In HIS Pulitzer-Prize winning book Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), American scientist and popular author Jared Diamond establishes theories for why some societies fail, wracked by disease and internecine conflict, and why other societies achieve hegemony over them. It’s interesting to note that the first wave of emerging societies consolidated their power over their neighbors by growing their own crops. While this might not seem, to the lay reader, like the hallmark of a bloody expansionist conquest, the logic Diamond presents makes perfect sense. Agrarian societies had stable reserves of food to feed and maintain armies, unlike their hunter-gatherer contemporaries.
Much has changed since, with waves of industrialisation and technological advancement defining the power centres of the world. Meanwhile, in emerging economies like India, farming—once the mainstay of our economy—contributes less than 20 percent to the country’s overall GDP. As employment prospects converge towards metropolises and towns, so do migrant communities, who don’t see a sustainable future in farming.
And yet, in contrast to their overarching trend, there is a small movement within the urban Indian middle class that seeks to return to agrarian roots. You come across stories of young entrepreneurs who’ve set up successful businesses in rural India despite challenging odds. Take The Happy Hens Farm for instance—a free range outfit co-started by thirty-something Manjunath Marappan from Bangalore. In Bagepalli, about 120 kilometres away from the city on the road to Hyderabad, his farm disregards the idea of inhumane battery cages and pumping the hens with hormones to fatten them up. Instead, the hens are allowed space to wander, peck at feed from the ground, instead of a prison coop “the size of an A4 sheet of paper”.
It’s a great move in the direction of localising our production of food and consumers can now make an informed, socially-conscious decision about what they buy. For decades, the urban Indian consumer has been wholly unconcerned with how and where the food on their plate was produced. Now, there’s a more direct link to the producers, as Happy Hens even lists home delivery on their website (apart from stocking their eggs in retail stores, including online). Start-ups like Happy Hens, it would seem, could play eventually even play a pivotal role in bridging the divide between urban and rural economies.