Tuesday 28 July 2015


Are there left any more, sons of the soil,
Past the bragging of self-styled nationalists,
In India, a quarter free, still slave to the mighty?
There was one, he died yesterday.
A teacher, born on the very last drop of land,
Poor, Muslim, Tamil, unfashionable,
Unpretentious, still speaking his mother tongue,
Not with condescension but with erudition.

How could he stray into the Indian halls of fame?
He had no patrons, his birth spoke against him.
But surely a good God who loved this ancient land
Spotted one pure of heart who from birth
Would absorb the holy words of Islam, Vedas, and of Jesus,
See the hand of God-Nature in making man, woman, and life
And learn to love to learn and teach
How beautiful life is!

Happiest among children, unassumingly a step ahead
Of the Learned, and the Great of the World.
‘He did not seek for office’ – strangest trait for an Indian!
No, the office sought him, which he took in his quick stride,
To do his duty – ah! An ancient forgotten command
In this, a land given over to self-promotion.

He sought the stars all his life, as many a child has done,
Bound to a faulted earth and blinded belief,
Streets narrowed in fear, death before life is done.
His bold charity of work gave him all he wanted,
To think, to serve, to teach, to love people,
To explore the stars spangled among the simple poor.

Yes, he was the criticized rocket man of the liberal,
Who flung into the bubbling cauldron we call life,
Did not sit on his hands in judgement of others,
But sought truth empetalled in mystery, and still
Blowing quite openly in the wind.
He had no hand in the proud hate of the world,
He did what needed to be done.

He left behind him a name and its path,
A sure confidence that all, all can come out
Of the morass of history and its ill-meaning politics,
That none can hold you down, if you stare them in the face
With a gentle smile, memorably his own,
And quietly take your place at table and care not
Who is to the left or right of you,
Their arrogance, their self conceit, their littleness,
And in happiness stay for duty till called away at last.
Those who come after will with reverence
Know that emptied place almost as a shrine

Once held by a man of – but not quite of – this world.  

Thursday 16 July 2015

A poem of the earth

No matter how far her kind were away
She could let them know her joys and fears.
‘This parasite so long benign is spreading,
Malignant, poisoning life on my skin.
I am afraid!’
They replied in time, though time had no meaning.
‘We know others like this parasite of yours –
It self destructs, soon.’
Happy, she danced away round the sun
Far enough to be cool, close enough to be warm.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

How I Met Dwarkinath a great and committed Agricultural Scientist

I traversed a long road in life before meeting and becoming an ardent admirer of Dr. Dwarakinath. In my youth I loved and pursued only literature and the fine arts. Later, while living in Canada in the 1960s, I became aware, in that consciousness-awakening decade, that most of the Indians I had left behind in my mother country were suffering unbearable poverty. I met Gunnar Myrdal, read his monumental Asian Drama, and re-educated myself as a Marxist political-economist.  The academic world I entered did not seem to have many answers, and so I decided to work at the grassroots with civil society.

My work as the first executive director of the Swedish Right Livelihood Award, now better known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, introduced me to Bill Mollison, the founder of the path-breaking concept of Permaculture. He generously gave me free permission to print his masterpiece, The Permaculture Designers Manual, which was made possible by an immediate generous grant by Father Bacher of Miserior, Germany.  Mohan Kanda, IAS, then a very knowledgeable agricultural secretary of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, kindly bought several hundred copies for distribution to his scientists. It is a telling comment on our administrative structure that few copies were made use of by them. A Permaculture Society of India was set up, and I am very glad to report that Narsanna, who was personally trained by Mollison, is now the best living expert in India, and he will be hosting the International Permaculture Conference for the first time in India in Hyderabad in 2017.

It was also my privilege to welcome the saintly Masanobu Fukuoaka, whose One Straw Revolution and The Natural Way of Farming have closed the intellectual gap between science and indigenous knowledge. A respectful audience of ICAR scientists gasped when he informed them that ‘the purpose of agriculture was not merely to grow crops but to refine the human spirit!’

However, I was still searching round how best to connect such knowledge with the grinding poverty and life-threatening issues faced by the small farmer, living on rain-fed cultivation. I earnestly read Tapan Raychaudhuri, renowned economic historian, especially in agricultural economics, and also the famous 1889 Volcker Report of the Royal Chemical Society on Indian agriculture, and came to the conclusion that the traditional methods used by farmers had not been at fault but poverty itself was at fault, exacerbated by colonial rule and later neglect by the independent government. So, the focus of any intervention should be not any type of technology but whatever might help the distressed farmer to better his condition.

ICRISAT had been established near Hyderabad and was then considered the flagship of the CGIAR system. Many scientists in that institution believed that there was little hope of producing sustainable livelihoods for rain-fed farmers, and that their ultimate destiny was to join the urban workforce. But all Indian economists, planners and politicians are still clueless how this is to be accomplished for the several hundred million small farmers in the country! Fortunately, I struck up a friendship with John Wightman, world renowned plant protection expert, and this has endured through the years. I learned during the production of a documentary that ecological interventions in pest management can be made which will put no financial burden on the farmer and which will also show results within a season.

A senior ICAR scientist, NK Sanghi, was a family friend. India has lost a rare dedicated agricultural scientist in his untimely tragic demise. We both decided to try a field experiment, to manage the attack of the red hairy caterpillar [amsacta albistriga-walker] on castor crop, an important cash source for small farmers. Lingaiah, a knowledgeable and dedicated leader of CROPS, an NGO in Warangal, readily offered local support. The key control method was to destroy the large white phototropic moths as they emerged from their pupae and before they could mate and lay eggs. This could be done only by concerted community action – a fundamental social requisite for any strategy focused on helping small farmers in rain-fed regions. The moths emerged after a heavy rainfall, and would drown in buckets of water as they circled a light placed in the field. A problem was regular power outage, so we successfully tried solar lights, using renewable energy for an ecological method.

It is amusing to remember that the greatest problem was educating scientists! They insisted on using expensive insect traps rather than simple buckets of water. When finally after a few seasons they agreed to using buckets, they would pour kerosene to kill the insects rather than use soapy water! The Nobel laureate Progogine had once convinced me that in nature densities are created by an initial clustering approach, whether it is urbanisation, termite mounds, or inorganic matter. I suggested clustering trap crops rather than laying them out in line, but this was never tried. Nor the ‘dhobi’ advice given by Jeyraj, former vice-chancellor and pest control expert, that spodoptera on groundnut could be effectively managed by laying out coarse blue saris on the ground and killing the clustered insects early next morning! However, what was very successfully tried out was APCOT, an ecological experiment over a dozen or so villages over six years to reduce pesticide spraying over cotton crops. NGOs, CRIDA, Novartis [now Syngenta] and AME all collaborated to permit farmers to make up their own minds. Sprayings were brought down from over 25 per season to around three. The voracious helicoverpa pest was handled by a variety of methods, the most ingenious being the inclusion of a line of coriander, which released a flavourful scent that attracted potter wasps, a well-known predator of the pest.

The underlying principle in such approaches is the hallmark of AME, that is, the least external input for sustainable agriculture. The credit is due to Dwarakinath’s genius, that he saw the way forward to help hundreds of millions of India’s small farmers by a process designed and defined by AME: a collaborative farmers field school where a community participates and decides together on a seasonal technological strategy; a social situation led process for improving soil nutrition and pest management; and with all decisions being taken gradually by the farmers themselves, and none imposed from above. I came to admire not only his selfless dedication to helping small farmers living on rain-fed lands, but his management of AME, which shines above most NGOs in its efficient and spotless record. It is clear to any thinking person that the country’s future welfare depends on creating sustainability in rural areas, most of which is rain-fed, and empowering the rural poor. Dwarakinath and AME have shown how this can be done, without throw-away subsidies. If the government will only listen, most of the country’s problems can be gradually solved, and the Indian economic elephant would then stand truly triumphant.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

The Survival of Small Farmer Communities - Application of non-chemical practices for pest management

       Gedenkschrift in Honour of the late Dr. N.K.Sanghi                                                                  

The writer is very grateful for being invited to contribute a paper for a memorial in honour of the late Dr NK Sanghi, a pre-eminent agricultural scientist, a warm human being and friend, and a nationalist who served the poor farming communities of India with single-minded devotion. He was one of the few top scientist-officials of India who convinced civil society organizations to work for sustainable agriculture. He uniquely integrated modern science and indigenous knowledge in several practical ways to produce immediate support for thousands of poor farmers.

An Historical Introduction:
            The history of ecological farming in India is as old as agriculture itself.  The great civilizations of India developed on the basis of an agriculture that was rich, efficient, and ecological.  The very first mention of agricultural practices is found in the Buddhist Pali texts, Kullavagga and Mahavagga of the 5th Century BCE.  Kautilya's Arthasastra of the 3rd Century BCE gives us a complete picture of the agricultural and forestry practices of his times.  Later works, Varahamihira's, Brhatsamhita of the 6th Century CE, and Kashyapa's Krishi-Sukti of the 10th Century CE contain detailed treatises on agriculture, forestry, land and water management.  It is interesting to note today the injunctions of Kashyapa, after a process of environmental degradation, loss of forest cover, and the disasters brought about by mono-cropping, and massive use of pesticides.  He enjoins kings to keep the top slopes of hills covered with mixed forests, which should contain fruit trees, such as the mango; trees which have bio-pesticidal properties, such as neem and pongamia; trees which are rich in Vitamin C, such as the amla;  and leguminous trees for producing fodder, and nourishing the soil, as well as ornamental and timber trees.  He insists that the forests should be guarded by brave soldiers.  Turning to agriculture, Kashyapa extols the virtue of Indian farmers, who are vigilant and methodological, who have cordial relations among themselves, leading to community group action, which Dr Sanghi used to say repeatedly was essential for successful farming. In ancient days, farmers produced two crops a year by taking care of agricultural labour, livestock, seeds, water channels, tanks, and farm implements.  That Indian farmers were famous for careful cultivation of several species of trees, crops, and vegetables is also known to us by reading the accounts of early Arab travellers, such as Ibn Batuta, and conquerors, such as Baber himself. The Ain-i-Akbari mentions that farmers in the Doab grew around 25 taxable crops during the kharif season, and another 15 taxable crops during the post-rainy rabi season. The great emperor Akbar was well aware that the magnificence of the Moghul Empire rested on their efforts. He not only passed laws to see that the peasants were not crushed under excessive taxation, but insisted that the tax-collectors should make individual assessments after meeting the cultivators in person, and not depend on the estimates of local landlords or chiefs. The emperor also instituted taquavi loans for helping cultivators in distress. The pleasure-loving Jahangir was no less a lover of Nature than his forebears, and one of the best accounts of the flora and fauna of his times is found in the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, penned by the emperor himself. In it, he writes: ‘Whenever all the energies and purposes of justice-serving Kings are devoted to the comfort of the people and the contentment of their subjects, the manifestations of well-being and the productions of fields and gardens are not far off. God be praised that in this age-enduring State no tax has ever been levied on the fruit of trees, and is not levied now.’ The belief that justice will lead to plenty is an ancient one in this country, and is still adhered to by the people. That Indian farmers continued to sustain our populations through ecological farming methods right down to modern times is witnessed by Dr.RA Voelcker, Consulting Chemist to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, who said in the late 19th Century that he had never seen a more perfect picture of careful cultivation combined with hard labour, perseverance, and fertility of the soil.  He said that Western experience could contribute little to the wisdom of the Indian farmer, and added that any advance may come from ‘an enquiry into natural agriculture and from the extension of better indigenous methods....

            Unfortunately, the early Sanskrit tests on agriculture ceased being referred to when our modern education system was established by Lord Macaulay.  The impoverisation of the Indian peasantry brought about by colonial rule did further damage to oral traditions of knowledge which had come down from father to son, and mother to daughter for over a thousand years.  Even great patriotic leaders, such as Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, had to go through a process of ‘discovering’ India.  Systems of agricultural and farm management based on European and American experience were introduced into India without much regard either to our local agricultural knowledge; or the historical and social processes of community joint responsibility for the maintenance of fields and water systems; or even the fragile nature of many of our soils, and the inter-relationships within a region of agriculture and forests. Though  modern science through the Green Revolution has enabled us to stave-off the spectre of mass famine, or neo-colonial dependence on the import of food grains grown in America, by and large, our farmers have been left with a legacy of over-application of pesticides; the destruction of their soils and water-harvesting systems, following the great destruction of forests by government and industry; and commercial mono-cropping systems for profit, which has reduced the availability of several greens and non-economic plants, which once gave the poor free access to proteins and inputs of Vitamins A and C. Some studies into the nutritional deficiencies of the diet of the poor in present-day India have even gone to the extent of saying that in comparative terms the India of a hundred years ago was like a land flowing with milk and honey for the poor!  Institutional attempts at correcting such deficiencies do not produce expected results.  For example, the supply of high density capsules of Vitamin-A  to rural children in the Deccan, in response to growing cases of blindness among children, has also resulted in producing childhood cirrhosis of the liver, a condition which can apparently develop if excessive Vitamin A dosage is imbibed along with a malnourished diet.

            In any case, centralised Green Revolution strategies have not been able to meet the food production needs of the poor living in around a hundred districts declared as perennially drought-prone. The poor of such areas faced with declining food production have tried to survive by adopting non-ecological practices, and by cutting down trees, which have all added to environmental destruction.  Lands around the City of Hyderabad, once thickly forested, which could boast of the existence of even leopards on the urban outskirts 30 years ago, have now lost all of their trees, resulting in massive loss of top soil, and the siltation of reservoirs.  The drift of the rural poor to the City continues, and slums in Hyderabad are growing at the rate of over 15% per year. The City once among the best planned in the country is now unable to supply sufficient safe drinking water to its population. 

            All these problems interact with each other, further reducing the agricultural viability of vast acres of land, and the capacity for survival of the poor living in such areas.  It is under these conditions that a few scientists, among whom Dr Sanghi was the most notable, researched into the benefits of incorporating ecological systems of agricultural production, and land management.  The non-chemical management of pests is an important and integral part of the development of ecological science. 

Community Survival
            In this short paper, the focus will be on such processes as might help communities of the poor to survive in resource-poor, drought-prone and environmentally degraded areas, such as are found in the Telangana, Marathwada, and North Karnataka region. The late Dr Sanghi spent a great part of his working life tackling these problems.
            No ecological agricultural practices can be promoted unless we also promote social processes of community coalition which will encourage people's participation in a very fundamental manner in all development strategies.  What is required is much more than assent of the local poor to plans designed to promote environmental regeneration or agricultural production.  We require their full involvement in the articulation of priorities in the design of such plans, and in bringing to the fore their local knowledge about their environment.  Clearly what is needed is to go beyond PRA exercises towards planning by the poor of their own development strategies; the implementation of such strategies by organisations of the poor, such as sangams; and the participation in the governance of such organisations by the poor. A prior requisite for successful involvement of the people would be enabling strategies which gives them access to land, the most important natural resource available, as well as to trees and water resources. Access to land and natural resources cannot be made effective without full involvement of all sections of the local community, followed by discussions, mediation and arbitration processes.  If access even on an experimental scale to land and natural resources is provided to the poor, then we can build strategies which combine sustainable agricultural practices along with environmental regeneration through afforestation, and soil and water conservation, for gradually increasing the carrying capacity of the area.

            A primary focus of such a combined strategy should be food security for the poor, and  food conserving bio-diversity to produce a proper nutritional balance in their diets and variety.  Such food security would increase the ability of the poor in environmentally degraded regions to move towards self-provisioning at the local level, and towards public health improvement through the reintroduction of preventive medicine and herbal medicine.

            At the same time, such strategies would generate employment at the local level through focusing on labour-intensive environmental regeneration.  Such extra employment would lead to income generation, the growth of savings in rural households, and ultimately the growth of purchasing power in the hands of the poor.

            With the growth of food security and employment, the poor can move towards higher literacy levels, and local empowerment for local management.  All these factors would lead rural communities towards the Gandhian ideal of Gram Swaraj and community survival.

Sustainable Agriculture
            Sketching out such a context for the gradual improvement of a region and the capacities of the poor, Dr Sanghi in discussion spelt out the institutional problems faced by agriculture.  Till now resources that are costly, difficult to mobilise, and difficult to utilise by the poor, such as capital, technology, and elite expertise, have been considered as essential for producing growth or improvement in living standards. Development experience has shown that such inputs lead to highly skewed development, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor.  Even the best estimates produced decade-after-decade show that around half of our population live below the poverty line.  Malnourishment is endemic in the country.  For vast populations there has been little improvement in literacy or educational levels, which are crucial indices of development and growth.  On the other hand, we have had the destruction of soils, of water-harvesting capacities, and of invaluable genetic material, plant species once available in plenty in the environmentally degraded area.  Resources which could have been quickly developed, such as  employment potential in rural areas, traditional knowledge, local skills, and the aptitude of village communities to come together, to act together, to undertake group action, all these resources, social and material, have been neglected by experts, who have seen the elite as the prime movers in development processes rather than the masses themselves.

            Sustainable agricultural strategies call for a reversal of such priorities.  Dr. Sanghi argued that we must now concentrate not on costly inputs which put an additional burden on the poor, but on developing their own resources.  Programmes such as the MNREGS should be utilised to create sustained employment in rural areas in carefully organised environment regeneration programmes.  Similarly, by encouraging the catalysis of local groups and utilising local knowledge to solve local problems, a move could be made towards community management systems for developing watersheds, afforesting wastelands and hill slopes, and for improving soils through organic manures, green manures, mulching, and other ecological practices.

            Dr Sanghi encouraged communities to optimize the use of water so that this precious resource is neither cornered by the rich, nor wasted in a unsuitable manner, such as by growing paddy on light friable soils leading, perhaps, to water-logging elsewhere in down-stream areas.  It is only when the farming community can once again act as one that we will be able to secure the minimum maintenance of bio-diversity in an area. If all of this looks like a tall order, let us also reason out that the very depths of poverty to which the poor have sunk should encourage them towards ecological agriculture, since even small benefits or increases in yield will be jealously measured and protected by the poor. Provided government officials and community activists drawn from among NGOs can patiently support the poor through the next decade, the regions which are today degraded should see an increase in agricultural production, and regional carrying capacity.  This should happen hand-in-hand with environmental regeneration, perhaps through natural regeneration that may take place by the people providing ‘social fencing’ for community planted woodlots.  Consequent to community stability, and people experiencing a certain measure of confidence in their own abilities, growth in living standards should lead not only towards prosperity, but also people's empowerment, and the development of democratic values, since much of this advance would be based on group action undertaken through democratic processes. It is with this perspective that Dr Sanghi placed so much importance on community group action.

The Role of Bio-diversity
            At the very heart of sustainable agricultural practices is the role of communities consciously maintaining the bio-diversity of the region.  The practices that could lead to the strengthening of bio-diversity could be identified as follows:

a) Processes of natural regeneration
                        There is wide experience all over India that once communities of the poor have accepted the importance of afforestation, they are able to control effectively their cattle, goats and sheep from grazing over hillocks of wasteland which they have planted under useful saplings.  A legal and social pre-requisite, of course, is a Tree-Patta scheme by which the poor know that the trees they are growing will be theirs, and will continue to supply them with fruits, fodder, fuel-wood, fibre, timber, and medicinal materials.  The protection of such woodlots results in a process of natural regeneration, bringing the whole of the area back to life.  With grasses, weeds, herbs, and plants growing in profusion, even under low rain-fall conditions, within a few seasons, the area will be covered once again  with bird-life, snakes, rabbits and other small animals.  It is not necessary to think that only very large contiguous areas have to be put under natural regeneration. Provided there is human care and ‘social fencing,’ even narrow lands, along field bunds, road-sides, and besides households, can produce the re-growth of plant variety, and the maintenance of bio-diversity. 

            b)Traditional Farming Systems
                        Under present-day conditions small farmers may be encouraged to utilize to the full un-broken traditions of complex cropping practices that have been followed by their forefathers to get the best out of poor soils, and to hedge against pest attack, and varying weather and soil conditions.  Indian farmers are famous for growing several crops on small pieces of land; for inter-cropping pulses and cereals; for mixed cropping so that they may get yields over a much longer period of time; for crop rotation to rebuild fertility of soil; for companion planting either to protect plants or to increase their nutritional efficiency.  They are also famous for their silvi-pastoral systems stretching from Rajasthan to the dry Deccan area; and for specialized agro-forestry systems, such as the ‘three-tier’ cultivation of Kerala, with banana growing under arecanut cover and cardamom under the banana.  While the tangya system of South East Asia has come to be known throughout the world, the Indian farmers' ability to integrate agriculture, livestock management, and non-farm activities into one integral unit is no less sophisticated.  The recovery and extension of such farming systems will lead not only to crop protection, but to self-provisioning, even in resource-poor areas.

c) Soil improvement
                        While it is true that tropical soils are more fragile than temperate soils, and have a lower carbon content, the careful use of organic and green manures and the reintroduction of mulching, the use of leaf-litter, bio-fertilisers, earthworms and vermi-composting should enable our depleted soils to recover rapidly.  The bulk of our farming community have been too poor to go in for excessive use of chemical fertilisers or petroleum based agro-industry.  Their poverty itself has in this respect been helpful, since the bulk of the small and marginal farmers, that is, the bulk of the rural population, have continued organic farming practices.  However, sustained support from governments and institutions is necessary so that the small farmer may receive support similar to that received by the richer farmer, to enable him to continue to expand on the use of organic soil-improvement techniques.  Many of these techniques really require hard and long labour hours, and employment generation strategies should be reconsidered to see how they can be utilized for such careful on-farm work, which will not only increase plant vigour, drought-resistance and pest resistance, but also produce better yields from poorer soils.

d) Non-chemical pest management
                        The writer came in close contact with Dr Sanghi mainly in the area of using non-chemical methods to manage pests.  It will be seen that the processes and methodologies identified in this paper are in no sense linear.  Ecological processes are holistic and reinforce each other.  For example, we have seen that the maintenance of bio-diversity is important for sustainable agriculture; at the same time for maintaining bio-diversity we have seen we require systems of sustainable agriculture.  Similarly, we identified non-chemical pest management as important for maintaining bio-diversity; and that the maintenance of bio-diversity was simultaneously important for ecological pest management.  This form of reasoning is not common in conventional scientific practice, but becomes understandable in terms of a holistic approach that integrates several categories and sub-categories of activities as an organic whole, and places human communities at the very centre of such activities, as part and parcel of un-broken nature cycles.

 A Three-Dimensional Model
            Based on the above mentioned principles, Dr Sanghi worked out a three-dimensional model, involving main crops on one dimension, main pests on another, and non-chemical control methods on the third.  While this system looks rather complex and formidable, in practice it is not really all that difficult to operate.  It will be found that despite changes in region, soil, or climate, certain crops continue to remain important for the community: these would be the main cereals and pulse crops, such as rice or jowar in the southern Indian region, and red-gram and green gram.  Oil-bearing crops such as sesamum, sunflower, safflower, groundnut, and mustard would figure in this matrix, as well as some vegetable crops; and some horticultural crops, such as banana, papaya, mango, guava, and the main cash crops - sugar, cotton, or tobacco, whichever is important in the region.  While there are, of course, several pests that attack all our crops, among the salient dangerous ones are, of course, the amsacta albistriga, helicoverpa armigera, spodoptera litura, semiloopers, borers, weevils, grasshoppers, fruit-sucking moths, gall midges, brown plant hoppers, and the rest.

            On the third dimension the non-chemical management of pests can be grouped into several clear categories:

                        a)         Processes involving natural regeneration;

                        b)         Introduction of biological pest control agents, such as NPV, or innoculum of beneficial bacteria, fungi, parasites etc.

                        c)         Use of bio-pesticidal formulations extracted from neem, pongamina, garlic or other plant sources;

                        d)         The reversion to traditional farming practices, involving complex cropping patterns, inter-cropping, multi-cropping, mixed cropping, and crop rotation, which create barriers to pest attack and movements;

                        e)         The use of cultural practices and manual practices, involving the timely identification of a vulnerable phase in the pest's life-cycle, to destroy it through bonfires, light traps, by picking up of egg-masses, by manual collection of larvae, or similar means.

                        f)         Last, but not the least, the use of traditional knowledge regarding the life-cycle of the pest; and its movements through the fields or across the seasons.  Modern research can also be used in better understanding the ability of plants to withstand pest attack without diminishing yields.  For example, it is now understood that a groundnut plant may suffer close to 50% defoliation from spodoptera attack at the podding stage without appreciable loss of yield.  Further, a better understanding of the nutritional needs of the people would help the farming population diversify its crops, which in itself should produce a marked reduction in pest attack.  Similarly, a better knowledge regarding development processes in the farming community would help them plan their agricultural priorities better, without falling prey to the temptation of growing mono-crops, such as sugarcane or cotton, which could invite a crippling pest attack.

Natural Regeneration
            It may be found that natural regeneration processes figure across the widest spectrum of such ecological practices, and are recommended for the protection of almost all crops against the attack of all pests. The community could be induced to take up afforestation, or wasteland development in that area, with the help of ‘social fencing’ practices, by which the youth of the community prevent cattle from grazing over the newly planted woodlots.  Such areas within a matter of a few years produce generous natural regeneration.  This has been widely experienced throughout India, however degraded the region might be.  With the coming back of plant life in profusion, we witness the return to the area of birds, spiders, lady-bird beetles, assassin bugs, potter wasps, which are all important predators of agricultural pests.  For example, it is known that the potter wasp is one of the best predators of helicoverpa larvae, which otherwise destroy varied crops, from pulses to cotton.  Similarly, lady-bird beetles and assassin bugs, are among the best protectors of pulse crops, groundnut, vegetables and fruit trees.  Cattle egrets and drangos clean out spodoptera larvae from groundnut fields.  Owls prevent rodents attack and spiders are among the best guardians of rice fields.

Introduction of beneficial bacteria; and micro-organisms.
            While the introduction of beneficial micro-organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, NPV,are part of natural control processes, this is a much more complex matter.  NPV has been tried out successfully against helicoverpa larvae; and larval and pupal parasites are successful against borers and grasshoppers which attack fruit trees.  The best protection against gall midge attack on rice again seems to be parasital infestation of the pest.  Beneficial fungi control nematodes.  It is well known that welsh onion when planted together with tomatoes is able to protect the vegetables since its root system is colonised by a bacteria, pseudomonas gladioli, which prevents fusarium wilt.  However, there are also pathogenic strains of the bacteria which would be harmful to the crop. Dr Sanghi  always stressed that we must be careful to use only non-pathogenic strains. 

Cropping methods
            Indian farmers even under the worst of agricultural conditions have designed intricate cropping systems.  It is well known that one row of red-gram is usually inter-cropped with three rows of jowar, and the cereal creates a barrier to protect the pulse from pest attack. Similarly, crop rotation methods are used to clean out pests from the soil.  For example, when cereals are infested with cyst nematodes, a brinjal crop is normally grown on the field to clean it out.  Crops are also used to trap pests that would otherwise cause economic damage.  For example, a castor crop can be protected by growing cucumber or calotropis along the edge which would attract the red-headed hairy caterpillar.  The pest can then be manually killed, a practice mentioned even in ancient Indian texts on agriculture! Even a trap crop of mustard is used to protect cabbage from the diamond-backed moth.

Ecological strengthening of the region
            Ecological farming methods through the use of mulching, introduction of earth-worms and vermicomposting, or the use of blue green algae or the water-fern azolla, all improve soil conditions, or nutrient supply to the plants.  Such practices also increase the number of beneficial micro-organisms in the soil; improve the physical and chemical quality of the soil; and enable the plants to grow vigorously without excessive use of chemical fertilizers, which could also attract a pest attack.  Hence, such ecological practices should be thought of as having the same importance as preventive medical practices have for the maintenance of public health.

Cultural practices
            Traditional cultural practices, such as timely lighting of bonfires to destroy a pest in its adult moth phase, or the collection of egg-masses before the larvae hatch, require community group action.  Dr Sanghi emphasized that modern science recognizes that the technologies which are most suitable in dry areas, and for the benefit of small farmers – that is the majority of the farming population – require close community group action.  All our technological solutions must be inter-linked with social processes. 

            The use of neem and neem based extracts are widely known to farming populations.  Well over a dozen million neem trees exist in the country, and agriculturists must take every opportunity to revitalize the use of neem, either in the form of a simple solution, produced by crushing fresh leaves; or by mixing neem oil or kernel extract with water as prophylactic sprays.  Neem first finds mention in Kashyapa's famous Krishi-Sukti of the 10th Century.  Such technologies whether utilizing neem or other plant formulations are non-phytotoxic.  Such prophylactic technologies must be used before a pest attack sets in.  Otherwise they may not be effective in repelling pests, and may lead farmers to the wrong conclusion that they are ineffective against the pest.

Ecological knowledge
            Mention has been made earlier that perhaps the most important technology for the non-chemical control of pests is a knowledge system that is well understood by the farming population.  After carrying out field-based studies on the relevance and efficacy of traditions, the agricultural extension worker must add to this body of knowledge by carrying out modern studies on pest cycles; and on the pest-tolerance property of crops.  The farming communities should be involved in PRAs, with an especially  important role for women, so that the community may clearly articulate the real nutritional and security needs of the community.  During PRAs, appropriate designing of questions is crucial to success.  Such community articulation will help the farmers rethink their cropping priorities, and enable them to grow a wide variety of crops.  Diversity in cropping in itself will create barriers to pest attack.  Further, the growth of umbelliferous crops like coriander, will not only supply a spice with important nutritional priorities, and which will produce tasty food, but it also attract predator wasps, which will help control the larval population of dreaded pests, such as the helicoverpa.  As Dr Sanghi demonstrated, these systems of non-chemical management of pests are rarely used in isolation.  In fact, farmers recommend a complex of different methods to be used to control a pest.

Participatory governance
            This paper, which owes so much to Dr Sanghi’s wisdom, tries to present a picture by which sustainable agriculture will strengthen the livelihoods of poor people.  It points out that sustainability is linked to the maintenance of bio-diversity in nature.  Further, neither community stability, nor agricultural sustainability, nor the maintenance of bio-diversity can be expected to take place in equilibrium over a period of time unless the poor of the country are involved in participatory governance of their own communities. If there is political will, all this can be facilitated by strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions as laid out in the 73rd amendment to the Constitution. In essence, it is recommended that we recapture the best aspects of community integration and social responsibility of traditional Indian village communities, but within a modern context, which would move people towards incorporating in their communities the values of a modern scientific, democratic, casteless society. This was Mahatma Gandhi’s ideal of Gram Swaraj. The objectives of such societies can be reformulated in terms of living in harmony with nature; and applicable to all of the 2800 and odd cultural communities that make up the rich tapestry of Indian democracy. Such a humane development has been at the spiritual focus of our religious life, whether Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, or Sikh.

            It need not be thought, as was believed by many Indian leaders at the dawn of Independence, that such a vision of rural India is somehow backward.  The modernists at the time we achieved Independence were not only profoundly mistaken in their belief that the planning process and modern science would deliver us from poverty, but they were also unaware of the military colonial roots of the epistemology of western science, which has perceived the path of scientific enquiry into the mysteries of nature as an acquisitive process of subjugating nature and conquered communities.  The Gandhian vision was no less scientific than theirs.  It was perhaps more profoundly Indian and ecological.  We are beginning to see that such a vision would not only benefit the rural communities but by strengthening their purchasing power, their skills, and their markets, enable India to develop a strong and competitive industry which would once again bring her to the fore-front of powerful, rich manufacturing nations, a place which she held for several centuries, till colonial subjugation destroyed the very fibre of her industrial strength.


Monday 13 July 2015

The Passing of a Titan

An Unfinished Agenda: My Life in the Pharmaceutical Industry, by K.Anji Reddy, Portfolio, Penguin India, 2015, pp 270, Rs 699.

Larger than life panegyric canvases are normally painted of captains of industry. It is rare to come across a modest account of a self-made man told modestly by himself, especially if he is an Indian magnate. But the late Dr. Anji Reddy, the founder of the pharma giant, Dr. Reddy Labs, was no ordinary Indian. Not only did he create one of India’s most successful concerns, but he never lost sight of the main purpose of his entry into the pharmaceutical business, which was to provide affordable medicines to humanity.
At the end of a long meteoric rise to fame and fortune, he himself fell victim to the monarch of maladies, liver cancer. With superhuman determination he held on to life, at least a year beyond the most optimistic expectation of his doctors, to dictate his story from his sickbed, to Raghu Cidambi, a trusted friend and former colleague.
Anji Reddy was born the son of a turmeric farmer in the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. A good teacher developed a love of science which soon led him to join the University Department of Chemical Technology in Bombay, which to all accounts was an excellent teaching institution. From there he went on to join IDPL in Hyderabad as a junior scientist. The event that changed him from an ordinary government servant to a bold entrepreneur was Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon in 1969. Fired by that daring exploit, he launched his career. Years later his company’s annual report would carry a statement about his vision:
Twenty one years ago when I entered the pharmaceutical industry as a technocrat-entrepreneur, I nursed a dream. I observed that the drugs launched in the developed West were prohibitively expensive.... So I wrote out the mission of my life: to bring new molecules into the country at a price the common man could afford.
Forming a small company, Uniloids, he was successful in making metronidazole to world standards from basic raw materials in India. Several leading companies bought this active pharmaceutical ingredient from him for their own well-known formulations like Flagyl or Metrogyl, to combat endemic diseases like amoebiasis. The next step up the ladder was the Indian manufacture of sulphamethoxazole at an unbeatable price. Reddy relates a lovely story how he demanded entry into the office of his best customer, Burroughs Wellcome, when he was still an unknown man! Real success was to come when he launched Dr. Reddy Labs and made norfloxacin, a powerful antibiotic first developed by Japanese scientists. Tablets using it sold at Rs 80 for a strip of ten in India, which he thought was too expensive for the common man. He went against advice and marketed the drug at Rs 38 per strip. Though competitors tried to sow doubts about his products, doctors accepted it wholeheartedly, and he was famous.
Anecdotes brighten the pages. Every meeting with a famous chemist or industrialist remained fresh in his memory and he recorded them in detail from his sickbed. Dr Karanth, Yusuf Hamid of Cipla, Lord ‘Almighty’ Todd, Sir James Black, Sir Walter Bodmer, all are remembered with affectionate respect as men who helped or influenced him.  With almost childlike fascination, he remembered the posh cars they sent to fetch him, the high-life of the West, and the razzmatazz connected with raising funding. This is how he recorded the moment when Dr Reddy’s was listed on the New York Stock Exchange:
            A minute before opening time, Grasso led us on to the floor of the exchange. And suddenly it hit us – the open outcry, the sense of frenzy. This was the pulse of capitalism.
Reddy was never an ordinary businessman. He set up a joint venture in South Africa with the J&J Group, set up by Jay and Jayendra Naidoo. Jay had been a trade unionist, and a close colleague of Nelson Mandela. Reddy remembered him with simple affection: No man who walked the long road out of prison with Mandela could be anything but extraordinary. Reddy joined him in the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. Reddy touchingly hoped in his last hours that his subsidiary in South Africa would ‘serve the needs of the South African people as its first chairman, Jay Naidoo, would have wished.’
Another revealing moment in the book describes the time in Russia when the rouble fell dramatically against the dollar in 1998, and Reddy’s staff advised him to pull out of there before his unit lost more value. He decided to remain in Russia not only because it was a huge country with great resources and able to recover in time, but India had depended on Russia for many decades. Russia had provided technology and training to IDPL from before he had joined it.  He adds: No other developed nation had done so much for India.
The story of his acquisition of betapharm, Germany’s fourth largest generic drugs company, is interlaced with affectionate memories of meeting Anita Bose Pfaff, Netaji’s daughter, in Ausburg. Indeed part of the charm of the book lies in such anecdotes, recalled to a mind that remained sharp till the end, despite the pain of disease in his body. The book is filled with accurate facts about prices, technologies, meetings, moods, and in between inconsequential human stories that make the book so enjoyable for the ordinary reader. Few historians of science, let alone businessmen, might know the details of the origin of the Merck group back in 1668 as well as Anji Reddy did, or the astonishing fact that the grandmother of its present chairman translated Tagore’s play Chitra into German and published it even before he was awarded the Nobel Prize! Above all, Reddy honoured George W. Merck’s philosophy that medicines were for people and not for profits, and mailed that message to all his employees in 2006.
Anji Reddy was not satisfied with making affordable bulk drugs. He wished to invent new medicines, and came within an ace of doing so with his anti-diabetes balaglitazone, but unfortunately the vagaries of business thwarted him that time. With his personal money he formed a research company Kareus Therapeutics in 2009 with a few scientific like-minded enthusiasts. The large final chapter deals with his social commitment to society, his support of the Naandi Foundation, and his support for mid-day meals for schools, coffee growing by tribals in the Araku valley, training of youth for livelihoods and many similar activities.
One has to look back long in time to find another titan of his calibre, who rising from modest circumstances created an industrial giant, but never forgot that success needs to give back to the ordinary people from whom he was sprung. If America can point to Andrew Carnegie, India can to Anji Reddy.

Sunday 12 July 2015

An Aarti for Cotton …

A number of British families served with distinction in India, but none were more renowned than those with the name of Cotton. Several generations of Indians have been educated in schools set up by Bishop Cotton. Sir Henry Cotton fought hard for Indian independence. And it is General Sir Arthur Cotton who is still remembered with grateful affection by the people of the Godavari basin, where his birthday is still celebrated every year. It is appropriate to remember this great engineer during the Maha Pushkaram of the river this year.
As a boy of 15, Arthur Cotton enrolled as a cadet in the East India Company’s military school in Surrey, England. Three years later he joined the Madras Engineering Group as an assistant of the Chief Engineer. By the time he was 25, as luck would have it, he was put in charge of repairs to be conducted on the thousand-year old Chola grand anicut near Tanjavur. He studied the old structure and revised all the engineering knowledge he had learned in England. He called that experience the ‘cheapest school of engineering in the world.’
   He was 40 when he was posted to the distant Godavari District as a Superintending Engineer. A devout Christian, he was moved by the starvation of poor people. He determined, using the ancient Chola anicut as a model, that he would build a 7325-foot anicut across the great Godavari and irrigate a million acres. It would turn the poor region into the richest in Madras Presidency! The East India Company considered the project too ambitious and too expensive. Cotton insisted he could build the anicut at a fraction of British estimates. Finally, in 1845, his detailed report was grudgingly accepted, though none of his seniors believed that the anicut could be built for a paltry 120,000 pounds sterling.
   Lady Hope, his daughter, recounted later the hardships the Cotton family faced in camp while the dam was being constructed between 1847 and 1852. There were no luxuries, few necessities, and many dangers. Once a snake fell into the cradle of her baby sister! Then, before the project was completed, unprecedented floods washed over the incomplete structure and Cotton’s assistants feared all was lost. Cotton who was then seriously ill in bed was informed of the catastrophe. All he said was: ‘Let us leave it to God.’ When the waters receded, all were astonished to see that the structure was undamaged. Cotton and his family fell on their knees on the banks of the river and gave thanks to God. The Dhawaleswaram anicut converted  into the rice bowl of south India the rich lands between the Gouthami and Vasista branches of the Godavari.
   When a great famine occurred in South India in 1876-77, killing millions, the British Parliament debated measures to mitigate the dangers of such calamities. Some parliamentarians raised references to Cotton’s works in the Cauvery and Godavari deltas. Detailing in several pages all the statistics he could gather, Cotton argued vehemently for extension of irrigation schemes in India. He proved that the real cost of irrigation was only two pounds an acre while the value of produce from irrigation was three pounds an acre. The British had spent 160 million pounds on railways in India, which strengthened their military control. Cotton pleaded that a quarter of that sum would have provided food security for Indians.  ‘Could there be a more grievous proof of our strange want of wisdom in management of the country…’ he cried. He concluded his plea to the Secretary of State for India with the trenchant statement: ‘My Lord, one day’s flow in the Godavari river during high floods is equal to one whole year’s flow in the Thames at London.’ He was not listened to, but they made him a General and gave him a knighthood.
   During 1970, the Godavari anicut was damaged after surviving for more than a hundred years, and a barrage was constructed in its place in 1982 to stabilize the ayacut under the Godavari River. The new Sir Arthur Cotton Barrage cost Rs.26 crores 60 lakhs to build. The length of the four arms of the barrage is 3.60 km. It is now irrigating around 4.10 lakh hectares in East and West Godavari Districts.
Later many attempts were made to follow in Cotton’s footsteps and further enrich the region. The Polavaram project which is causing so much dissension among interested politicians today was first penciled in by Sonti Ramamurthi, ICS, Chief Secretary of Madras Presidency in the early 1940s. His feasibility report on the construction of a dam across the Godavari near Bhadrachalam was shelved after independence and the breaking up of the presidency into several states. Cotton himself had argued for the linking of river waters to provide food security. In 1972, Dr K.L.Rao, another famous engineer, designed a 2640-km long Ganga-Cauvery link which envisaged the withdrawal of 1680 cumec of the flood flows of the Ganga near Patna for about 150 days in a year, and pumping about 1400 cumec of this water over a head of 549 metres for transfer to the peninsular region, while utilizing the remaining 280 cumec  in the Ganga basin itself. However, the capital cost of the Ganga-Cauvery link was considered too high.
Development of the resources of the great Godavari river continues to cause intense power struggles among politicians of neighbouring states, who unfortunately have not shown the same commitment to the interests of the poor as did Arthur Cotton. All the statues of British imperial rulers have been removed from their pedestals in independent India. General Sir Arthur Cotton has the unique distinction of having a statute raised in his honour by the grateful people of independent India. It stands on Tank Bund facing Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad.