New Internationalist

Bangalore’s urban agriculture boom

Some good news for a change. I found a really interesting article in a Bangalore paper. It said Bangaloreans are fed up of rocketing vegetable prices and have started composting their rubbish to grow veggies in bags, buckets and old boxes on their rooftops and any available spaces.

Before it hit the headlines in the mid nineties, as a high-tech international ‘IT city’, which Bangalored jobs from all around the globe, Bangalore was known as ‘India’s garden city’, a pensioner’s paradise. It was a charming little town, sleepy and laid back. Everyone took pride in their gardens. Even now, apart from the terrible infrastructure because the city couldn’t cope with the huge influx of people who flooded in to run the IT centres, the old parts of Bangalore town are still charming. Quiet, safe neighbourhoods filled with trees, flowers, cottages,  tiled roofs, and nice old houses: generally a far nicer city than Mumbai, Delhi or Kolkata.

The centre of Bangalore has tree lined avenues and people fight to save their trees from widening roads and gigantic flyovers. Sadly, it’s often, a losing battle. In late January, February and March you see bluey-purple Jacaranda, interspersed with golden laburnum. May is a blaze of scarlet Gul Mohur. Each season has something new to offer. The old parts are changing rapidly though, because land prices have gone sky high. The result of the Bangalore boom is that huge tracts of agricultural lands and fertile farm lands have been gobbled up to grow the city.

When I lived there in the early eighties, my in-law’s family farm was surrounded by grape vineyards full of the famous Bangalore blues. There were fields full of ragi, a millet that supposedly contains the highest levels of calcium of any grain available. It was the staple food of Karnataka. Bangalore is the capital of this state. In any area where ragi is eaten, children are less likely to be malnourished, because it’s so nutritious, far better than rice or wheat. Our health team in Gudalur, give it to malnourished children, pregnant and lactating mothers. It’s also excellent for menopausal women and old people.

Thirty years later, the city has grown gigantic, wiping out all the surrounding farms. Water is scarce as every new family installs a bore well to compensate for a poor water supply from the civic amenities department. So farmers struggle to grow their old crops.

It’s nice therefore, to read that Bangaloreans are starting a movement to grow organic food for their families. More and more people are coming to the conclusion that the epidemic of cancer we appear to be facing, (most families have someone fighting a cancer battle) is a direct result of our food chain being totally contaminated with poisons from pesticides and fertilizers. Television spreads messages rapidly, even to illiterate populations. People are better informed now, because of TV and there are loads of programmes about organic food.

Of course, each time you experience the joy of picking something fresh and pure from your garden to pop into the pot it’s a special experience. Almost addictive really. We are fortunate that in our tropical climate, everything grows like a weed! Every single person who cooks something they’ve grown shares the story along with a handful of veggies, inspiring others to do likewise. It’s catching on. Let’s hope the movement grows and spreads and fills the earth. We need something like this, so desperately. And though it’s poor compensation, it’s nice that the city folk who displaced the trees and ragi fields are doing their bit. Payback time is poetic justice in a way.

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  1. #1 Rowena Young 27 Nov 11

    It's hard to know whether people who grow their own gain more from a ready supply of the freshest, healthiest food, or simply tending these marvellous acts of nature. People from all walks of life in the UK are also rediscovering their spades, and while health is one of their concerns, what keeps them at it is the sheer pleasure.

    For this double dividend, it would be great to see the planning authorities in Bangalore joing the movement and complementing bags, buckets, and boxes with park plots, edible roofs and market gardens. The tech industry has been good for the wealth of Bangalore's citizens, but it would be even better balanced by more of the things that make people well.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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