The Recipe For Good Living
This book is a charming read about a city dweller adapting to village life. For all aspiring villagers seeking to break free of their lanyards, it illustrates the hard work and discipline required to live and work in rural India
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It is the traffic that first gets to Mumbai’s white collar workers, hunched over evening refreshments, dreading the soul crushing commute that lies ahead. There are thousands of finance professionals going about their work, fondly nursing dreams of trading stocks nestled among verdant hills. Thankfully, the Sahyadri hills are not yet alive with the sight of grumpy, middle-aged traders scowling at laptop screens because most people don’t act on their dreams. In contrast, Venkat Iyer, a technology professional, started thinking over an evening cup of tea in his Bandra Kurla office and actually did manage to go away.
Moong Over Microchips is the story of how he and his wife set up an organic farm in Dahanu taluk, just outside Mumbai. It covers Iyer’s journey from his initial wide-eyed innocence about the simplicity of village dwellers to his introduction to intricate village politics, widespread corruption and the occasionally murderous neighbour. In the process, Iyer discovers a key fact behind India’s farming crisis. Income from farming often doesn’t even cover input costs, especially when produce is sold through traders, who pocket most of the profits.
Iyer offers a mix of farming insights, ranging from his experience of sowing groundnuts in their shells against local wisdom to quirky quackery like apologising to a lemon tree and using the services of a water diviner. Such practices are a part of the lived reality of millions of farmers because uncertainty drives them to use any method that may work. The book reminds us that farmers are serial entrepreneurs who start new ventures with unpredictable outcomes 2-3 times a year, and that, as an entrepreneur you have to just get started even when there is insufficient information. Iyer was encouraged by his neighbour to plant moong even when he didn’t feel ready and it was the fear of missing the rice sowing season that got him to act even when he was unsure of how to begin.
The book describes how Iyer made sustained efforts to convince other farmers about the health, taste and soil quality benefits of organic farming. However, the impact of lower yields on consumers is not addressed in the book. A study by the US Department of Agriculture shows that yields of organic produce are lower than conventional yields, with rice yielding 39 per cent less. Organic farmers can be compensated for lower yields through higher prices from wealthy buyers, but the vast majority of consumers still depend on conventional farming for food.
This book is a charming read about a city dweller adapting to village life. For all aspiring villagers seeking to break free of their lanyards, it illustrates the hard work and discipline required to live and work in rural India.
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