Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Indian Agriculture--Human and Ox Powered

This Tuesday was the festival of Pongal and we had the day off. I didn't actually know we had the day off until shortly before the end of the day on Monday but apparently everyone else did. This ox was pulling a cart of vegetables on a street in Bangalore in his holiday garb. Unfortunately I missed the top of his horns trying to snap the picture with my cell phone. The tops of the horns have bells so that he jingles as he walks along. Pongal is a harvest festival and new year's festival and goes by other names in other parts of India. Originally it was aligned with the winter solstice but has gotten a bit out of sync over the years. It is a time to worship the sun god, Surya (also called Aditya) and dates back to very ancient times before the arrival of the Aryans. It is also a time to put away your old bad habits and begin life anew in the new year.
My Hindi tutor came late that day, so that she could go and worship before coming. When she came she brought some traditional festival food, sweet noodles in a cream sauce, sweetened rice, and spicy deep fried treats that were something like a donut holes. She reported that they had prayed for Donna and me and Peter and Paul. Her husband teaches Donna Kannada and they are both very nice.
Since this was the harvest festival is seems an appropriate time to post these pictures that we took while touring temples in southern Karnataka with Paul, and talk about agriculture, which is for the most part still very much third world methods. We did see a few tractors pulling farm wagons loaded with the harvest; they all appeared to be at least thirty years old. Mostly the harvest was being brought in by ox-drawn carts. Notice that this cart has pneumatic tires with modern axles but otherwise is made of rough, unfinished wood. Carts with spoked wooden wheels are also seen, but are much less common. The two crops we saw being harvested were rice and sugar cane. Both are cut and collected by hand.

Like all grains rice needs to be threshed and winnowed. Threshing is the process of mechanically breaking open the grain so the chaff can be thrown away and the kernel can be collected for food. Here we see a threshing machine powered by a gasoline engine. This machine does both the threshing and the winnowing. We saw many less advanced techniques being used for threshing; people beating the grain, animals walking on it, and in one place they were spreading it on the road for the passing traffic to run over it, then sweeping it up. The tall vegetation in the background is sugar cane also ready for harvesting.

After threshing, winnowing is the process of separating the grain from the chaff (non-edible parts of the plant). Because the grain is denser this can be done by tossing the mixture in the air and letting the wind blow away the lighter chaff, as these men were doing before they stopped to pose for the picture. The baskets two of the men are holding are specially designed for this purpose. Note the blue plastic tarp being used to keep the grain cleaner than working on the bare ground. Other than that innovation, nothing about this process has changed in hundreds of years. Except for the one threshing machine, everywhere we saw winnowing going on it was done by human beings lifting the grain into the air for the wind to blow away the chaff.
Indian agriculture accounts for 60% of the employment in the country but only 20% GDP (value of total goods produced). This relative inefficiency leaves the agriculture workers more poor than most in a country where poverty is everywhere. Through the green revolution 40 years ago India gained the ability to feed itself. Now in the last two years India has had to import grain, in part because farmers are shifting from basic food crops to cash crops like mushrooms and sweet corn. India needs to improve farm productivity so that farmers can afford to feed the country. But where will the 10s of millions of displaced farm workers find jobs? The cities are already filling with migrants from the countryside seeking jobs that are not there--at least not for the under-educated poor of India.

6 comments:

Karen said...

Hi there Joe and Donna!! Thanks for the new entry, keep 'em coming!! I didn't get any pics on my blog. Drat. We continue to remember you and pray for you on this journey. Maybe if you are EXTRA good I will actually get a box out of my house this week to send to you. And by the way, after reading those descriptions, I will never eat grain from India. What happens to the cow poop when they walk all over it to separate it??? I am sure I dont want to know!! Love you both, Karen and Phil

Karen said...

Hey, great job on the pics! I feel like I am looking at an article in National Geographic of some unknown tribe. Incredible!! I am still working on getting my act together with the mail. Dont give up on me yet! Love you both, Karen

Caryn said...

That is one of the things that is so interesting about India...it's like going back in time in so many ways. I have a picture somewhere of me in rural Andhra Pradesh with the winnowing basket thing...same story, they were using the passing traffic to roll over the rice and then using the baskets to winnow it out.

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