A scandal has been taking place in India, largely unreported in the West, where over the course of the past decade an average of over 1,000 farmers per month have been committing suicide.
One of the root causes of this astonishing statistic lies in the consequences of a deal struck between the Indian government and the International Monetary Fund in the early 1990s.
In exchange for international loans, the Indian government agreed to a package of “liberalising reforms”. These “reforms” led to a withdrawal of government financial support to India’s agriculture industry, leading in turn to poverty and debt amongst the country’s many farmers.
It was onto this “liberalising reforms” stage that our old friends at Monsanto strode, enticing desperate, poverty-stricken Indian farmers with the prospect of hugely increased yields if they switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds instead.
Monsanto’s GM seed costs many times more than the Indian farmers’ traditional seed, so many of those farmers took a risk, increased their debts still further and borrowed money to purchase these new seeds. And when their new GM crops failed, those same farmers were left not only without income but also in insurmountable debt.
India’s “liberalising reforms” have left the country playing host to a wide range of GM crops, but it is a variety of GM cotton that has caused most devastation to the country’s small-scale farmers. Called Bt cotton, it was created by Monsanto through the splicing of a cotton gene with an insecticidal toxin extracted from a soil bacterium, the resulting seeds designed to make the cotton plants pest-free.
It didn’t work.
In 2005, after an alarming number of suicides amongst its cotton-growing farmers, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh banned Monsanto from any further marketing of its Bt cotton, pointing to the fact that Bt cotton had in fact led to reduced yields and was more prone to disease compared to conventional cotton seed. The Bt cotton that the farmers planted had in fact been devastated by bollworm, a voracious parasite.
It is reported that many of the farmers who have committed suicide across India have done so by swallowing pesticides. Given that they had been sold a vision of a world of abundant crops with no need ever again to use pesticides, this represents a grotesque irony.
Monsanto has been voted several times the world’s “most evil company”, and not without good reason. Their increasingly tight grip on our food chain, and their aggressive marketing of GM seeds should be a massive cause for concern for us all.
Let’s turn to a recipe.
This year on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, I grew a couple of dozen chickpea plants as an experiment. Most of the world’s chickpeas come from India and Pakistan, so I had my doubts that an allotment plot here in the British midlands would provide an appropriate environment in which to grow them successfully.
However, I was overwhelmed by the results. Not only did we enjoy the delightful pleasure of eating freshly picked chickpeas during the summer (green, mildly crunchy and bursting with fresh pea-like flavour), we now have a bounty of dried chickpeas. Some of these I am reserving for planting later this year, but the rest – like all dried beans and pulses – provide a source of protein and nourishment during the early weeks of Spring when there is very little else to harvest.
Combining dried chickpeas with peas reminds me of those lovely fresh chickpeas of last summer, and the combination of herbs and spices give them an extra zing.
These chickpea cakes are also delicious cold, and would make an interesting alternative to sandwiches in a lunchbox or as part of a picnic.
pea and chickpea cakes with curry oil
for the chickpea cakes
400 g can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
150 g fresh peas (you can use frozen, but defrost them first)
2-3 green chillies, seeds in, roughly chopped
1 red onion, very finely chopped
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
pinch ground cinnamon
juice of ½ lemon
90 g gram (chickpea) flour
groundnut oil, for frying
for the curry oil
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled, crushed with the flat blade of a large knife
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp sea salt
1. To make the curry oil, put the olive oil, garlic, turmeric, cumin, chilli powder, garam masala and salt into a pan and place over a low heat. Stir and bring to a simmer, reducing the heat to its lowest possible setting. Cook for a further 2 minutes, continuing to stir. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool and infuse for 30 minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth over a sieve. Set this strained oil to one side while you make the chickpea cakes.
2. In a food processor combine the ground cumin, ground coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, chillies, lemon juice and salt. Process until it forms a thick paste. Place into a mixing bowl.
3. Place the chickpeas and peas in a food processor and pulse briefly to break them down a little, whilst still retaining texture. Add this mixture to the spices in the mixing bowl and stir in. Add the gram flour, chopped onion, chopped coriander and chopped mint and stir to combine.
4. Form the mixture into eight cakes weighing around 75-80 g each and place on a baking tray. Refrigerate for at least half an hour to firm up the cakes before frying.
5. When you are ready to cook the chickpea cakes, pour some groundnut oil into a large non stick frying pan to a depth of around 1/2 cm and place the pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully place the chickpea cakes into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until golden brown then carefully flip the cakes over to cook for a further 3-4 minutes.