We, the Citizens
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
There is a job in Uttarakhand’s Cabinet awaiting a Minister.
Ganesh Joshi is our Minister of Agriculture but we are not an agricultural state, and are becoming even less so, thanks to continued migrations from our border villages. But this Ghost Village phenomena can still be reversed if we created a Ministry of Food Cultivation. And then put the right man on the job.
Cultivation is a multi–faceted word. It has elements of Discovery, Adoption and Enhancement. We cannot match Punjab as a successful bulk producer of grain. But then Punjab cannot match us in our incredible environmental diversity. We have visited a Tharu village in the humid Terai, and heard the strange tales of their legendary origin. We have also trekked above the tree-line, where rhododendrons are bushes and fluoresced with UV radiation, on the chill slopes below Tungnath. Our range of terrains and environment is our strength, and we must cash in on it. We can’t compete with the mega states in producing vast quantities of food. But they can’t match us in our range of cultivable lands.
Our strategy should be to concentrate on small farms specialising in high-value-low-bulk products, while welcoming new products.
Many years ago, a young Italian priest guided us through the monsoon-drenched, leech-crawling woods of Waverley. In the soggy oak-loam we harvested delectable wild mushrooms which we know only by their Italian names. There were the pale yellow fingers of Manelli, the fat and flat, pork-chop slices of Porcini, and the red-centred, fried egg look of Uvolo. (Do excuse our rusty Italian but the epicureans will know what we mean.) If these delicacies grow wild in Mussoorie, can’t they be cultivated for our high-priced gourmet restaurants?
We have relished cheeses in Britain, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Thanks to the lead given by Amul, we have become a major milk producing and marketing nation. But we don’t produce high quality cheeses even though we, in Uttarakhand, have limestone caves in which great cheeses mature. We also have catering colleges. Will someone in authority bridge this gap and produce high quality, strong, Uttara Blue cheese to rival the best?
When the European exiles sailed across the stormy Atlantic and reached the shores of America, they celebrated by dining on a roasted wildfowl. From that day on this wildfowl has become a staple for Thanksgiving Dinner. The former wildfowl is now the poultry-farm Turkey. Can we domesticate our pheasants and breed them in poultry farms? They would be another delicacy in our gourmet range of farm products.
We have been growing Mint in an outdoor tub for decades. There are literally hundreds of types of Mint. This is an herb ideally suited for fallow strips of land owned by the smallest of homesteads, if a central agency arranges for the crop to be collected and marketed, as Amul does for milk. This is the role that our proposed Ministry of Food Cultivation should play. The setting up of this pivotal Ministry will not require any reshuffle but only an expansion of the portfolio of Minister Ganesh Joshi. We don’t know him and have met him only once at a Defence Services’ reception but we are aware of his reputation as a go-getter. Though we do not agree with all he does, we know that he is the only person who has achieved something significant to preserve Mussoorie’s great heritage. He located unspent government funds and had a wall built around the property. That chunk of real estate has been eyed by builders from as far away as Delhi. If he can take them on then, clearly, he has the guts to handle much bigger projects.
There cannot be a bigger and more important project than revitalising Uttarakhand’s image and its prosperity as the most reliable supplier of high value, low bulk, luxury food in India.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour 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 was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)