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Notes on a not-so radical class

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By Uditha Devapriya

A little over a year ago, Devani Jayathilaka, the Gampaha Division Wildlife Officer now on a crusade against the government, stood up to a State Minister and got away with it. Objecting to Sanath Nishantha’s proposal to build a children’s playground on forest land, she stood her ground even as the Minister and his acolytes attempted to intimidate her.

Videos of Devani retorting to Nishantha and those acolytes gained supporters across social media. Public opinion being very much with her, the government quickly began feting her: Bandula Gunawardena said that the Cabinet took her side, and S. M. Chandrasena regretted the incident while half-heartedly exonerating the Minister.

Devani Jayathilaka’s courage was seen at the time as a symptom of the President’s resolve to make the bureaucracy more independent and efficient, free of bias and politicisation. As such, supporters of the government jumped on the bandwagon. The Daily News dedicated an entire editorial to her, calling her “the toast of all environmentalists, nature lovers and generally all those who cherish our country’s legal and constitutional integrity.” Hopefully, the laudatory piece concluded, “this signal act… will be a beacon to others in the public service to do their bit in fulfilling their public duty while resisting the pressures of politicians.” The subtext was unmistakably clear: the President’s reformism had empowered the officer’s activism.

A year later, and here we are: the premature love affair aborted, the feeling of celebration dampened. Yet could one have expected otherwise? At no point here in living memory have environmental concerns permeated every layer of society, from Colombo’s civil society to Sinhala nationalist outfits, as they are now. A broad conjuncture of oppositional forces, some drawn from organisations that fuelled the ideology which brought the government to power (such as the Sinhale movement), has pitted itself against that government’s apathy over the environment, while social media continues to enthrone activists: environmentalists and state officials. The President’s men, meanwhile, seem to be resorting to a policy of either ignoring or retorting to these voices. In both cases, it’s the government that has lost out.

It is hard not to side with the activists. They have a point: no regime has engaged properly with the environment. Between 2017 and 2019, forest cover reduced from 29.7% to 16.5%. It was the yahapalana government, remnants of which are tweeting against the present regime’s environmental record now, that held

the reins of power then. Yet the administration before it was no different: in 2012, to give just one example, roughly 1,585 hectares of primary forest land were lost, the biggest annual loss in a decade. The numbers for 2020 and 2021 have not been released yet, but there’s no doubting they are as big as, if not bigger than, these figures; according to the Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka, forest cover stands at 17%, above what it was in 2019, but well below the 30% promised by the president.

The politics of the campaigns against the government, however, goes well beyond a simple dichotomy between political representatives and wildlife activists. Frustratingly enough, it’s not easy to put a finger on the dynamics of these protests, to draw a line between protagonists and antagonists within them, not least of all because a simple twofold division – government versus us – has been replaced by a threefold one in them: the government (high level officials included) on one side, activists and officials on another, and us on yet another.

Led by a mostly Sinhala and Buddhist lower middle-class, including the clergy (no less than the Sinhala Ravaya), these campaigns, which have mobilised activists and officials, appear to have unearthed a rather interesting contradiction from within that middle-class: a distrust of political representatives, and an ambivalent attitude towards lower level officials. To identify this contradiction for what it is, and explore it, is not easy: that requires research, the mettle of an anthropologist or ethnographer, and I am neither. Yet from what little I have been able to gather, it appears that this recent spurt of activism has facilitated a shift in the character of anti-state activism, particularly in its class composition. How so?

Devani’s message resonates profoundly with a section of the country’s upward aspiring middle-class, educated mostly in Sinhala but idealising a better life: one to which they feel both government representatives and private interests are obstacles.

They hold contrasting views regarding the state. As far as the government proper – Ministers plus high level officials – is concerned, they are against it. It’s a different story with officials, not least because of the latter a great many hail from the milieu they do: Sinhala educated and upward aspiring. This is the demographic Patali Champika Ranawaka is targeting through his “43 Senankaya”, a demographic parties have not tried to court until fairly recently.

What explains their relationship with the state? Regarding government representatives, their opposition is easy to rationalise: most of these representatives are seen to have risen to where they are now by foul means, not fair. That irks an educated middle-class bereft of political or economic power; simply put, they feel hard done by, left out, unrepresented.

Such feelings of distrust cut through parties; indeed, a defining characteristic of the middle-class is the absence of a unifying political ideology. Any Opposition which believes that by coming to power on the strength of their convictions it can expect support from them forever is therefore walking on water, for this lower middle-class happens to be adamantly protean. It is their protean character, incidentally, that explains their response to state officials.

Their view of the latter is borne out by two main considerations: that they hail from the same class background, and that, since of late, these officials have taken up arms against political authorities, a group whose actions are seen as burdening the lower middle-class.

Indeed, far from berating officials like they berate political authorities, the lower middle-class rebelling against the regime share a desire to enter the bureaucracy as either professionals or administrators, though through education attainment, and not political backing. This desire is essentially a retread of the demand made by unemployed graduates: they want to fill a post in a state institution as soon as they leave university. Under Gotabaya Rajapaka their integration into the bureaucracy has been remarkably rapid: by September last year, for instance, around 60,000 graduates had been absorbed into the Public Service, as part of his “Rata Wenuwen Weda” programme. Yet even this rather modest realisation of lower middle-class aspirations has failed to dampen, or stunt, lower middle-class opposition to his government.

To sum up, what we are seeing here is a division between state officials, assumed to have entered the government through merit, and political representatives, assumed to have entered it through influence. That Devani Jayathilaka continues to be idealised by this class therefore points at the consolidation of a uniquely petty bourgeois consciousness, which at once aspires upward in the bureaucracy, and pits itself against the government overseeing the bureaucracy. Gravitating to meritocratic ideals, they have become a huge floating electorate.

This raises another point: their disavowal of party politics. Let’s not mistake karawala for mallum here, however; the line this milieu touts, that they lack party ideology, should not mislead one into thinking that they can’t be co-opted into any party ideology. For those who believe that a non-political middle-class rebelling against an elected government, even one infringing every other norm in the book, is incapable of political manoeuvring, the case of Anna Hazare offers a counterargument: opposed to political groups, what Hazare achieved in the end was an electoral landslide for just such a group, Narendra Modi’s BJP.

By no means am I saying that Anna Hazare was/is to India what officials crusading against political representatives are/will be to Sri Lanka. Yet not unlike Hazare, these officials have given what little of an Opposition that’s there in the country some much needed ammunition (with which to topple the government). Far from welcoming such a state of affairs, I see two problems with this: the lack of a proper policy on the environment from the Opposition (apart from a few perfunctory protests), and the risk of letting what environmentalists are combating continue under a future administration led by that Opposition. As environmentalists and Left activists have pointed out only too clearly, much of what is being protested against, including the Sinharaja debacle, can be traced back to the yahapalana period. How wise would it be to trust the party that held the cards then so much as to return them to power now?

To these two problems one can add a third: the contradiction between the social conditioning and the activism of the middle-class. That contradiction translates itself into another: between political ideals that pit this middle-class against political authority, and social aspirations that orient them towards personal achievement in education and employment.

One can ask why this is a problem, why it’s so problematic. In matters of political concern, so the idealists say, personal matters are of no relevance.

But that’s precisely the issue. How pertinent are one’s personal aspirations to one’s political inclinations? Not pertinent, some would say; pretty pertinent, in my book.

That leads us to a crucial issue, the most important to crop up from what we’re seeing today: the extent to which those leading the protests are willing to own up to how class aspirations, and not just state complicity, have contributed to environmental degradation.

Let me reduce this to a simple query: how much do you attribute everything wrong with the environment to the government’s doing and non-doing, and how much do you attribute it to, say, our propensity to import, a major factor in environmental degradation?

To be fair, of course, it’s not only imports. The truth is that degradation of the environment is linked inextricably to an economic model rooted in consumerism and urbanisation.

But that merely reinforces my point: consumerism is promoted by the private sector, and urbanisation by the public, because both have an audience: the same middle-class blaming the government for what’s happening to our forests, our rivers, our way of life.

To restate this as simply as I can, then, the problems of environmental degradation today are the result of a decades-long experiment with capitalism and neoliberalism that has failed. The crisis is thus a crisis of a consumerist and exploitative model based on a capitalist framework. Now no critique of what is happening to our forests can evolve without taking this model into consideration. As perhaps its biggest beneficiaries, the middle-class must hence recognise the need to formulate an alternative model to it, in line with their activist inclinations.

However, in continuing to ignore if not marginalise this need, those taking the government to task over the environment are offering an inadequate response, radical enough to question the regime for its failings, yet not radical enough to question our embracement of an acquisitive, consumption-led economic model that has contributed to the quagmire we are in. Now I hate gazing into crystal balls, but if this is what will continue in the future, then these protests, no matter how laudable, will someday, somehow, fizzle out. That would be a pity.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Sat Mag

Protect health of environment, animals, humans to prevent future pandemics

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By Debapriya Mukherjee
Former Senior Scientist
Central Pollution Control Board, India

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the veneer of civilization is very thin. we did not have knowledge, resources and technologies to deal with such a devastating pandemic. More than 3.1 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19 and more than 146 million cases have been recorded till date. This pandemic is a crisis not today, this is only the beginning. The other viruses of animal origin are just around the corner. A future pandemic could be worse than the ongoing crisis because we are pushing nature to its limit by destroying and degrading amazingly diverse ecosystems, like tropical forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, coral reefs and many more and ultimately removing natural buffers and expanding the interface, the touch points, between wildlife and people where pandemics emerge.

This unsustainable exploitation of the environment due to human induced land-use change, intensive agriculture and animal-based food systems, growing trade in and farming of wildlife species and their consumption leads to instabilities in ecosystems and host microorganism dynamics. Increased intimate contact between wildlife, livestock, and people, potentially leads to emerging many zoonotic diseases either directly or indirectly. These problems are not restricted to any single species and the viability of even highly resilient natural populations of animals are now at risk.

A majority of emerging viruses come from wildlife but we cannot blame wild creatures, because behaviours of human to fulfill their greed by destroying the natural resources at a dizzying pace invite these viruses into our living room. Among all the human activities, deforestation is likely the single biggest source of new zoonotic diseases. As forests become increasingly fragmented, the chance of humans and their livestock coming into contact with wildlife and contract viruses increases. Nipah virus first spread in Indonesia when forests were burned for agriculture. Fruit bats fled to orchards, passing the disease to pigs and pig farmers. It is widely assumed that a pathogen in a bat jumped to another animal to a human in China and then hopped onto the “globalization express”, causing extraordinary suffering and trillions of dollars in damage. This happened after several decades of other pandemics— with bats or civets in the case of Ebola and SARS-CoV-1 and most likely chimps in the case of H.I.V.

Arrogance and luxurious lifestyle compel us to assume that humans are superior to the rest of living beings on earth and there is no need to maintain relationship with the wild. In this context I just want to mention that forests, freshwater systems, oceans, grasslands and the biodiversity within us literally give us the clean air, clean water, climate-stabilizing buffers and healthy food, as well as natural protection from viruses. Despite realizing this truth, we could not motivate us to stop exploitation in the name of so-called development.

Though upon occurrence of this pandemic, huge money is being spend towards treatment of Covid-19 patients and development of vaccine, governments and politicians, irrespective of any political affiliation, did not give any emphasis to stop this unsustainable exploitation. Otherwise, how multinational companies continuously undertake large-scale logging or mining in the world’s remaining great forests and construct hydropower projects on river? These MNCs need to pay for the pandemic risks associated with these extractive activities. In such a hypothetical scenario, perhaps some of these projects would not be undertaken at all. In this context it is pertinent to mention that halting these practices is the only sustainable vaccine against the next pandemic. This COVID-19 crisis is also clear that the cost of the boldest initiative to prevent future pandemics of this magnitude is less than the price we pay once a pandemic occurs, as opined by the researchers.

By 2050 or so, the human population is expected to cross nine billion mark. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where humans are already shaping climate and the web of life. Now the question is what collective actions are needed to prevent this pandemic and at the same time to meet the population’s dietary needs? Now we have to explore the most important change that needs to be made by addressing 21st Century education challenges in a One Health manner.

The starting point of “one health” is to recognize that the health and well-being of humans, animals and the environment are intricately linked. The experts from a range of sectors, notably human health, animal health, plant health and the environment, work together in building a response infrastructure that emphasizes the sharing of information and the coordination of actions across multiple sectors. The “One Health” approach resembles other public health initiatives that attempt to break down disciplinary or sectoral silos, such as whole-of-government or health-in-all-policies approaches, or more recent calls for prioritizing eco-health or planetary health. It differs, however, by focusing on how competing interests such as agricultural productivity, farm livelihoods, animal health and the health of populations far removed from the farm must be balanced over a long period. This poses difficult governance and implementation challenges as the spectre of imminent health catastrophe is seldom present at the pre-epidemic stage when action is most crucial.

To strengthen its integrative approach to One Health, one of the important tasks is to collect data Systematically on the occurrence of infectious diseases, and related behaviours, in both humans and animals, can eventually contribute to developing models to estimate the probability of the emergence of a new zoonotic agent. Such systematic monitoring also facilitates the tracking of the spread of infection while providing early warning to human and animal health officials for response measures.

Next is the challenge of coordination and active collaboration required between various agencies for a unified, timely response. This is not only required at the local level but also for global response efforts to minimize the likelihood of pandemic potential.

Another challenging action is to better understand the differing regulatory environments that govern the live animal markets as a crucial first step in assessing the role of local or national-level institutions in minimizing zoonotic disease risk. In addition to above, health equity concerns are to be integrated for framing the policy for improvement of protection of vulnerable populations in current and future infectious disease outbreaks, both through attention to the socio-historical conditions and recognition of the knowledge and capabilities to prevent or mitigate the health harms arising from such outbreaks.

Though the One Health approach is considered crucial to address governance challenges of zoonotic diseases but its implementation in practice remains quite limited. It is time for international law to catch up with global reality. But global health scholars can neither simply focus on the health sector nor limit their work to scientific and technological improvement. All will have to realize is that food, trade, human rights, humanitarian relief, and the environment are critically important in improving health and reducing health inequalities.

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Unsung heroes

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In the year 1973, the Galle Cricket Club playing their Daily News Trophy match against the Chilaw Cricket Club, registered the highest partnership of 210 runs for the 4th wicket in club cricket. The Galle C.C. players were R.L. Hewa and A.T. Fonseka, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (A.S.P) attached to the Galle Police.

* * *

The last time I went to the Galle Police Station, it was to pay a courtesy call on A.S.P. Bandula Seneviratna, who had come from Badulla. Like me, he was a fellow columnist in ‘Amita’s Column’ in The Island. That was the only time I met him. His anecdotes enormously enlivened us, more so how G.A.S.M. Silva, who had a penchant for toddy, became G. U. S Mutti Silva.

* * *

In the late 1950s, there was this policeman, Zoysa, attached to the Galle police, who was a popular Baila Maestro. One of his melodious Bailas was:

Dukayi kiya dukayi kiya handai lokaya!’

Aida priye yanna giye apa duke dama!

Ara asiyathika ratawala kathanayaka

Ma piyaneka garu Bandaranaike

* * *

An A.S.P. serving away from his native Galle used to come to the Club on his visits to the town. One of his brothers was the new Mp, who rode on the tidal wave of 1977 and was the butt of many an unkind joke. This A.S.P very much liked to hear them. One such was about the ‘Nila’ Telephone. One day when the M.P. came home for lunch, he saw some workman busy installing a telephone. He asked them what was going on. “Manthrituma we are installing your Nila Telephone,” they said, meaning official telephone, but which literally translated, meant blue telephone. “Nila telephone be damned! I want a Kola Telephone!” (a green telephone). We gathered on the grapevine that he shared these jokes with his M.P. brother.

* * *

In the late 1930s, the Galle folk were not without entertainment. On moonlit nights, under the able and popular direction of Inspector Lazarus, the Police Band played delightful music on the Ramparts to the enjoyment of the residents of the town. How nice it would be if we could revive it now? The Police Courts of Galle were established in 1844.

 

When a police party led by an OIC raided a kasippu (illicit liquor) den, run by a man and his sister, the man fired at the OIC with his unlicensed gun. When the OIC directed fire at the man, he fell dead. During the raid when one policeman attacked the man’s sister with a baton, she fell and sustained injuries to her leg. When the OIC went up to her, she said, “Forgive us, Sir! Despite my telling my brother not to engage in this illegal business, he carried on, as he said that he had no other job.” When the OIC looked at her sweet pathetic face, tears came to his eyes. Carrying her in his arms to his jeep, he took her to hospital.

When she recovered from her injuries, the OIC took pity on this pretty girl with nobody to support her and married by special licence and lived happily thereafter. A few days after the marriage, he received a letter from his father, asking him to come home, as there was a favourable proposal of marriage to a pretty girl with a fat dowry!

 

* * *

Once two cars driven by two lady drivers collied. Alighting from their vehicles, the two ladies began abusing each other in shrill, strident tones. Not even the grizzled, elderly police sergeant who arrived on the scene could stop their shrieking. At last the sergeant got a brainwave. Talking out his notebook and pencil, he said aloud, “Now then ladies; will the older of you two please tell me what exactly happened!” Immediately there was a deafening silence!

 

* * *

It was midnight and a policeman on beat duty watched curiously, as a drunk tried to insert his door key into a hole in the lamp post. Walking up to him, the policeman said “Hello, what are you doing?” “I am trying to open the door of my house!” said the drunk. “It’s no use,” said the policeman diplomatically. “Everybody in the house is out.” “Don’t be shilly,” said the drunk. Can’t you shee the light burning upstairs?”

 

* * *

Writing to The Daily News of June 7, 1999, Herby Jayasuriya, the retired Senior Superintendent of police, stated that the Government Services Cricket Tournament in Kandy, in 1960, had been won by the Agriculture Department. Thereafter a match was arranged to be played at the Asgiriya Police grounds between the losing combined Government Services Teams and the champions – the Agriculture Department.

Duckworth from the Kandy Prisons was selected as the captain of the combined team while Cotalingam was the other player from the Kandy Prisons. B. Jurampathy and Herby Jayasuriya were selected from the Kandy Police. The former Zahira captain, Haleem, who played for the Agriculture Department bowled an over to Duckworth, who hammered all six balls for six sixes. After the next over was bowled from the other end, Haleem bowled his next over, this time to Cotalingam, who also hammered Haleem for six sixes that over. Bowler Haleem was so disappointed and disgusted that he sat on the ground and cried for 10 minutes. Play was interrupted till Haleem finished his crying session.

Ruhunu Puthra remembers Cotalingam, who was an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, serving as the Superintendent of Prison, Galle in the mid 1960s. He was a perfect gentleman and of the friendly type who used to come to our club in the evenings. After his retirement from the Prisons, he lived in Anuradhapura. Unfortunately, he met with a tragic death; he was stabbed by the very boy whom he had adopted, an avaricious fellow.

Here is an extract from Herby Jayasuriya’s book ‘A Policeman Remembers’ (pg;241):

EPILOGUE

These are the reminiscences of a person who spent almost 39 years as an officer in the Police service. Considering all, it was only by the Grace of God that I survived this period and ended with an unblemished record. I always endeavoured to do my duty without fear or favour. I may have got to a higher rank had I sought political patronage. Nevertheless, I leave with no regrets having thoroughly enjoyed my work as a Policeman.

 

* * *

I wish to end my story with a Policeman’s Prayer, which I came across when I visited Singapore about ten years ago. The text was on the office wall of a Singaporean Police Inspector. I copied it, had it framed and hung in my office. This is the prayer.

Teach me that sixty minutes makes one hour, sixteen ounces a pound, and one hundred cents a dollar. Help me to live that I can lie down at night with a clear conscience, without a gun under my pillow and haunted by faces to whom I have brought pain. Grant that I may earn my meal ticket on the square and in earning it may do to others as I would have others do unto me. Deafen me to the jingle of tainted money and the rustle of unholy skirts. Blind me to the faults of the other fellow, but reveal to me my own. Guide me so that each night when I look over the dinner table at my wife, who has been a blessing to me, I shall have nothing to conceal. Keep me young enough to laugh with little children and sympathetic enough to be considerate to the old. And when comes the day of darkening shadows and the smell of flowers, the tread of footsteps and the crunch of wheels in the yard, make the ceremony short and the epitaph simple:

‘HERE LIES A MAN’

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Towards a world where meat, milk and leather don’t come from animals

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I am hopeful that, in my lifetime, I am going to see a disruptive change in the eating and wearing of animal flesh. It is coming fast: the largest slaughter companies, and the largest investors in the world, have invested in laboratory created real meat (called clean meat) and milk. These meats are already in the market in countries like Singapore. Perfect Day, which makes milk cells, is on the market with yoghurt (under the label Smitten) that is made of animal free dairy. The Netherlands and Israel are far ahead in meat grown from in-vitro animals’ cell culture, instead of from slaughtered animals. Indeed, if clean meat would replace intensive farming as an industry standard, the benefits for the environment would be immense. As consumers, we would also have “cleaner” meat, meaning a product that doesn’t have the antibiotic residues and bacterial contamination that come with slaughtered meat. We would also save the lives of over 56 billion animals yearly. Yes, that’s the number of animals that are eaten every year by humans.

The meat industry keeps bringing out statistics, that vegans and vegetarians are still less than 5% of the market. That is simply not true. If it were, entire supermarket sections and fast food vendors would not be catering to them. Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based meat, is one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Its current valuation is $4 Billion.

And the largest slaughterhouse companies in the world would not be investing in an alternative meat future.

Vegetarians and vegans finally have meat eaters on the run.

But the wearing of meat in the form of leather – has it gone down? Not yet. But it will.

Apart from the millions of animals that it kills every year, especially young calves, the leather industry is extremely dangerous for the Earth’s survival. The rivers are polluted with the toxic chemicals used in leather, leather polish alone kills millions of fish. A 2018 global impact study, by Quantis, stated that 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by the leather footwear industry annually – a major reason for global warming.

The New Zealand shoe company, Allbirds, which is in partnership with the giant Adidas, has just announced that it is investing millions in plant-based leather. Allbirds has been going this way for a long time: shoes made of eucalyptus and cotton fibre for instance, insoles made of castor bean oil, recycled plastic laces. This new material, plant leather, is made from vegetable oil, natural rubber and other bio inputs. The company announced their investment in a material innovation firm called Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. and says it will be adding “the world’s first 100% natural plant-based leather” to its product lineup by December 2021. This material, which is called Mirum, is said to have 40 times less carbon impact than real leather, and produces 17% less carbon than synthetic leather made from petroleum-based sources. Mirum will be constructed without any polyurethane, meaning that the material can biodegrade at the end of its life, without leaving traces of plastic in the soil, or it can be reground into new Mirum .

Joey Zwillinger, co-founder of Allbirds, said in a press release, “For too long, fashion companies have relied on dirty synthetics and unsustainable leather, prioritizing speed and cost over the environment. Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather, and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98% reduction in carbon emissions. Our partnership with NFW, and planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology, is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate animals and petroleum from the fashion industry.”

Vegan leather, an oxymoron, is the ethical and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather. It is meant to look and feel like traditional leather, without the baggage of pollution and suffering. As more and more people grow aware of the leather industry’s effects on the environment and on animals, the market for cruelty-free alternatives keeps growing.

British materials company, Ananas Anam, set up in 2013, was among the first to come out with a plant-based leather alternative called Piñatex. The material uses fibres derived from pineapple leaves, sourced from the Philippines. These fibres are mixed with polylactic acid (PLA), a bioplastic derived from corn, to create a flexible and durable material. Piñatex is being used by Hugo Boss and Canadian brand Native Shoes.

Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven has sourced his vegan leather from the leaves from the Areca Betel Nut (Supari). The Palmleather project was born as a low-cost plant-based replacement for animal leather, plastic and rubber, and uses far fewer pollutants and water consumption than animal leather.

The company, Desserto, has introduced a vegan leather made from nopal cactus leaves, which can be used to make furniture and car interiors, wallets, purses, and shoes. The nopal cactus grows in abundance across Mexico without requiring any water, making it a low-impact crop.

Major luxury fashion houses including Stella McCartney, Adidas, and Gucci parent company Kering, have invested in a leather substitute product called Mylo, a soft leather like material, created from mycelium, the branching filament structure that mushrooms and other fungi use to grow. The material consumes substantially less water than is needed to produce animal leather, while emitting fewer greenhouse gases. It takes just days to produce and is completely biodegradable and non-toxic. MusKin is a leather-like material made from the caps of a mushroom called Phellinus ellipsoideus. The fungus is native to subtropical forests and feeds on tree trunks.

Will’s Vegan Store is an online store that makes luxurious vegan leather shoes from cereal crops. The company’s vegan leather is made from a mix of polyurethane and bio-oil made from cereal crops . The company is trying to move away from using polyurethane, and recently rolled out a new product using viscose made from eucalyptus bark.

In 2017, the high-end vegan shoe company Veerah rolled out leather made from 50 percent apple peels leftover from the apple juice industry, and 50 percent polyurethane. The peels are dried and ground into a fine powder, which is then mixed with non-toxic pigment, and polyurethane, to become a leather-like fabric.

Here are the Indian entrepreneurs that you should buy from, or invest in:

Malai Biomaterials Design Pvt Ltd, a Kerala based initiative, is the brainchild of Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith Suseelan. It produces a vegan alternative to leather, using sustainable bacterial cellulose sourced from waste coconut, banana stem, sisal fibre and hemp fibre. It is completely biodegradable, flexible, water resistant stretchy and has the same thickness as leather.

The company collects coconuts from farmers in Kerala. The water is left undisturbed for bacterial culture to feed on. The end process results in jelly-like cellulose, which is mixed with banana fibre, or gum, to create raw material in the form of sheets or three-dimensional shapes. To make the sheets colourful and glossy, the company uses natural dyes such as indigo, madder or cutch.

The company’s major clients are prestigious companies like Crafting Plastics, TON, Ma-tt-er, Kazeto, and the products are bags, wallets, backpacks. I do not know whether they have started making shoes as yet.

Aulive is an online Indian brand that has genuinely beautiful vegan, cruelty-free leather products. It labels itself as “Genuinely Not Leather” and uses Pinatex. They have come out strongly against the cruelty, and toxicity, of the animal leather trade. Look up the site when you want to buy suitcases, briefcases and bags.

Kanpur Flower Cycling, owned by engineer Ankit Agarwal, has created Fleather, a leather made of temple flowers. Even though it’s not on the market yet, Fleather has already won a UN Sustainability Award and a PETA award for best innovation. The company has already been making Florafoam – a compostable alternative to styrofoam (non-biodegradable plastic) from moulding dried flowers with natural fungi. Brands, like Bajaj and Havells, are already using Florafoam packaging. Fashion houses, like Anita Dongre, have also shown interest in this breathable and tensile material called ‘Fleather’.

These companies can only be successful if you change your buying pattern.

 

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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