13 August 2013

A development expert meditates on cattle

[In a parallel universe called 'Humility'...]
Last week I heard a very sad story.  It was originally related by Mahinda Kumara Dalupotha, who hails from Ehetuwewa, around 9 km from Galgamuwa off the Kurunegala-Talawa road.  Apparently there had been a humble farmer who lived in contentment.  He had a herd of cattle. As the farmer grew old, his son gradually took over his responsibilities. The son, in his wisdom, had sold the herd of cattle to buy a tractor.  This he had later sold to purchase a three-wheeler. The three-wheeler had met with an accident.

This is exactly what has happened to our country.  If we talk about the dairy industry, what we’ve essentially done is to sell off our cows to the butcher; we have willingly given up fresh milk and consume powdered milk containing who knows what.  Our cows fed on grasses that did not require chemical fertilizers, pesticides or nutrient inputs.  There were no arsenic scares. No Chronic Kidney Disease.  No Mad Cow Disease.  No need to test the milk.
Today we don’t know what’s in the milk powder which we mix with water and drink.  There are certificates galore.  One milk powder importer insisted that their product is tested 300 times.  If any product is tested so many times, the latest science on testing and processing food tells us, it is clearly unfit for human consumption.  Today the consumer has to worry about unethical advertising, false and widely exaggerated claims, endorsements of professionals including doctors and scientists who are not required to furnish conflict of interest disclosures, and a media that plays along on account of advertising revenue. 

What has happened to the milk industry has happened to much of our agriculture, I confess.  We listened in wide-eyed wonderment when FAO representatives later found to be in the pay of Massey-Ferguson told us that ‘modernity’ will not arrive until the last buffalo is caged in the Dehiwala Zoo.  We bought wholesale the lies of the Green Revolution.  We abandoned sustainability and thumbed our noses at traditional agricultural practices.  We dumped seed varieties superior in nutritional worth and which had been developed over centuries to suite soil type and climate, resilient to excessive rain or to drought. We embraced instead hybrids that were excessively thirsty, required chemical fertilizers as well as weedicides and pesticides.  We got higher yields of inferior grain, yes, but where one measure could feed a family we now required several. 
Bad milk and bad food have a common friend, bad medicine.  Our medicinal systems were about curing patients and not sustainable disease containment for the purpose of sustained ‘take’ by doctors and pharmaceutical companies. 

If all the traditional knowledge our ancestors used to build splendid temples and amazing irrigation works, to have granaries that were overflowing and a population that was healthy made up a large herd of cattle, we’ve traded it for a tractor and traded the tractor for a three-wheeler which runs on contaminated fuel, most likely.     
I represent a pernicious breed of development advocates and practitioners, experts and shop-talkers, corrupt or wouldn’t-know-any-better politicians, producers and marketers of goods and services people don’t need or else can cause them harm, but either way poisons the earth, water cycles and the air we all have to breathe.  We, in ignorance and arrogance (not to mention chock-full of colonial angst that was ‘local’ as bad, archaic and despicable and ‘foreign’ as good, modern and worthy of worship), sold the cattle of the nation for a cheap tractor which was then sold to purchase a three-wheeler.  On behalf of my tribe, I take responsibility for all this and also for crashing the three-wheeler into a lamppost (not a tree, note).    

I am sorry.


saadhu said...

Great essay, Malinda. You should also think of translating Mahinda Kumara Dalupotha's novel, 'Diya Holmana'which tells this whole tragic story.