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News in Himachal – 22 Jan 2015

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In times of climate change, how do Himachal’s people want their mustard?

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Farming of Mustard Oil in Himachal Pradesh

If one was to walk through a village in Himachal Pradesh in the early 1940s, there would be the sound of many wooden wheels turning. One of them would be the spinning wheel (charkha) used to make thread from sheep’s wool for weaving coats or chola and pattu on a loom (khaddi).Another would be a water wheel (gharaat), which rotated in the water of the kuhlsor canals, grinding the wheat in the mill or chakki above. While these first two wheels continue to exist, albeit in small numbers, the third village wheel has almost completely disappeared. The third wheel, the oil mill or kolu, used the force of ox and buffaloes to turn a heavy stone, which in turn would grind mustard and flax oil seeds into fresh oil.Although Himachal does not produce as much mustard as the larger states in North and Western India, it has always been an essential crop to everyday life.

Spinning the wheel of time back to the 1940s again, we learn that the kolus or oil-press mills were run mainly by Muslim families. As Pradan Ram of Rakkar village, Kangra district said,

The Muslim families that were our neighbours ran these oil mills. They were the telis. Some of them also played shehnai at the temple, but most of them ran the oil mills. We would take our mustard or flax seeds and get them ground at the mills. In the higher up regions of Kullu- Lahaul, people made walnuts, apricots and other oils. Nobody bought oil from any shop! We would pay the teli with our grain.

Post-partition, the Muslim population in most parts of Himachal Pradesh diminished, and now stands at around 4% living mainly in Chamba, Una and Solan districts. From a history of great syncretism, and communities living and sharing resources together, what followed were times of great division. These divisive times were seen in agriculture with the impact of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, where the Barah Anaaj or 12 mixed crop system, of which mustard is an important crop, began to disappear in favour of monocropping. These 12 crops used to include combinations of maddua (finger millet), ramdana (amaranth), rajma (kidney bean), mung (green gram) lobia (black-eyed peas), kuttu (buck wheat), kulath (horse gram), makki (corn) and math (a local soya bean), alsi (flax seed for oil), sarson (mustard seed), sorghum (jowhar), pearl millet (bajra), chana (chickpeas). In addition to this gourds, greens and wild vegetables and flowers were grown and collected.

Each of these crops has a different resilience, some thrive acidic soils, some can survive floods, while others can survive droughts. In fact, the traditional seeds of our region are treasures that also have unique tastes and health properties.

shares Mansingh of Nain village, Kangra district.

As wheat and rice became more popular, in the 1990s, farmers began to practice mixed farming, however no longer of twelve crops. Mustard continued to be the main crop, grown in almost every farmer’s field. While the Kharif crop would have corn in the higher fields, rice in the lower fields mixed with chickpeas or lentils, the rabi crop, would have wheat along with math and mustard. While the math seed provides nitrogen to the soil, the mustard was known to support the wheat crop.

When it rains heavily, the wheat crop can fall, therefore we grow mustard alongside so that they can bear each other’s weight,

shared Kavitha Devi a farmer of Sukkad village in Kangra district.

Another turning event for farmers was in 1998 when the Indian government ordered all traditional oil mills to shut down and they were deemed unsafe. Coincidentally, this was the time when cheap GMO soya oil began to flood the Indian markets. Many farmers who did not grow enough mustard for oil and depended on the shops were now caught in a dilemma.

There was a time when we began to receive refined oil in the fair-price ration shops at one time, which sold cheaper than mustard oil. While some of the people bought it, they realised that they were increasingly getting joint paints. We complained in our panchayat and then demanded sarson oil,

Says Jagat Ram the owner of a fair price shop in Rakkar in Kangra district. Both Tibetan and Ayurvedic doctors in the region back up this claim saying that mustard oil eases joint pains and is good for health in general, whereas refined oils cause mass arthritis. Although the mustard oil in the ration shops comes from Punjab and not their own fields, farmers in Himachal stood up for the mustard seed as an important part of their lives.

However, since the 2000s, this intrinsic importance has begun to be questioned. This is for several reasons, one of them being the financial pressure to grow cash crops (apples, ginger, kiwis, off-season vegetables) that can sell at a higher price. Another big factor is climate change, where unpredictable weather patterns have set in. The Agriculture Department has identified that the local mustard varieties are facing a major aphid insect problem due to climate flux and recommend the use of hybrid seeds.

The University recommends the gobi and farm hybrid seeds and this is what we distribute,

says a worker at the Agri Department outpost in Sheela Chowk, Kangra District. Most farmers nowadays grow their wheat crop without intercropping with mustard. They grow the two crops separately.

As traditional seed saving dwindles, adding in the problem of monkeys and furthermore erratic rains and hailstorms, farmers are in crisis. In what scientists of Delhi University and the Deepak Pental team feel is the solution for agriculture, seeds of GM Mustard are being proposed as a move towards the future.

When told about GM Mustard, some farmers like Vimla Devi of Banala, Kangra district outrightly refuse the idea. She says that there are plenty of local varieties of mustard in Himachal and it is a question of reviving them.

We prefer our local mustard seeds, black and white seeds, as the saag is tasty, they give plenty of oil for cooking, medicine and our hair and we can use the dried stalks as a broom as well,

she said. 

Small farmers across India have gone on a Sarson Satyagraha to prevent GM Mustard from being released. Although India illegally imports GM foods, if GM Mustard is approved, it will be the first GMO food crop being grown in India. Governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and W. Bengal have said NO to GM Mustard stating that GMOs have been proven to have health effects but more to take away farmer sovereignty and make them dependent on companies, Universities and the State. GM crops also destroy diversity, meaning that they require a monocrop plantation, and cannot co-exist in mixed farming fields like earlier.

At this critical juncture, in times of climate change, one can only hope that the “wheel of time” in Himachal Pradesh withstands the pressure of the future, looks to its small holder farmer with their history of successful mixed farming and manages to revalue what the past has left behind. After all, without mustard oil in the madra curry in the village dhaam feast or pathrode made of mustard and collocasia leaves in the monsoons, and even more ‘makki di roti and sarson da saag’ in the winters, life for pahadi people is incomplete!

Author Aditi Pinto is based in Rakkar, Himachal Pradesh. She uses writing to give a historical perspective to the current environmental crisis.

This story is being published as part of a GIZ-CMS Fellowship

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Campus Watch

As major achievement, Nauni varsity scientists bag International project on oilseed research

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Nauni varsity scientists bags international project

Solan: Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF), Nauni, was in news last week after Jagriti Thakur, a research scholar at the varsity, won US-based International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) Scholar Award for the year 2018.

This week, in a major achievement, the scientists of Department of Plant Pathology at the UHF, have bagged an International collaborative project on developing cutting-edge technology for inducing biotic and abiotic stress tolerance in mustard rape for economic and environmental sustainability.

The University will work with nine leading research organisations of the country besides seven renowned research institutes of United Kingdom in the project. The three-year project has a total budget outlay of more than Rs 7.27 crore as Indian component, which will be distributed to the 10 Indian institutes, which are part of the project. Each Indian institute will work on a different aspect of the project with a researcher working on the same area in the UK.

The project has been sanctioned under the prestigious NEWTON BHABHA Fund UK- India Pulses and Oilseed Research Initiative (PORI). The fund has been created by BBSRC of the Government of the United Kingdom and the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, GoI.

BBSRC which is a part of UK Research and Innovation, a body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations and government for promoting research and innovation is also making upto £3.5 million available to support the UK components of this research.

Dr HR Gautam, Professor and Head of Department of Plant Pathology informed that Dr Anil Handa, Professor of Plant Pathology will be the Principal Investigator and coordinator of this project while Dr Rajnish Sharma working in the Department of Biotechnology will act as the Co-Investigator.

He added that this achievement is one of the cherished moments in 55 years history of the department. Dr JN Sharma, UHF Director of Research, said that the University is making continuous efforts to get projects from various funding agencies and engage in collaborative work to strengthen the research capabilities and infrastructure.

India is one of the major producers and consumers of oilseeds crops in the world. The university scientists will work on ‘Genomics-led improvement of biotic and abiotic stress tolerance in mustard rape for economic and environmental sustainability’ by utilizing state-of-art advanced molecular approaches like CRISPER/Cas9 for mapping the genes conferring resistance to turnip mosaic virus (TuMV).

UHF Nauni Lab

The Plant Virology laboratory of the Department of Plant Pathology

The Plant Virology laboratory of the Department of Plant Pathology is an internationally acclaimed laboratory and has facilities for conducting molecular level research for determining the genetic diversity of TuMV in Northern India and developing a panel of Indian TuMV isolates for evaluating European and Indian sources of resistance.

Besides Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni, the University of Delhi, South Campus; NIPGR, New Delhi; NBPGR, New Delhi; NRCPB, New Delhi; IARI, New Delhi; PAU, Ludhiana; CAZRI, Jodhpur; DRMR, Bharatpur and IIT Kharagpur will be a part of the project. The University of York, University of Hertfordshire, University of Warwick, University of Essex, Earlham Institute and Rothamsted Research will be the investigators from the United Kingdom.

While congratulating the scientists, UHF Vice-Chancellor Dr HC Sharma said that the project will go a long way in using the latest techniques in biotechnology for disease management to increase the productivity of oilseed crops. This project will also help train our students in using molecular markers for crop improvement.

Through this collaborative project, efforts are being made to encourage multi-institutional collaborations between UK and Indian researchers to undertake high-quality research aimed at increasing crop productivity, resilience, sustainability and quality of pulses and oilseeds grown for food or feed in India. Pulses and oilseeds are important crops in India.

Pulses are relatively under-used crops in the UK but are a major source of dietary protein in India. Oilseeds are grown in both countries and are a valuable source of oil for a variety of uses, as well as animal feed. This collaborative project aims to develop exploit genomic and bioinformatic resources to aid the development of improved varieties for sustainable crop production.

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City Lifestyle

Himachal’s fitness enthusiast shines at Indian TV Reality Show

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Himachal's Fitness enthusiast sachin sharma of Shimla

Shimla: Sachin Sharma, a handsome man of 26, is currently a person who stands in contrast to Himachal Pradesh’s ill-famed youth struggling with drug and substance abuse – a crucial issue that has sounded an alarm in the State. Sachin is the one who joined a gym at the age of 19 – an age at which teenagers are struggling to escape from the jaws of drug/substance abuse, especially Heroin (Chitta).

Sachin, born in a middle-class family of Deha village, Theog, Shimla district, recently appeared in what could be called India’s first fitness reality show “Indian Fitness League.” It wasn’t a bodybuilding show, but the challenge was to undertake tasks designed to check who is the fittest. Sachin was the only one from Himachal to have made through the auditions. He was selected as one of the 40 fittest people of India. He earned the special attention of the hosts of the show as well as among other competitors.

The next episode of the TV show would be telecasted on October 6 on Discovery Sports at 4 PM.

To know more about him, Himachal Watcher interviewed him (Watch Video). We found that his story is inspirational in its own way:


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Far from ill and unhealthy habits, he doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink or take anything that would toy with his physical and mental fitness. He definitely doesn’t take steroids. Since last seven years, he has followed a strict discipline in diet and habits. He didn’t compromise with his studies either. He completed his schooling from Dayanand Public School in Shimla.

In 2018 he completed his post graduation in Masters of Business (MBA) from Himachal Pradesh University and had procured a placement for himself too.

He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth so placement did matter for him. His father Mohan Lal Sharma and mother Subhadra Sharma are both serving with the Crime Investigation Department (CID), HP, as Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) and Head Constable respectively. It wasn’t easy to manage an additional expenditure of Rs. 15,000 – 20, 000 on his protein diet for seven years.

At this point, his decision-making ability was put to test. He had to choose one of the two: job placement and passion for fitness. He listened to himself and decided to seek a career in the fitness industry.

Though Sachin’s body is in good shape, he isn’t actually a bodybuilder. He is a fitness enthusiast, who has trained without a professional trainer or a mentor. He made ample use of YouTube to learn. He didn’t take up fitness as his passion because he was inspired by someone. He was his own inspiration.

He first received an opportunity to get on a stage at annual Mr. Himachal competition. Later he won the Maruti Suzuki Devils Circuit held in Chandigarh.

Now, after his tremendous performance at the IFL, Sachin has received sponsorships and was inducted in the TG Athlete group. Opportunities in the fitness industry have begun to appear before him. He believes that someday, he would extend support and guidance to other fitness enthusiasts of the state, which he could hardly receive for himself.

He is an idol for the youth of Himachal, especially because fitness is an antonym to drug/substance abuse and indiscipline. In the majority of cases filed under the Narcotics, Drugs & Psychoactive Substances (ND&PS) Act, the accused are reported to be between 20-25 years. A couple of days back Shimla Police arrested a 22-years-old local boy with a packet of Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) stamps. 

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