Student perspective on India’s biodiversity

India holds a biodiversity so deep that crossing a state border can leave behind an abundance of leafy green mango trees and bring the overwhelming cucumber and gourd varieties of the red rock desert. I am constantly amazed at the abundance this country holds and equally as puzzled by the struggle our world has with distributing the feast equally. Although the question of food security often reaches Hope and academic institutions all across the US, I did not realize the complexity of the situation until I began my study abroad experience in India. Prior to arriving, the India of my head had the same problem with food security that the U.S. does. There are stretches of big corporate farms that dominate the land and an altering of the biologically fertile plains to fit the current demand.

There are pockets of food desserts in not only the urban spaces, but also in the rural communities left behind by past industry as well. In the India of my head, their farmland was the same as the only farmland I have ever been able to compare anything to. However, not even a month into studying abroad, I find myself driving through the rolling green hills of Udaipur at the edge of the Rajasthani desert. This place does not fit into the box type ecosystems I learned in my third grade science classes. There is small pockets of red dirt peeking out of the rigid landscape. Fully green trees, tall grasses and knotted aloe vera plants take up the majority of space. The group of twelve students I embarked on this journey with and myself are standing in the midst of a small corn and millet field. I can see the beginning, and I can see the end. The tribal women who run the farm proudly show us their system of cross pollination and guide us along the rows of produce. I wish I could say this was the quaint family farm that it appears to be. I wish I could say their biggest challenge was trying to navigate a profit in an increasingly globalized society. For some reason, that seems so much simpler than the reality. As we further our conversation, the women and a few young men who have left their work to join in share that this small plot of land is supplied chemicals by Monsanto to sell its product directly to its partner companies.

Bayer, a German company, recently bought Monsanto and announced its merger which will expand the reach and profit of the already Fortune 500 company. Scanning over the company’s website, a mission of environmental sustainability and humanitarian outreach is preached on every new page. However, the young men told us the seed shipments they received from Monsanto came with chemicals that lacked instructions in their language. They told us they often feel dizzy after spraying the field. They told us that they all know people that have attempted suicide with the exisiting chemicals in their areas. They told us how selling and working with these companies was their best option for direct and quick income, which they need to sustain their way of life. Every issue that takes up space in today’s world has a complexity that no article or story could ever fully cover. I want the end to be a war on large corporate and pesticide spraying farms. I want the organic vs non-organic battle to be easy and clear. I want to say buying produce with the pretty labels of “fair trade,” “natural” and “USDA organic” to be all that is needed.

However, I know that I cannot simplify mindful consumption. Single-action bias is alive and well in the world of US grocery shopping. There must be more that can be done than settling for the labels. There must be more that can be done than settling for simply the words of corporations. I know there is more that can be done. There is more research to be completed, more farmers to learn and impliment, and more gardners to plant and nurture. Although I wish the problem was simple on the macro-scale, I am learning to see my microresponsibility in supporting the companies and people I know will deliver on their labels and words.

Sophia Vander Kooy ('20) is a political science and international studies major with an unofficial passion for taking creative writing classes. She was the Production Manager at the Anchor during the spring semester of 2020, and previously served as the Editor-in-Chief. She is also a member of the Women's Track and Cross Country teams at Hope, the STEP Community Outreach Student Director and the Co-President of Hope Yoga. Sophia loves writing, being outside, cooking, running and connecting with all kinds of people. She has found the space to be herself at The Anchor and knows that she is not alone in that.

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