DAY 10: RASC Member Society Forum

Breyton from South Africa with his favourite goat!

This bright morning, we were brought to the Agriculture research centre where we met the key person for the success of the organising of the Warangal Agricultural Show. Most of us couldn’t stress enough of how much importance it was for Warangal to continue the Agriculture show. We demonstrated how a show can play a very important part in empowering these people; the show can be a medium for sharing ideas and promoting best practise, a vehicle to and a public stage to demonstrate basic principles of best agricultural practise. In doing so, educate and empower the young people giving them motivation and ambition to achieve. We all saw how much pride the famers have for the livestock and the success could be measured from the smiles of the local farmers, volunteers, merchants who had participated.

The Agriculture show is necessary to bring the people together and create that network for sharing of knowledge but it also has to remain relevant and accessible to the locals. In every sense, we would see how there would be many commercial benefits, like networking, showcasing of better agricultural practises and how the show could improve social welfare ( community spirit) to the people which will in turn improve their livelihood as their businesses stay sustainable and profitable.

During the discussion, the importance of the roles of the service extension officers is highlighted. They are the bridge to the technical education of these small holding farms. As literacy is a big problem in this country, government aids, research results and promoted agricultural practices do not get translated for these illiterate farmers who are the most in need of such information.

Many other points which were brought up again are women empowerment and education. It had been reiterated time and again that it is important for women empowerment to break away from the cycle of dependency. In the host’s house where Greg and I visited, the mum also mentioned how her daughter would be married when she turns 16. We also met a cotton farmer in that village who married a 16 year old lady in May this year and she is already 5 months pregnant. Looks like child marriages is, sadly, still very prevalent in Vijayawada!

The press meeting which we has after lunch was (I’m not sorry to say) an absolute waste of time. The reporters and journalists streamed in slowly even in the midst and towards the end of the 1.5 hours session. Phones were going off, blasting hippie Indian music, people talking to one another, journalists arguing about how the sharing of the 17 delegates should be organized, translators explaining the points and examples shared by delegates, people raising their voices questioning if subsidies were given in our respective countries, gasps of disbeliefs when they were told how farmers suicide is a prevalent universal problem. We heaved a heavy sigh of relief as the session was concluded by David.

Indeed there was no rest for the wicked. A de-brief with SYO was then conducted with about 15 of their male farmer volunteers and management team. It was another exasperating 60 mins as questions about subsidies persisted and questions like what kind of agriculture practices are practiced in your country which makes your agriculture industry so much more successful then India. In my head, I was screaming ‘why don’t you visit our countries, smell our air, look at our roads, see our buildings and perhaps you will see the light??” The grass is not always greener on the other side. It is not as though we have lesser problems compared to them. Our team leader of the day Will P, ended that sharing session by getting us to ponder over the difference between the cost of living, such that an Indian family could stay afloat with just 2 cows on 2 acres of land, or in the UK where average farmer need to have at least 150 cows on 150 acres. In NZ, an Av farm is over 232 hectares with 370 milking cows or over 3000 sheep often managed by one fulltime labour unit but no Govt support systems of any sort, a stark comparison to the production system visited!

India is truly incredible which heavy traffic shared with their billions of people, thousands of oxen, schoolchildren, shops only half meters away from the congested roads. Farms are largely owned by small holders who do not have access to transport their produce to the marketplace.

India Farmers should be proud that regardless of their struggles for a better livelihood, by stressing that agriculture is the backbone of India, with 70% of their population directly involved in agricultural practises but it appears they are simply feeding the vast populations with no great thought to the future sustainability of their systems or the great innate potential of their lands!  They will in time come to realize how money cannot be eaten and eventually every gram of produce, which can be churned out will be so valuable when demand eventually outpaced supply.

With the 4 winners of the Commercial Produce stalls.

DAY 6: Visit to Forest Tribal farmers- Kondaparthy and Pambapur

ImageToday we had the privilege of an agricultural technical assistance professor to take us around to the Padi fields. SYO has the very important job of imparting the knowledge of going ‘ organic’ to reduce cost of farming and also to better make use of their farmland. It is a humongous challenge to persuade these farmers to take up sustainable farming practises. It is obvious how these farmers are merely living from hands to mouths. What matters more to them, evidently are the short term gains. As depicted on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the lower level needs have to be satisfied first before they are able to move on to think about making peace with the earth they are living in.

SYO taught the local famers (using the ‘pay it forward’ model) to be the voice of the movement to teach other farmers the know-how of organic farming. We were also shown the various ways of insects control without the use of pesticide. They showed us the compost they made using layers of vegetables scaps and dung. After letting it sit for 10-15 days earthworms are added to eat up the remaining organic matter. This kind of compost does not harm the crops when too much is added.

We were then brought to Machapur village and saw an organic sustainable set up initiated by SYO at one of their resident’s vegetable gardens. They have a facility to rear 7 fishes in a well of 1 m diameter; on the top deck is a chicken coop. Chicken faeces will fall through the grating in the chicken coop which will serve as meals for the fishes. The spent water for rearing these fishes will be used to water the vegetable plots. Quite a simple yet ingenious set up and COULD POSSIBLY be implemented at those communal food gardens around the HDBs.

The last stop was to Kondaparthy Village where I saw Singapore 50 years in the past.  Breyton taught the Tribal clan on the selection of the best goat for mating. Brendon educated them on the importance of de-worming for their pet dogs running stray around the village. Will showed them how to use thimbles when they sew (the description of HOW TO USE was accurate except he demonstrated it on the wrong finger).

As we embarked on this understanding and assistance mission, it did creep into my head if we were being intrusive into the tribal communities; telling them what is right and what is wrong. Do they really need to de-worm their dogs and where else could they get these supplies after the box runs out?

DAY 5: Vijayawada to Warangal

We started the day with a 1.5 hrs ride to Jagayyapet where many of us attended our first church service.  It was indeed one of the most enthralling experience as the music was blasted, emotions were heightened. Some of the girls witnessed what I would call a cathartic release. A member of the church started jumping up and down, and eventually collapsed on the floor with her face buried in her hands n sari. I am presuming that the weekly church service must be a place to let steam as they gathered to praise their maker.

We were also extremely privileged to have our fellow friends, issac, cas ANd Mcloud to contribute to their service with a message, a song and cas playing the drums! Is sac’s message was extremely heartening as he reminded us of our trials and tribulations being part of the  test by God.

We were then led by the vice president of the factory to visit the cotton mill. Seeing the scale of the manufacturing, It was very much an eye opener for many of us.while I marveled at this extensive mechanization, I couldn’t help but also observed the solemn faces of the workers. Though it was a short 15 minutes walk in the factory, many of us came out with irritated throats and eyes. How happy could one be, working in this chain production? Clearly, welfare is far from the concern of the owners, which comes to my next question, if  this factory is entirely indian owned. The massive production chain was sophisticated and certainly in every sense ‘art of the state’ technology. Given the enormous income disparity in this country, I am pretty sure one of the wealthy Indian would be able to throw in that amount of capital.

After which we were brought to Pastor Kumar’s home for lunch. By now, on this 8th day it is needless for me to explain what was served for lunch! Most of us are accustomed to the voluminous amount of rice/ briyani served and the Indian spices used in the curry, vegetables, potatoes, sauces;not forgetting  the warm hospitality we have very fortunately received everywhere we had gone.

We then took a 4 hours coach ride to Warangal where we met the member of paliarment for Warangal, Rajalah Siricilla,  Mayor of Warangal and David. After the official reception, a very elaborated procession awaited us. The Indian boys strutted their stuff as they danced to the Drums and whistles, the procession was also interluded with fire crackers  very seemingly to make the most amount of noise as possible to let our presence be known and felt in this historical town! Most of us felt very honored and grateful to have this procession planned for us as we  joined in the dance, throwing punches in the air. And cas who couldn’t get over the inhibited session at the church, took over the drumming in closing.

After a short 30 mins freshening in the hotel, we were then whisked to Scarvodaya Youth Organisation office. It is saddening to hear from Hepsibah all the countless issues their country are facing. Some of which are pervasive due to the strong culture, i wondered if these old beliefs and  traditions are primarily the reason why poverty remains largely a problem Here. Girl illiteracy, caste system, violence against women, HIV/AIDs. In this county where there is approximately 250 people every Km square, SYO’s job is enormous!

While I tried to look at the issues India is facing in macroscopic ways, I also realized how massive and heavily populated this country is. Due to the severe lack of basic infrastructure (as we may call it), transportation, sewage system, access to health care,  it is extremely difficult to disseminate information of food safety, basic hygiene, other form of campaigns from the government!

At the end of the day, to loosen this heavy heart,  I  rather embrace this diversity of the human race. and To my fellow friends from 11 countries ( including wales as an independent country not part of UK ) please choose to be on one end of the axis which is to appreciate what we have,  and to make use of what we have got – a brain and a heart, to all the people you will meet, 3 rd world or not.

DAY 4: Ramachandrapuram village & Mylavaram Child Labour School

It’s a 1.5 hours ride from the hotel to R Village. About 30-40 farmers had already  gathered at the compound to welcome us. Each of us then gave a very brief introduction of ourselves before the farmers started asking questions. ( please see below)

Panel discussion with the native farmers
1. How to ensure enough Water storage for mango farm ( India suffers from droughts) 
– dukes, create water tanks with shade n plastic base 

2. GM cotton seeds creating a pollution problem affecting Health n skin problems of farmers???
-problem doesn’t lie with the cotton seeds! It’s the way pesticides usage is being abused!
-nationalization of research in crops n fertilizers
– start a farmer co op to start own research
– political reasons

3. Challenges with extreme climate – excess rain  or drought
– know how on the type of crops to grow in different climates 
– limited by $ n simple mechanization 
– try diff crops in diff season.
– water ditch channeling
– drip line for intensive crops very efficient and cost efective

4. How to increase Padi production
– crops rotation – water melons
– resting n re fertilizing the soil with buffalo du
– Break the common disease / cycle
– organic rice to rest the earth
– soil testing ph lime application
– organic matter / dung / green/fallow crops increase water holding capacities of soils they also break disease cycles/resistance
– breed different varieties far more resistant to disease

5. How much land is needed to raise how much quantity of frogs?
LOL. Hilarious that they asked. My only concern is the water quality here which will bound to affect the quality of livestock!! 

Fellow delegates were very helpful to offer suggestions feasible to the Indian farmers in terms of cost and efficiency. Farmers’ responses however was lukewarm as they don’t seem ready to embrace the changes! 

We then travelled to the child labour school where again the host prepared a feast for us!! We ate among ourselves while the children sat on the floor to have their lunch. After which we waited for about an hour while they tidied up the same dining area to set up the seating area for us. To entertain myself and the 50 bright eyed kids, Mcloud and I started asking them to translate the words below to telenggu. 

Goat – meka
Horse – gurram
Frog- kappa
Sheep – gorea
Cow – aavu
Chicken – kodi ( looks easy but I can never get it right!!)
Duck- batu
Egg – guddu
Dog – kukkaa
Cat -pilli
Monkey- koti

The kids did have a lot of fun embarrassing me cos the Indian Rrrrr thingy is one thing I can’t do! The children know very minimum english but were very excited to interact with us. After that there were then a few sharing of the residents about how this NGO had helped changed their lives. Were deeply heartened that there are people like Mr xxx who is believe fervently in this cause. Sadly, we didn’t see any part of the children being educated or the Embroidery Training Project taking place.

We had such a lovely connection with some of these Children, wondering how these innocent lives are ever going to be provided with equal opportunities to education, food and a safe environment. Realizing that they eventually will need to fend for themselves was indeed a poignant moment for me, not knowing where the future of these children will lie.

DAY 3- Exploring the village – Organised by DORDS, India

Living in Singapore is kind of schizophrenic. There’s always 2 polar ends to every issue. While we complain about lack of communication with the government, not enough support for farmers, insufficient infrastructure in the countryside, we tell our foreign friends which make up 2/5 of our country how fantastic that expanding MRT services are, how  safe the streets which we travel on are, how advanced our medical services are, not to mention that good education system set in place. At the end of today, I retrospected and introspected – our appreciation of life.

Kanchikacherla Village

Today I have seen a simple family of 5 living happily in the living / bedroom/ kitchen of 15 sqm,  a v v basic toilet facility ( how basic? It’s simply a 3 by 3 sqf space with a few buckets of water n a hole through the wall to drain out your piss and god knows wat) in a small courtyard. 

Daily meals include white rice n curry. Briyani  (yellow rice) n curry chicken / curd only 4 times a month. Their entertainment was a b&w 30cm by 30 cm TV with only 1 channel playing daily. They really enjoyed playing host n prepared a lot sweet snacks for us. While we were introducing ourselves, the crowd built up and before we knew it, we were whisked from houses to house. Each house with the similar architecture which is bedroom which doubles up as living space n a kitchen or work storage.

First neighbor we were introduced to was the host (Malleswari)’s friend, the cotton farmer. He has set aside an entire room of cotton.  His family consists of his blind sister and his 16 year old wife who is 5 months pregnant. I have just learnt from Noel ( this trip’s facilitator) that the legal age to get married should be 18. Any people whom had witnessed or know of their union would have to be jailed up to 2 years. Honestly, besides being shocked by their ages ( the husband is 21), they do look very blissfully married though that is a typical arranged marriage.

As we made our way out, we met M’s daughter Prasanna and then being ushered v quickly  to her community programme member, who is a seamstress. She was sewing a blouse as part of the make up for a sari  assemblage. Sewing machine was placed beside her bed as that bed doubles up as a seat. They quickly decided to put me in a Sari as I was curious about the length of the cloth and how to wear one. Great experience as i did felt very special as they fussed over me looking for accessories/ pinning the sari to adorn on me. The seamstress then let down my hair, combed it and pasted a red round sticker on my forehead. I was then told that I just got married. To who? I do not know.

Malleeswari insisted that I keep the sari set which comprised of the 5.5 m cloth, blouse and an inner slip skirt. I WOULD have LOVED to keep it but thinking that they would have 1 less.. I reluctantly rejected their offer. Instead, I asked them for their address so that I can send them a Singapore dress ( which obviously is a Topshop or Zara). They then started fluttering around again tossing out stacks of clothing and what emerged was a Punjabi Top. Clearly, AdDRESS became a dress. 

Instead of changing back to the NG shirt, I was in a v flash, pretty sequined and beaded punjabi dress. Again they paired  the dress with matching green scarf and pants. The profile we’ve got from the Trip leaders Leona and John stated that this family was poor and her husband worked in other people’s fields! But their generosity was simply mind blowing and really shouldn’t be taken as a given! 

We spent about another hour sitting in the courtyard doing henna ( hand painting). We could never station too long in an area as the local kids and neighbours starting swarming around us and we were pretty much obliged to visit more homes take more pictures and then visiting a church and a massive cotton farm!

Did I forget to mention about the lunch? It was OMG.^_* a LOT.

DAY 2: Traveling to Vijaywada

We were given a de-brief first thing in the morning. Many hindu rules and practices were explained to us. Wats ironic in my mind is that men to take care of the ladies in India. Like how our fellow delegate Hapsibah has a male  farmer to follow her around to make sure she is all right. In Singapore’s context we might call that being over protective and just for sharing, there’s a social stigma in Singapore that most domestic violence happen more in Indian families then any other races!

We were also told that not only cleavages were a no no, might b better idea to keep the entire chest out of sight – by wearing a scarf! Also tight clothings are absolutely frowned upon. This completely contradicts how Singaporean  Indians wear back at home. I always tot that their saris are one of the most sexy n attractive costume! We were also told to take instructions as they were given, in order for things to move n for us to be safe.

At the international airport, we saw many guards dressed in military clothings. Some of them in the land rover n had a machine gun perched on the open top of the vehicle. That to me is unsettling. As much as we know the reasons behind this defence, some of us were scared stiff! Sadly In the discussion, many delegates feedback that they probably would not travel to this airport or rather to India again due to this uncomfortably tight security check.

Finally reached Vijayawada on kingfisher jet. It was indeed a rollarcoster experience with a pun intended. We were introduced to our Indian guides who took us to our hotel ( the gateway). We were greeted with such warmth n hospitality that I think is truly amazing with the Indian culture! They handed out freshly wrapped, hand held bouquets n bottles of cold water was quickly disseminated to each of us! The Helpers deftly climbed up the already pretty tall bus n tossed all the remaining luggages which couldn’t fit into the small boot on top of the bus!

Spoke to Cassie on the short flight n listened to her sharing about the influx of foreigners in Sydney n competition with vet jobs etc. She was rather candid about the explaining how the Asians always overachieving in results and she’ll be safe n have not problem with it that Sydney always need Vets in the countryside where criteria for entry was not so stringent! 

On the way to visiting a couple of Hindu temples, I sat with Mildred from Zambia, and queried her on her experience in Singapore.  She then shared how rice is only eating on special occasions, corn flour mix was eating as staples, and at times rice could be only  eaten with sugar. while we have tried to play a good host, I did wondered if we could have practiced some LOHAS value by serving the meals in smaller portions ( simply because we human are not like cows! We do not need to eat by the gallons!!) 

The day came to a close with a big Indian traditional dinner which I practiced eating with my fingers! It was fun in the beginning but towards the end, OMG. Cementing ( as Anna put it) the rice with buffalo curd and den scoffing it down your throat was far from a pleasant experience. The FANTASTICALLY delicious Meal at the beginning, felt like a OMG. It is SO ENOUGH. 

We then took a short walk back to the hotel. I was still keeping my eyes open for a Chinese person.

Interestingly, i Did meet this chinese person who also turned out to be a fellow Singaporean in the hotel lift!

‘hi! For 2 days i’have been looking out for a chinese! Did not expect to meet a Singaporean here!”

‘ So which company do you work for?”

‘ jurongfrogfarm’

“Jurong wat?”

” frog farm”

“Sorry, I beg your pardon?”

‘F-R-o-g’ 

Blank look…. The end.

Before I end off,  issac, the very very sweet GHanian, gave me some of their local goodies- pouch, bangle, earrings, keychain from Ghana which reads “Greetings from Ghana the land of Gold”. Its so True with Issac being the ambassador for his country. He is truly a GEM n i’m totally touched.

DAY 1: HYDERABAD

Day 1 –  hyderabad. 

The weather  was good at 21 degrees when we arrived here. This place has a system of very stringent security checks and everyone was puzzled how their bags were going through the layers of security right from arrival at the airport to the hotel! We stayed in novotel airport hotel. This place is massive n modernly constructed. Even the free Internet kiosk were powered by MacBooks!I only found out last night upon arrival that t shirts ( those cap sleeves) n the berms I brought were not adequate at the places which I’ll be visiting. Luckily we have native guides who will take us to the local market to stock up some of these clothing.

I’m v curious on the types of social/agriculture issues pressing ones or not which will unfold themselves as we travel from place to place. Already we hv been intro to problems like domestic violence, child slavery, sanitation, agriculture habits  through the sharing with some of the natives from Hyderabad.In Singapore, our problem is serious as well except that it is Not starkly in your face. Given a small land area with conflicting land use, our government sees defense/economic development being more important than security of supply of food! What fight would it be if our army do not know how to grow their own food. Even food could be used as a warfare, just like water isn’t it? We are facing a war now against these issues much higher on national agenda ( an so we think) but with most of our fellow countrymen living in abundance and comfort, It’s somehow, ironically hard, to instill the thought that food security has to be prioritized! People need to be taught n trained and seeds take time to grow!  In the light of the natural disasters in our neighboring food exporting countries, i’m praying that this will inadvertently start to awaken Singaporean’s sleeping minds.