Friday, July 16, 2010

Fruit and Thieves

These have been the dominant themes of my life, as of late.

I found some great books at D.B. Pantnagar University. I confess I had kind of low hopes because I have come across some pretty shitty writing in this country from people who supposedly have higher degrees. But I found a book that has extensive details about apple trees and apple growing (pomology) in general. Oddly enough the ideological influence is heavy from the World Bank and cronies. Obviously the book is a relic of their push to have apple production in this area.

The book has lots of great information about orcharding. One of the more remarkable things was the descriptions on how to perform surgery on a tree to repair damage to the bark.

But it is also quite humorous in some ways. On the section on what to do with your orchard after it gets old, and they recommend using trees that last about 30 years, they basically throw up their hands. The text admits quite readily that using the chemical methods recommended the soil will be destroyed and will likely have microorganisms in it that prevent the re-planting of any apple trees. They give the suggestion of importing new soil (!) or fumigating the soil by injecting an extremely toxic chemical not available in India (chloropictin) or methyl bromide, (which is available but not as effective) covering the soil with a big tarp and leaving it. This destroys most microorganisms in the soil, including those that prevent new apple trees from establishing. Of course it does nothing for the pH, compaction, arsenic/mercury content, or organic content. So much for sustainability. They just don’t seem to acknowledge the idea that in in all likelyhood the Himalaya will still be here in 30 years, and people will still need to make a living. It’s a very short term book, just like capitalism and the entire ideology surrounding the World Bank.

When I got back to the orchard yesterday there were people stealing the fruit! The guy who owns the orchard, and I dare say has first dibs on the fruit, asked me to pick the fruit on Friday. Here we were Thursday, the people keeping a lookout had left in the morning and in the afternoon there were already people stealing all the fruit! The frustrating part was when I asked them to leave and got a Hindi speaking person on the phone, so the message was obviously clear, they still wouldn’t go. They just kept on picking. It was a real showdown to get them to clear off, and they took the fruit (asian pears mostly) with them. Then more came a few minutes later! The things people say are absurd. This new group had a person who spoke a bit of English. So he came up to me and insisted “We are not thieves, he is a teacher” pointing to the guy taking the fruit. What’s that supposed to mean, they’re not professional thieves? If you’re stealing fruit then that means you’re a thief, as I understand it. By the end of the day there was no more fruit and there was nothing I could do about it. Friday morning I hunted the grounds and harvested a grand total of 36 small apples. They are just tapping into the peaches now as they become ripe, we’ll see... I was hoping to be alone here for 3 weeks but it seems that’s not on.

In fact what really is sad is that they were stealing the grass as well. The area is overgrazed and infertile because it does not have a chance to get back on it’s feet by growing some plants and having them decompose. The idea that people will steal the very grass at your feet, meant for the worms, is so tragic to me. I’ve noticed people’s persistence is remarkable too. They just don’t seem to throw in the towel when they’re busted.

Previously my experiences with people stealing stuff in India have primarily been children. My harmonica, flashlight, camera, cellphone. But this time it was the whole family coming out for a gathering!

The economics section of the apples book shows predictable labour costs. 30% goes to hiring a guard to prevent people from stealing the apples. I think I’ve already mentioned that people need to hire guards to watch their wheat and irrigation pipes. There are people constantly guarding the mango orchards as well of course. This whole situation is pretty expensive for farmers to have to deal with.

Some kids, skipping school came and wanted some drinking water, which I was ok with giving them but they didn’t want to drink my boiled, warm, water. So I made them some mint tea instead. Then they started asking me to give them food. What? I should clarify that to all outward appearances these were not poor children, sporting as much clean clothes, leather shoes, jewelry and cellphones as the next person.

Some other kids came and stood outside my window demanding some potatoes. Obviously I didn’t have any. I told them to go to the market. In the city I get treated like a walking cashbox, and in the country it seems people treat you like a free marketplace. I suppose that’s better. Mind you, people ask me for money here too.

So now they’re after me potatoes, me water, me grass and me peaches :-). I don’t know if I can hold out much hope for my carrots, radishes, peas, corn and biomass crops that I’ve planted. I just hope I can keep an eye on my passport, and wallet. No wonder all the windows in India have bars on them.

For laughs, here’s the photo of the mother of the child who stole my camera. She swore she didn’t know anything about a camera... This person continues to show up every once in a while and ask for a job at the soap factory, which she was fired from for stealing.

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