Images from a Village – Parthala, Punjab

I just got back from a trip to the little village of Parthala with Amanjot, the other girl working here at KVM. We interviewed farmers together and she showed me around her childhood village.

Sitting under the shade of a tree with local farmers. We’d just interviewed them all and here Aman is talking to them about the importance of seed saving. The conversation became very interesting as we got into the international politics of seed markets. (more on this to follow in my coming post about how the interviews have been going in general)

Below Aman and her brother Gagandeep walk through their field of indigenous cotton. Inspired by his sister’s work in sustainable agriculture, Gagandeep switched to organic farming this year, and is the only farmer in their village to have done so. It hasn’t been easy – he had to get the cotton seeds from Rajasthan, for example, because all of the cotton grown in Punjab today is Bt cotton. However, the seeds themselves were cheaper he says, and the plants need a lot less water. Aman was instructing Gagandeep on how to get rid of pests using a concoction of red chilly powder and garlic in oil.

In this picture above you can see two things. 1) the system of farming in Punjab. Relatively small fields, bordered by little canals for irrigation, which is extremely widespread. 2) This canal has been used to apply pesticides  and you can see how the grass around the canal is fine and green, but how discoloured the grass inside the canal is from the pesticide.

To show the next step in village cotton production, Aman and Gagandeep took me to meet their paternal aunt, who gave me a chardka lesson – traditional spinning of cotton thread. You start with a fluffy wad of cotton wool, and use the spinning wheel to turn it into thread which can then be woven into cloth. They also use the thread to make the palangs, or outside beds, that we all slept on. This way of making cloth is not common in India today, the successful textile industry has made it redundant in most areas. Gandhi famously advocated for everyone to spend some time a day spinning their own thread. It requires a lot of patience – my thread would hardly get to be a foot or two long before it would snap every time!

The pictures below are some snapshots of  rural Punjabi life. From carrying home a load of fodder for the family goats to enjoying a refreshing snack of Taran (of the cucumber family) as we walked through the fields.

One of the lessons from Parthala I would most like to take home with me is the practise of using cow dung briquettes as the main source of cooking fuel. This is hardly practised at all in Kenya, and we face a huge crisis there with the amount of trees cut down to make charcoal, the main energy source in both rural and urban areas. Aman and her mother showed me how to pat the fresh cow dung into briquette shapes, ready to dry. Below you can see a common site throughout Punjabi villages – lines of briquettes drying in the sun.

What I saw in Pathrala, and several other villages we visited in the last few days, supports the sentiments I have been hearing about how much more sustainable life was in Punjab before the Green Revolution. The village was self-sufficient for almost everything except salt and tea leaves, producing everything else themselves. How accurate this impression is will be something I will be diving into in the next few weeks. More on this later, as the information develops.

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