Food Smart Cities: Join the Food Revolution

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Food Smart Cities: Join the Food Revolution

Bija Vidyapeeth - Navdanya Biodiversity and Conservation Farm near Dehradun in Uttarakhand, India. (Photo: Simon Chauvette/flickr/cc)

We have an epidemic in India of food and lifestyle related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, hypertension, infertility and heart attacks. India is ‘Diabetes Nation’—with the number of diagnosed cases jumping from 8.2 lakh in 2004 (resulting in 2.6 Lakh deaths) to 180 lakh diagnosed in 2012 (7 lakh deaths). In 2010 alone, India spent USD 32 billion on diabetes care. Increasing numbers of scientists blame high levels of Persistent Organic Pollutants (pops) for the exponential rise in diabetes across the masses.

We are what we eat and when we eat food full of toxic chemicals, we pay the price with our health. Many pesticides including DDT are oestrogenic, meaning they mimic female hormone, oestrogen and oppose the action of the male hormone—causing male infertility. Studies show that 51% of all food commodities are contaminated with pesticides.

Cancer has seen an increase of 30% in the last 5 years, with 180 million people affected in India. At a treatment cost of Rs. 10 lakh per cancer victim this multiplies to 300 billion dollars which is Rs. 18 lakh crores. Around 60% of all herbicides are known to derange thyroid function as well. In extensive studies reported in Poisons In Our Food by Navdanya, elevated levels of PCBs, DDE and DDT have been found in blood of women suffering from breast cancer

We are what we eat and when we eat food full of toxic chemicals, we pay the price with our health.The cancer epidemic has spread wherever there is intensive use of chemicals in agriculture and dumping of toxics by Industry. A recent field survey by Navdanya revealed that in a single village, Gangnauli (Baghpat Distt.) there are about 100 patients suffering from various types of cancer. And the cancer train that runs between Bhatinda and Bikaner bears testimony to the dual tragedy farmers face in Punjab—first of getting trapped in debt and being driven to suicide because of the costs of the toxic chemicals, and secondly becoming victims of cancer caused by the same chemicals that got them into debt. This is the legacy of the Green Revolution, an agriculture that does not exist without these chemicals.

India needs a Food Revolution. A revolution where we connect farmers and city dwellers, not merely through technology, but in reality. India needs to put healthy food at the heart of daily thoughts and actions, at the center of our agriculture policies and urban planning. Food is the basis of metabolism, of life, of our bodies, of our cities and our villages. In India, food and nutrition are the most neglected dimension of how we design our agriculture and rural development models, and our cities and towns.

While you spend Rs 10.00 for a 50 gram packet of Lays, Pepsi Co. pays the potato farmer in West Bengal only Rs. 0.5-1.0/Kg of potato—0.02 percent of your Rs. 10.00 spent. Out of the Rs. 28-30 charged in Delhi, the farmer in UP gets Rs 0.63 - 2.00 per kg. The farmer that grows that potato gets only 10 percent of the cost we pay for a kg of potato. While you pay Rs 55.00 for white sugar, your sugar cane farmers have received no payments from the mills for the last three years. While you pay Rs 50.00 for 1 kg of branded atta, your farmer only gets Rs 14.00 and has spent a large share of that on buying chemicals earning only Rs. 1645 per month per acre OR Rs. 51.15 per day. The daily legal wage for skilled worker is a Rs. 423.00. Even an unskilled worker’s minimum wage is Rs. 348.00.

The farmer earns 10% of the minimum wage!  Farming is one of the most skilled vocations—a farmer is a soil scientist and conserver, a seed breeder, manager of water, weeds and pests. A farmer does not just produce a commodity, she/he produces ecological sustainability and gifts you health.


Increasing cost of production and falling incomes are trapping farmers in debt and pushing them into suicide. This unfairness and exploitation is the reason our farmers are committing suicide. A farmer growing a wheat monoculture earns Rs 3100 per bigha of land. Farmers in, what was until recently, the prosperous belt of the Ganges basin are earning less than Rs 50 per day, while the minimum wage is Rs 463.00. If wheat farmers shifted from monocultures to growing diversity their net incomes would be 200-300% more.

India needs a Food Revolution... where we connect farmers and city dwellers, not merely through technology, but in reality.Chemical monocultures are pushing our farmers to debt and suicide (more than 300,000 since 1995), they are depriving our children of the nourishment our fertile soils and hard working farmers can grow, and they are spreading an epidemic of cancer and other diseases. In West UP, in 2015, as a result of crop failure due to climate change and unseasonal rain at harvest time, more than 200 farmers committed suicide or died of shock seeing their destroyed crop.

Food related disease epidemics are another dimension of this crisis. The latest nutrition report for India shows nearly 50% of India’s children are wasted and stunted. The poor are malnourished because they have no access to nutritious food. Even amongst Indians who are better off, child malnutrition is high. The malnutrition of the middle classes is rooted in nutritionally deficient diets, increasingly based on processed and junk foods.

The Green Revolution, forced on India by the US, removed all considerations for health and nutrition, and focused only on increasing the use of agrichemicals and the production of commodities. This resulted in the increased production of nutritionally empty commodities, full of pesticides and toxics, and reducing the availability of nutritionally rich foods. We need to bring the production of healthy and nutritious food without toxics to the heart of our thinking, planning and actions. We need to begin by becoming Food Smart Citizens who shape Food Smart Cities with our conscious food choices, protecting our health, our farmers, our soil and our planet.

To be Food Smart Citizen all you have to do is eat fresh, organic, regionally sourced food and connecting with local producers, who in turn have access to a ‘market’.

Eat Organic and Safe
Organic food is free of toxic chemicals that destroy soil health as well as your health. When you eat organic you take care of your own health and the health of the planet. Healthy soils are the most effective way of fixing atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, removing them from the atmosphere and undoing the climate damage caused by petrochemical usage in chemical agriculture.

Eat Fresh and Local
Food transported long distance requires processing, lots of chemical treatment, refrigeration and packaging which contributes to pollution, disease, and climate change. All of this packaging ends up as mountains of garbage near or in our cities. Greenhouse gases such as CO2 from “food miles” and methane from garbage dumps are contributing to climate change and destabilizing the planet.

Eating local and creating a sustainable and healthy FOODSHED for your city means reducing food miles and toxics in the food chain. Eating local means you are relating directly to your farmers and helping them shift to an agriculture that allows them to grow biodiverse, safe, healthy food that you have access to. The FOODSHED areas, Anna Swaraj Circles, can vary according to the size of the city.

Rebuilding the broken food system, its ecological cycles and the broken links between the city and the countryside is creating a Food Smart City peopled by food smart citizens who know what they are eating and where their food comes from.

Eat  Fair, Eat True
Farmers have been committing suicide because they are spending too much on chemicals and seeds, and do not receive a fair price for what they produce through their hard work.

You can liberate the farmer from chemicals and debt by eating organic and buying directly from farmers, by bypassing the middlemen, including exploitative corporations whose profits grow as farmers are trapped in deeper poverty and debt. Farmers earn more and you pay less.

Through Eating Fair and ensuring a fair share of what you spend reaches your Annadatta, you can help end farmers' suicides. You can rejuvenate your health while rejuvenating the agricultural economy and the earth.

Join the Food Smart City Movement . Become a Food Smart Citizen.

Food Smart Cities are Healthy, Green and Fair.

Vandana Shiva

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

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