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A Ministry of High Altitude Farming?

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

The world’s greatest International Trading Company is winding down.

Its shareholders were proud of the fact that the sun never set on its many global branches. Its spin doctors burnished their employers’ self-esteem, trumpeting loudly about their Land of Hope and Glory, proclaiming to the world that they were only doing their duty to Pick up the White Man’s Burden! That’s the problem with spin doctors and their clients. They start believing their own lies. Then they whirl so far out of control that they are flung ignominiously off the world’s stage!

But all is not lost. If we rake through the ashes of an Empire-That-Once-Was we can still retrieve a few nuggets of wisdom. For one thing, though the pallid rulers bled the colonies as much as they could, they also realised that they had to add to their donors’ natural strengths in order to sustain their own appetites. So they smuggled in tea plants from China and resettled Chinese experts to nurture the great tea estates they had carved out in their Indian colony. In Karnataka they encouraged a mystic, who had secreted coffee seeds in his beard, from his West Asian pilgrimage, to set up coffee plantations in Chikmagalore. In the early 19th century, they were delighted when John Murray established a Rubber plantation in Kerala, breaking the monopoly of the irritable sultans of South East Asia. They were annoyed with the Zamorin of Calicut for allowing their arch rivals, the Portuguese, to carry away seedlings of that universal spice, Pepper. That southern ruler had argued that “They can take away the seedlings from my kingdom, but they can’t create the climate.” He was right, and wrong. The wily Portuguese planted the pepper in Brazil because its climate matched that of Kerala!

The Brits’ ire at the loss of their future colony’s pepper monopoly should have been more than balanced by the fact that India had profited by two major crops pilfered from South America! Both the Potato and its first cousin, the Tomato, had been brought from Peru, thrived in India, and had become a staple part of the pan-Indian diet. Sir Walter Raleigh had reputedly introduced the Potato into the British Isles. The Irish had converted it into their staple food. Then, when blight struck Ireland’s Potato Crop, the Irish starved and many were forced to migrate to the US. Among them, presumably, were two families named the Kennedys and the Bidens!

For those who say that all this happened in the Days of the Raj and not after Independence, there is the case of the Kinoo (we’ve spelt it the way it is pronounced). This delectable cross between an orange and a lemon was, apparently, developed by the Israelis. It was spotted by an unusually alert Indian Minister and he had then persuaded his brilliant Jewish colleagues to send saplings to our land. The rest, as they say, is history. Finally, during a tour of Karnataka, we were hosted by a very creative Women’s Food Co-operative. They gave us a four-course lunch, including a superb biryani, based on pineapple. All around the village, pineapple fields stretched to the horizon. The exquisitely well-mannered gentleman who was the CM at that time, had imported a superb variety of pineapple from the Philippines after touring that country during a formal visit.

If every touring neta had been as alert as these two, our product range would have been enhanced enormously.

All the examples we have given so far have been from the vegetable kingdom. But we have also gained enormously from imports of livestock.

Think of Merino Sheep and the whole range of poultry. These birds have exotic names like Rhode Island Reds, Black Minorca’s and White Leghorns. In fact, all these varied cocks and hens have a common ancestor: our Indian Wildfowl!

All this has happened in spite of us ignoring the opportunities presented to us by the enormous, abandoned High Altitude fields of our Himalayas. This culpable neglect would not have occurred if we had had a Ministry of High Altitude Farming. The people of the Peruvian Andes have been far more creative. We will talk about tapping their enormous expertise in our next column.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first- person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)