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The Ecologist Film Unit (EFU) is a UK-based not-for-profit news organisation dedicated to investigative reporting on environmental issues, with a particular focus on food and farming, wildlife and consumer affairs. We produce original investigative content for broadcast, print and online output, and work with external media outlets and partners to maximise exposure.

Giri Raja: a solution to the food crisis? How one chicken might just change the world…

Set against a backdrop of rising global food prices, and the spread of factory farming in countries such as India, The Ecologist Film Unit – a major collaboration between Ecostorm and The Ecologist magazine – this month releases a film which tells the story of a food revolution in Southern India.

Produced in conjunction with UK NGO Compassion in World Farming, The Giriraja Chicken – India’s answer to the global food crisis details the extra-ordinary way in which scientists and communities are working together to increase livelihoods, consumer safety and animal welfare in rural India using an ancient breed of chicken.

Intensively-farmed chickens in India and elsewhere are typically given large quantities of antibiotics which threaten the health of the consumer; they are also fed on soya grown from the deforested wastelands of Amazonia in Brazil.

Ordinary farmers cannot compete with corporate-owned factory farms. The vast economies of scale that they operate on – often cramming tens of thousands of birds into one shed alone – has effectively squeezed small scale farmers out of India’s poultry market.

There is a solution, however. Scientists at Bangalore University have developed the Giriraja or ‘Mountain king’ chicken. Bred using natural techniques from ancient strains of Tamil chickens, this hardy bird provides nutrition and income for local people without the need for continual and costly supplies of drugs and feed. Naturally resilient, the Giriraja is a living breathing micro-finance initiative that is giving back livelihood to those left behind in India’s economic boom.

Sniffing a success story, corporate-owned poultry companies have already tried to buy out the not-for-profit scheme set up by the university, but without success. For now the Giriraja is helping communities lift themselves from poverty and is a sustainable farming success story that leads the way for the rest of India and the world to follow.

Jim Wickens, Ecologist Film Unit producer says: “Touted as a cure to poverty, factory farming is actually the new cancer in rural India. Unsustainable, cruel and corporate owned, these farms threaten the health of consumers, the wellbeing of the chickens and most importantly they are killing the rural communities they compete against. We wanted to make this film because the Giriraja perfectly illustrates the way in which small-scale pro-poor initiatives are the only effective answer to the spiralling food crisis and chronic poverty that besets rural India today.”

According to Ecologist editor Pat Thomas: “It’s important to see this story in its larger context. The globalised food system that most of us rely on is inherently unsustainable. It requires huge inputs of energy, and creates enormous amounts of pollution including greenhouse gases, and sickening amounts of waste. The Giriraja Chicken story is both a cautionary and a celebratory story for us in the developed world. Cautionary because the kind of food poverty that people in rural India face could so easily and so quickly become our problem. But also celebratory because it shows the benefit of combining local knowledge and small scale agriculture to solve some of the problems of getting fresh, good quality food to those who need it most.

“We can implement similar solutions in this country with better access to allotments, more back garden agriculture, and greater support for Community Supported Agriculture projects. Wherever you live, producing food for self-consumption is a vital part of the food system – it gives people control over what they eat, provides a continuum of local knowledge down generations and across cultures and in doing so promotes community, biodiversity and sustainability.”

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