Gandhi’s Spinning Wheel and Gandhi’s Ghani are both symbols of Swadeshi as economic freedom and economic democracy.
Gandhi inspired everyone in India, during the freedom movement, to start spinning their own cloth in order to break free from the imperial control over the textile industry, which enslaved our farmers to grow cotton and indigo for the mills of Lancashire and Manchester, and dumped industrial clothing on India, destroying the livelihoods of our spinners and weavers. The spinning wheel and Khadi became our symbols of freedom.
Gandhi promoted the Ghani (the indigenous cold press oil mill) in a similar spirit, to create employment for the farmer and processor and to produce healthy, safe and nutritious edible oils for society. What the spinning wheel is to “kapda”, the economy of clothing and textiles, the “ghani” is to “roti”, the economy of food.
Fresh, local, and artisanally processed food without chemical additives and industrial processing is recognized as the healthiest alternative. That is why until the 1990’s food processing was reserved for the small scale and cottage industry sector. WTO rules changed our food and agriculture systems dramatically.
Today we are living in food imperialism which has trapped our farmers in debt, pushing more than 300,000 to suicide. We have become a sick nation due to the rapid spread of industrially processed food and junk food which are destroying our healthy food traditions.
The oils most Indians are consuming today, as ‘Vegetable Oil’ are industrially processed imported palm oil and GMO soya oil. Unlike sesame, mustard, groundnut, linseed, coconut, these are not true oils because they cannot be processed in ghanis or through coldpress.
The oil from soya is extracted at high temperatures in hexane solvent extraction plants. Hexane (CH 3 (CH 2 )CH 3) is a crude oil based organic solvent with many industrial uses. Hexane is a neurotoxicant. No tests or labeling inform citizens about this process and the inclusion of genetically modified organisms in our food chain in complete disregard of the laws.
In industrial refined oils, 40% “blending” is legal in “refined” oils. The adulterants are labeled as “vegetable oils”, without letting consumers know that vegetable oils include oil from the toxic GMO cotton seed. GMO foods are not allowed in India, yet Bt cotton seed oil is being freely blended in industrial “Edible” oils.
The industrial soya lobby has consistently attempted to monopolise the Indian edible oil market. In 1998, by manipulating a ban on our ghanis, and getting a law passed that each tiny ghani had to have labs -each costing lakhs - and hire 2 chemists. The Women of India, working with Navdanya in 1998, organized as the Mahila Anna Swaraj and undertook the Sarson Satyagraha to bring our cold press mustard oil back.
Gandhi’s Ghani has been served a notice on the basis of the new Food Safety Rules. Instead of regulating those selling unhealthy, unsafe oils without proper labeling, the government is trying to close down Gandhi’s Ghani - producing pure oil in front of the eyes of consumers, because it does not have a lab attached to it?
Industrial foods with chemicals need testing in labs, not just for artificial ingredients, but also for the impact of chemical additives and industrial processing on our health. It is the duty of the state to ensure that these safety studies are done.
The new Food Safety rules are arbitrary because they do not differentiate between artisanal, chemical free processing of oil from the industrial chemical crude oil based processes. By imposing chemical labs on a ghani, the standards do not ensure that we get safe food, but ensure that safe foods made in the artisanal sector that Gandhi promoted are shut down to create a monopoly by corporations for unhealthy and unsafe foods.
The pure virgin oil from Gandhi’s Ghani is sold at Gandhi’s Sewagram Ashram and people come from far and wide to buy the purest oil available. Food safety in the artisanal sector needs participatory systems where citizens who produce the oil and those who consume it set the standards of quality and reliability.
Just as there are Participatory Guarantee systems for organic production, we need participatory systems for artisanal food processing.
The attack on Gandhi’s Ghani is a renewed attempt to destroy safe and healthy sources of pure oil for Indian consumers and impose a monopoly of unhealthy oils without transparency of costs, processes, or ingredients.
Imported and adulterated edible oils are dominating the market because they are subsidised and their ecological and health costs are hidden and externalised. Even the price of these artificial oils is made cheap through subsidies. The import duty of edible oil was reduced from 300% to zero, which is an indirect subsidy. In addition, the government gives Rs 15 per kilo to soya oil. This is over and above the subsidy given by the US government.
The destruction of the environment is another hidden subsidy. The expansion of Palm Oil plantations are the primary reason for the destruction of the rainforests of Indonesia. The expansion of GMO soya plantations is a major reason for the destruction of the Amazon rainforests and cerrado, in Brazil and Argentina. This expansion of industrial fossil agriculture into the rainforests counters the big myth that industrial agriculture is contributing to protection of wilderness and biodiversity. Forest destruction contributes to 18% of Green House gases and 85% of rainforest destruction is for expansion of industrial agriculture, primarily GMO soya and palm oil.
Oil palm cultivation in Indonesia accounted for an estimated 2 to 9 percent of all tropical land use emissions, from 2000 to 2010. Indonesia was the world’s seventh-largest emitter of global warming pollution in 2009, and deforestation accounted for about 30 percent of these emissions, ranking second (behind Brazil) in global warming pollution produced due to deforestation. This threatens wildlife and biodiversity. It also adversely affects people, the global climate, water reserves and soil quality.
In South America, almost 4 million hectares of forests are destroyed each year, 2.6 million of them in Brazil alone. The soya cultivation in India is destroying soil fertility and devastating farmers in MP and Maharashtra.
Gandhi’s Ghani is a symbol of our freedom in times to a new corporate imperialism trying to control what we grow on our farms, how we process our food, what we eat. While the current Food Safety laws originate in the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement of WTO, with the Doha Round of WTO as good as dead after the recently concluded Nairobi Ministerial, the toxic food industry is getting ready to impose the Trans Pacific and Trans Atlantic which will fully dismantle our food safety systems. We must act now to reclaim our right to grow and eat safe, healthy, indigenous foods.
On 30th Jan, Gandhi’s martyrdom day, I will join the Gandhians in Sewagram in defence of Gandhi’s Ghani as a symbol of the Swadeshi food economy for healthy, safe, nutritious food for all. Anna Swaraj (Food Freedom) is the birthright of every Indian.