also got to eat some delicious Oriyan seafood!

The Chilika Lake
Chilika Lake is surrounded by fertile land as the rivers flow into the lagoon.  We drove inland past green fields and small rectangular pond plots to visit a village of local fishermen and farmers who were struggling to raise prawns.  Despite their best efforts, bacterial infections plagued their prawns, killing them off.  The farmers were disappointed by their past failures, but they still struggled to participate in the prawn trade in Orissa, and they were eager to learn more about innovative methods in producing seafood.

The people I met in Orissa are struggling with the same question many in the U.S. are also struggling with: What should we eat? The question of how to feed ourselves is one that seems simple but is actually growing more and more difficult.  As the world develops and modernizes, many of us do not even think about where our food comes from, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to make sure the food we eat is healthful and the way we grow it is sustainable.  This deceptively simple issue is also controversial as it brings up issues of competition between small farmers and large industrial farms and food companies, preserving clean water, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers (just to name a few).  James Godsil’s visit was an excellent reminder of the importance of issues such as food security and environmental protection, which have serious consequences for both the environment and the health of individuals.

1 comment:

  1. The blog has been able to present the update of the lives of fishery community and the challenges that they are encountering. It excited me to learn about Mr. James Godsil's Sweet Water Organics, project that raises fish and vegetables in the same system. It is something similar work that I saw in M.S.Swaminathan Foundation,Puducherry.

    It is quite interesting to know a little about Elizabeth Jones through this blog.