Category Archives: Food Sovereignty

Eating brown rice and cooking with rice bran oil – A paradox?

Every few years newspapers and magazines will quote medical practitioners, nutritionists and other health gurus to tell us that a certain cooking fat is the super-oil. Traditionally used oils such as mustard, coconut, groundnut, sesame, rapeseed will be discarded and people will start rushing to buy this new super-oil. Advertisements on television, in magazines and newspapers will extol the virtues of the new heart-healthy oil…saffola, sunola, olive oil and so on. The last one not from an oil seed traditionally grown in India. More recently the praises of rice bran oil are being sung loudly as the next heart-healthy oil. It is different from the rest – it is not from an oil seed unlike all traditional oils. So what is it? If you take a grain of paddy and remove the hull (see Figure of Rice Grain Structure below) what we are left with is unpolished brown rice.



At this stage rice is a whole grain and is rich in dietary fibre, various  antioxidants, minerals and some vitamins. When this grain of rice is polished to make white rice (so that it can be stored easily for long duration)  the dark layers called “bran” are removed. This bran is rich in oils and it is this oil that is being extracted to produce rice bran oil. Traditionally in India and other South Asian countries, rice bran has been used as animal feed. In parts of India (e.g., Kerala) where rice is consumed as parboiled rice, some of the bran is held in the rice grain during the parboiling process thereby retaining the fibre and nutritional value of rice. When we consume white, polished rice we are essentially consuming a refined grain that is primarily a source of starch with very little dietary fibre.

With this context let us look at the brown-rice-rice bran oil paradox. Whole grains are more nutritious, they have a low glycemic index, and in a population with increasing incidence of diabetes there is a great demand for whole grains such as brown rice or rice with bran. This demand is more in urban areas among the upper middle class. Demand for rice bran oil is also increasing in this class of society because it has a mild flavour, very suitable for high-temperature cooking like frying and is purported to be a heart-healthy oil. In addition, no manifestations of allergies have been reported with this oil, a fear that many urban Indians are beginning to express with groundnut oil (another import from globalisation – peanut allergy)!

Doctors are recommending rice bran oil because its active constituents reportedly improve blood cholesterol and increase the proportion of the good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol). So if you are really conscious of your health then you will want to eat brown rice (rice with bran intact) and use rice bran oil for cooking.

Let us look at the rest of the country, particularly those classified as BPL. The Public Distribution System (PDS) provides polished, white rice (completely devoid of bran) which has very low nutritive value. Even those who grow some paddy for home consumption take their paddy to be dehulled and polished and largely consume polished white rice as it is easier to cook and is considered a sign of affluence. The PDS also provides palm oil (most of which is imported) at subsidised prices and not rice bran oil or any other oil that is grown and produced locally.

The dilemma now is that we want more people to eat whole grain and brown rice since it is more nutritious. Diabetes and hypertension is increasing in out urban and rural areas which we want to address through increase of whole grains in diet. But we are also being told that we should replace our traditional oils with rice bran oil since it is “heart-healthy”. A third dimension to this is that the nutritious bran which traditionally was used by farmers to prepare cattle feed is not easily available. Farmers are dependent on poor quality synthetic feed which has impacted animal health as well as the quality of milk. Recently in August 2015, the Government of India removed quantitative restrictions on export of rice bran oil so there is bulk export of this oil while India continues to be major importer of edible oils.

Over the years Government policy dominated by international commitments to WTO and agribusiness has destroyed the highly diverse local oilseeds sector (mustard oil in the east and north, groundnut and rapeseed oil in the west, central and peninsular India, sesame oil in the South and coconut oil in coastal India) and with it impacted food cultures, nutrition and health of the present and future generations. In addition the health bulletins (often pushed by the agribusiness lobby) condemning  traditional oils have tried to prescribe a uniform standard oil for everybody irrespective of their place of origin and traditional diet. The latest target is the rice grain! The nutritious bran which if held in the grain can be an excellent source of nutrition for our population. However what is happening is that the bran (with it the nutrition) is being stripped from the grain, oil extracted largely for a small section of the domestic market, but mostly for an export market, leaving behind the white, empty calories. The irony of this is incredible.

So to come back to the question: Can we eat brown rice and cook with rice bran oil? We have another option: Stick to our traditional oils, eat brown rice and use our own agency to assert our control over our food system.


The Milk Crises 2015 – Fracturing the backbone of the Indian Dairy Sector

Expand, grow, consolidate and let’s join the Big Boys! This is the mantra that Indian policy makers (politicians and their advisors) have been chanting. For over 20 years now they have been telling us that unbridled growth, urbanisation and deserting rural landscapes are the only way out of poverty. Reality on the ground: more malnutrition, unemployment, greater deprivation, violence, debt-ridden rural families, fractured education system, regressive governance. The latest casualty of this environment is the Indian Dairy Sector – a sector that was touted as the sunshine sector of the liberalised India.

While our mainstream news reporters and political spokespersons are distracting us with their ludicrous shenanigans there is a massive milk crises unfolding in the country. A crisis that is threatening to destroy (for the first time) the “resilient” people’s milk market. Today India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk and its backbone are the millions of small dairy farmers across the country. The domestic dairy sector even today is dominated by what is termed the “informal market” which is really the people’s market built by small farmers, milk vendors, cooperatives. A vibrant market built on experiential knowledge and resilient local cycles of production and consumption.

However as the Government’s chant of Bigger is Better grows more and more strident this resilient sector is facing a grave crisis. In May 2015, we at the Food Sovereignty Alliance were alerted to the crises by our member farmer sanghas from Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh and Medak in Telangana. As we tried to understand the depths of the crises it rapidly emerged that this is not just a crisis for small dairy farmers in A.P and Telangana but one that is engulfing farmers across the country.

Further research showed us that the crises was global! Small farmers in the EU, UK, US were suffering the same fate. The crux of the crises in India and globally is – the price at which milk is being procured by dairy processors from small farmers is much lower than the cost of production of one litre of milk. This is driving farmers deeper and deeper into debt.  This is in spite of the fact that farmers in the EU, UK and US have tremendous Government support. In India there is no safety net for these small farmers. Neither State nor the Central Government have taken any serious action to protect small farmer livelihoods since the onset of the crises.

In the UK and Europe mainstream media is highlighting this as a global dairy crises and some are even saying that “the crisis is too important to be left to the market.” To quote a recent piece from the Guardian “Being at the whim of the world’s commodity markets means a farmer in Cheshire is vulnerable to a fall in demand from China, and Russia’s ban on EU food imports in retaliation for Brussels-imposed sanctions”. This is going to be India’s reality very soon – a farmer in Chittoor is vulnerable to a fall in global skimmed milk prices triggered by China and Russia’s import bans or by Europe’s dumping of excess dairy products.

India’s dairy sector unlike that in the EU, UK and US was and is dominated by the “people’s market”. This made it resilient providing an assured source of livelihood for the small dairy farmers. As the Government aggressively tries to integrate the sector into the global market, lives and livelihoods of these small farmers are becoming increasingly vulnerable. If India continues on this course, small farmers will be destroyed. This is extremely serious given the agrarian distress that the country is facing. In a situation when livelihoods based on agriculture are becoming unpredictable, due to erratic weather patterns, dairying is the one hope for these small farmers.

In an effort to bring attention to this crisis and chalk out a strategy for a way forward, the Food Sovereignty Alliance convened a dialogue of farmers’ groups on October 21, 2015 at Chennai. Farmers’  Groups from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, representatives of the South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements and the Bharatiya Kisan Union participated in the dialogue. Details of the dialogue and proposed next actions are available at the Food Sovereignty Alliance’s blog.

This crisis is not one for the farmers alone. It is our crisis. All of us as global citizens must begin to ask ourselves at least a few questions – Where does our food come from? Are we drinking real milk? What goes into producing our food – vegetables, fruit, milk, meat, eggs, fish? Who makes it possible for us to eat? If we don’t then we will be party to the destruction of the lives and livelihoods of these small farmers and then where will our food come from?

Our very own Santha (Farmers’ Market)

The idea of fresh, seasonal vegetables, freshly plucked leafy greens making their way to your plate in a few hours has immense appeal to most of us. While it might be a bit of a dream for the urbans among us for those of us living in this corner of rural Rayalseema it is a real possibility. On most evenings women come around to our houses with fresh greens, brinjals, okra, gourds (or whatever else the season permits). The idea of having a santha however was more exciting. One could pick up a few recipes along with the vegetables and some local gossip as well! Although agriculture is one of the main sources of livelihoods for small farmers in the area they would travel about 10-20 km to the nearest wholesale market or bus depot to transport vegetables to Bengaluru, Chennai etc. It was surprising to some of us that there was no local santha. After a year and a half of deliberation and discussion at hamlet level meetings, womens’ group meetings etc. the santha became a reality on January 19, 2014. Women were vocal about the need for one and their reasons were many…..

Food prices have skyrocketed. Those among us who are landless or have land but no water have to go to the santha at Angallu or Madanapalle (which are 10-20 km away). This means we have to take an auto or a bus so add the transport fare to the cost of the vegetables and it becomes inaffordable. How can we afford to eat vegetables regularly?

Our men usually go to the santha since we have to cook, clean, take care of animals and children. The men take Rs. 100 with them, come back with vegetables worth Rs. 50 and spend the rest on drink or some other worthless item. If we have a santha nearby, we women can go there walking, buy fresh vegetables and greens for a lesser price without spending money like the men do! And we can do this while managing the home.

Our own santha will mean that all of us living in this Panchayat can sell our produce locally. We don’t have to pay for transportation, take it to another santha where a middleman will offer to take it off us for a wholesale price and make money on our produce. We the producers will get a good price…a price that we deserve for our produce. The customers like you and other teachers at Rishi Valley and the residents of our Panchayat will also benefit. They will get fresh produce at a reasonable price.

In the face of all this what arguments can there be for not setting up a santha.

Most of the arguments were political. A leader must get credit for setting up the santha….political mileage could be pretty high. The previous Panchayat leadership kept postponing the setting up of the santha. As the old order changed yielding place to new – we elected a new Sarpanch in June-July 2013 – all barriers (political and otherwise) to setting up a santha were overcome. The site selected was by the Paleti Gangamma Temple (goddess of rain for the goatherds and shepherds) under the shade of tamarind trees and a Nux Vomica tree lining both sides of a Panchayat road that connects the Highway to various hamlets in the Panchayat.

So here we are creating our own markets!

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Fresh veggies – beans, tomatoes, chillies, greens, radish, field beans, potatoes, onions, garlic…… this season. We can look forward to all shapes and types of  gourds in the summer.

Our santha is a Sunday market, a socializing space where stories and recipes are exchanged and where bulls and cows wander in and out.


This week’s market saw the Devayaddu or the sacred bull blessing the vendors. He picked on a few tomatoes  from one vendor, a few veggies from another and moved on…taking only a little as tax for his blessing unlike the Indian tax man or the Finance Minister as a friend remarked 🙂

Celebrating food…..Celebrating a way of life…

Dedicated to G. Nammalvar (Aiyya)…………

There were more than 300 of us – adivasis, dalits, shepherds, goatherds, peasants, students and activists – along the banks of the Pellipadugu Kalva celebrating food and the ways of life that produce this food. Three days (December 28-30, 2013) of deliberations, animated debates, dialogues and celebration on topics ranging from what is food sovereignty, articulating the real meaning of “the market”, the role of the State, globalisation, world trade and food to the struggles and successes of people in gaining control over our food, our seeds, our land and our water.  In this post I’d like to share the experience more through pictures rather than words (a departure from the usual style of this blog)!

The landscape that hosted the Summit……hills and forests encircled the meadow where the celebrations, dialogues and debates were held  with the Pellipadugu Kalwa providing us water.


Korra (Foxtail millet) being handpounded for breakfast on the first day….


Planning in progress….tasks being assigned to the team! Toranas being tied….


Dialogue spaces, sleeping quarters, toilets everything being built with local material and local skills……no plastic, no cement, no brick! Handpainted murals on canvas flanked the stage set up for panel discussions. The stage was made with compacted mud and held together with bamboo….



We prayed to Bhutalli to bless and protect us…..with offerings of seeds brought from various corners of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. The offerings were celebrated with song and dance…



We talked …… large groups and small groups, through plenary sessions and in dialogue areas, over food, in the mornings, late into the night deliberating on the meaning of food sovereignty, our definitions of markets, our expectations of the State, our expectations of ourselves as individuals and as a collective, about trade and the WTO, about seed sovereignty……..we shared stories of our struggles and experiences, successes and setbacks….learning from each other and strengthening the alliance, that was emerging, to gain control of our food.

The threats to our food system, the struggles to overcome these threats and the spirit of freedom were captured in a street play Bhutalli. We did not just watch the play under the stars but were a part of it…were provoked by it and responded in spirit and action.

CIMG3480CIMG3482CIMG3505CIMG3495CIMG3506 all this happening around the tree where offerings had been made to Bhutalli.

We exchanged seeds and what a diversity there was of grain, pulses, vegetables from over nine districts…..

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We celebrated the diversity of seeds and the diversity of food…..korra upma, ragi ambili, jonna annam, fresh fish from the Godavari, ragi sankati, mutton curry, pumpkin sambar all cooked on site by our farmer and adivasi friends from the various districts….. traditional sweets and steamed tubers were served with tea as we continued our discussions. No paper and no plastic….leafy plates that when disposed would become part of the landscape…..


At the end of the deliberations and the celebration we put forth a declaration…..the Pellipadugu Declaration on Food Sovereignty – a new alliance was born. A draft prepared in Telugu and English was read out and comments, edits invited….it was then finalised and signed by all of us with the resolution to take it forward through action – individually and collectively!


The people who hosted us …….the Girijan Deepika team at D. Bhimvaram in Addatheegala Mandal, East Godavari District and the young volunteers who made it all seem effortless!



We bid our goodbyes while resolving to take the Declaration forward and empower ourselves with the sovereign right to our food! Till we meet next year…..


Nammalvar (aiyya) who was there at the first Food Sovereignty Summit in 2009 could not be with us this year but we know he was with us in spirit as we drafted and signed the declaration on December 30, 2013. He passed away on that same day fighting against the destruction of groundwater in Thanjavur District…..

The Pellipadugu Declaration on Food Sovereignty

We the adivasi, dalit, pastoralist, peasant, scientist and student communities have gathered here from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, between 28th and 30th December 2013, in D. Bhimavaram village of the adivasi territories, with the collective concern to defend our sovereign right to food and the rights of mother earth.

We deliberated on the fundamental questions that concern our food: the plunder of our resources; the threats to seed sovereignty; the health of our soils; the commodification of our biodiversity, knowledge and cultures; and the destruction of our local markets by the Global Corporate industrial food complex.

For us, food is the abundance of life that mother earth provides: the diversity of grains, pulses, oil seeds, tubers, fruits, vegetables, animals, insects, fish; and the associated food cultures celebrated in our various communities. Ownership and control of land is central to our struggle for food. Markets are networks of relationships to protect, sustain and nurture our food through local reciprocal systems of exchange. They are not spaces to extract profit.

Women are leaders in the Food Sovereignty Movement. It is women who are at the frontlines of struggles for Food justice; and challenging patriarchy is an integral part of restoring Food Sovereignty.

We reaffirm the power in our peasant food webs to feed ourselves and to resist the corporate capture of our lives.

We declare that our lands, forests, water, air, diversity, seeds, knowledge and cultures are not for sale. We will resist the monetization of our lives and resources.

We assert that food security can only be met through Food Sovereignty.

We call upon the State with the following demands:

We demand that the State implement without further delay, the recognition of individual rights and community forest rights according to customary boundaries of adivasi and other traditional forest dweller communities.

We demand that the State uphold the supreme powers of the gram sabha under the Panchayat Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

We demand that the State commit its resources to our autonomous local systems of production, procurement and distribution to ensure food security.

We condemn the State-Corporate nexus that has decimated our farming systems: including seeds, agronomic practices, dairy, poultry and fisheries.

We further condemn the State’s continued aggressive promotion of national and multinational Corporates to take over the last bastions of autonomous farming: adivasi food cultures and pastoralist livelihoods.

We condemn the decision of Government of India  to ratify the “Peace Clause” at the Bali round of the WTO negotiations, that trades away our sovereign right to define our food systems.

We call for a moratorium on all  ‘Free Trade Agreements’ that destroy our lives and livelihoods.

We oppose the entry of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Food and Retail.

We strongly condemn State efforts to promote genetically modified crops and call for a moratorium on all field trials in accordance with the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee on GMOs,  appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

We oppose the global patent regime that privatises and commodifies our knowledge and biodiversity.

We denounce the false market solutions to climate change, and declare that Food Sovereignty is the only way to build resilience and in fact combat the Global Food Industrial System as a primary driver of climate change.

We call for the roll back of destructive State programs such as INSIMP, which in the name of promoting millets, threatens local biodiverse and autonomous agro-ecosystems.

We demand a halt to all monoculture plantations in our fields and forests.

We commit to the following actions:

We shall continue to defend our rights over our lands, forests, water and air.

We commit to deepening our relationships and traditions of reciprocity and collectivism as a means of solidarity with one another. This solidarity is the basis to resist the violence of the corporate food industry.

We shall build power through democratic local systems of governance to further food sovereignty.

We will use the power of our vote to raise Food Sovereignty as a political issue.

We shall shift from growing commodity monocultures to cultivating diverse food crops, through ecological and organic farming practices.

We shall save and exchange our seeds and thereby resist the corporate seed markets.

There is an interdependency between animals, crops, forests, water and other resources of the commons that has been broken by the industrialization of our food systems. We shall restore these broken links by rebuilding our indigenous animal resources, which in turn nourish and are nourished by these commons.

We shall reestablish local markets as a means to exchange our produce with one another, and to feed and support local communities.

We celebrate the spirit and commitment of young people in the food sovereignty movement.

We shall conscientiously nurture intergenerational spaces within our movements for sharing knowledge and practices for the future.

We hereby come together as a Food Sovereignty alliance between our movements, which shall advance this shared vision.

December 30th 2013

Pellipadugu Kalwa, D. Bhimavaram village, Addateegala Mandal, East Godavari , AP

V. Murugamma and V.Krishnamma, Dalit Mahila Sangham, Chittoor

K. Pandu Dora, National Convenor, Adivasi Aikya Vedika

M. Shivaprasad, Convenor- Telangana, Adivasi Aikya Vedika, Adilabad

K. Krishnarao, Convenor- Northern Andhra , Adivasi Aikya Vedika , Vishakapatnam

M. Kamala, G. Satyam and P Dharmu , Adivasi Chaitanya Sangham, Adilabad

Hussain Swamy, C.H Malikaarjun and Nandeswari, Chenchu Rakshana Samiti, Mahabubnagar

M. Rambabu, E. Jyoti and M. Satyavati , Koitur Kutuva Sangham, Khammam

K. Veeraswamy and C.H Durga, Adivasi Seva Sangham, West Godavari

K. Venkatesh Dora, Venkatlaxmi and K. Satyavati, Girijana Deepika, East Godavari

P. Somalingam and K. Pandamma, Jeevam, Vishakapatnam

V. Jogiraju, Derala Girijana Chaitanya Sangham, Vishakapatnam

P. Thammaiah and , Manya Deepika, Vizianagaram

S. Jayprakash, Syuryakanti Yuvajana Sangham, Vizianagaram

S. Vykuntarao and K. Prabhavathi, Savara Sangham, Srikakulam

N. Adinarayana, Sri Gopi Rytu Sangham, Chittoor

S. Apparao and K. Narayanamma, Chinna Sanna Karu Vyavasaidarula Sangham, Vishakapatnam

N. Satyamma and N. Pochamma, Ottavapantala Mahila Vedika, Medak

G. Yadigiri and Kavita, Deccani Gorrela-Mekala Pempakadarula Sangham, Medak

N. Deviah, Grama Sangham, Warangal

Prof K.R. Chowdry, Hyderabad

Dr Radha Gopalan, Chittoor

Dr Sagari R Ramdas, Hyderabad

Madhusudhan, Hyderabad

Charanya R., Hyderabad

Shruti Thrayil, Pune

M. Deepu, Hyderabad

Rahul Ramakrishna, Hyderabad

Srikrupa, Hyderabad

N. Bhavana, Hyderabad

E. Jayant, Bangalore

Aditi Pinto, Mumbai

Sandeep K Singh, Bangalore

Sharib Ali, Kolkata

Amol, Mumbai

Siddharth, Mumbai

Alia Farouqui, Mumbai