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The ideologies about knowledge

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The few paragraphs that follow are taken from my recent article for the TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) magazine, Terragreen. Published in the 2016 May issue, the article links what we often call traditional knowledge with the ways in which we understand ecology and the ways in which we are defining ‘sustainable development’.

quotes-blueSustainable development has today become a commonly used term, yet it describes a concept that is still being considered by different kinds of societies, by each in a manner of its choosing. This has happened because while historically how societies grew to be ‘developed’ was a process that took a variety of pathways, today the prescribed pathway to the ‘modern’ scarcely changes from one country to another.

Hence culturally what these societies have considered as being ‘sustainable’ behaviour – each according to its ecological context – is being replaced by a prescribed template in which interpretations are discouraged. Such a regime of prescription has led only to the obscuring of the many different kinds of needs felt by communities that desire a ‘development’ that makes cultural sense, but also of the kinds of knowledge which will allow that ‘development’ to be sustainable.

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Click for image pdf (600kb) of article

Some of this knowledge we can readily see. To employ labels whose origin is western, these streams of knowledge and practice are called traditional knowledge, intangible cultural heritage, indigenous wisdom, folk traditions, or indigenous and local knowledge. These labels help serve as gateways to understand both the ideas, ‘development’ and ‘sustainable’. It is well that they do for today, very much more conspicuously than 20 years earlier, there is a concern for declining biodiversity, about the pace and direction of global environmental change, a concern over the unsustainable human impact on the biosphere and the diminishing of community identity.

There is widespread acknowledgement of the urgency of the situation – this is perceived across cultures, geographical scales (that is, from local units such as a village, to national governments), and knowledge systems (and this includes both formal and non-formal ways of recognising these systems). The need for such a new dialogue on the situation is expressed in several global science-policy initiatives, both older and recent, such as the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) which is now 22 years old, and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), whose first authoritative reports became available in 2015.

Development whose sustainability is defined locally and implemented locally means that the ‘investment’, ‘technology’ and ‘innovation’ (terms that have become popular to describe development efforts) comes from the people themselves. Many diverse agencies at this level – civil society, youth groups, vocational networks, small philanthropies – assist such development and provide the capacities needed. This is the level at which the greatest reliance on cultural approaches takes place, endogenously.

In domains such as traditional medicine, forestry, the conservation of biodiversity, the protection of wetlands, it is practitioners of intangible cultural heritage and bearers of traditional knowledge, together with the communities to which they belong, who observe and interpret phenomena at scales much finer than formal scientists are familiar with. Besides, they possess the ability to draw upon considerable temporal depth in their observations. For the scientific world, such observations are invaluable contributions that advance our knowledge about climate change. For the local world, indigenous knowledge and cultural practices are the means with which the effects of climate change are negotiated so that livelihoods are maintained, ritual and cultivation continue, and survival remains meaningful.

Out with the legislated history of Bharat

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A public statement entitled ‘Hypocrisy and Indian History’ has within two days of it being released gathered supporters by the thousand. Written by a group of historians, archaeologists and scholars of the Indian civilisation, the joint public statement has issued a clear and much-needed call for an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India.

The 50 signatories (at this time supported by more than 4,000 via an online petition) have condemned the “pernicious imposition by the Leftist School of a ‘legislated history’, which has presented an alienating and debilitating self-image to generations of Indian students, and promoted contempt for their civilisational heritage”. The authors of the joint statement have opened a first front in the quest for India’s Leftist historians – long held as the only writers and interpreters of the history of an ancient and exceedingly rich civilisation – to face a reckoning that will undoubtedly be grim for their school.

'Bheelalas' (also Bhilala), Sehore (MP, the old Central Provinces), 1862, from the Waterhouse Albums

‘Bheelalas’ (also Bhilala), Sehore (MP, the old Central Provinces), 1862, from the Waterhouse Albums

They have pointed to a few of the more odious recent instances of the Left historians doing their duty to the former Congress-led government – on 26 October 2015, a group of 53 Indian historians publicly said they were alarmed by what they perceived as a “highly vitiated atmosphere” in India. Soon after, an “Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists” (numbering 176) followed, and this letter warned against “a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry” and “a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history”.

Such made-to-order intellectual endorsing of what has been a tactical political campaign against the BJP government has disturbed many historians, archaeologists and scholars of the Indian civilisation.

hist_quote1The authors of this statement have said their response is to the hypocritical attempts by leftist historians to claim a moral high ground. “Many of the signatories of the above two statements by Indian and ‘overseas’ historians,” they explain in their statement, “have been part of a politico-ideological apparatus which, from the 1970s onward, has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country, including the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and imposed its blinkered view of Indian historiography on the whole academic discipline”.

The authors of the (welcome and timely) call to free Indian historiography from the intellectual gulags of the left include a number of current members of the ICHR, several former members of the council, several scholars of the Archaeological Survey of India, university professors, Sanskrit scholars and linguists. They provide seven good reasons why their call is important, and these are (reproduced directly from the call):

'Kali Ghat, Calcutta', from 'Picturesque India. A handbook for European travellers, etc.', by W S Caine, G Routledge & Sons, 1890

‘Kali Ghat, Calcutta’, from ‘Picturesque India. A handbook for European travellers, etc.’, by W S Caine, G Routledge & Sons, 1890

1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago.

2. A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems in every field —philosophical, linguistic, literary, scientific, medical, technological or artistic — and a general under-emphasis of India’s important contributions to other cultures and civilizations. In this, the Leftist School has been a faithful inheritor of colonial historiography, except that it no longer has the excuse of ignorance. Yet it claims to provide an accurate and “scientific” portrayal of India!

3. A denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture, ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists. Hindu identity, especially, has been a pet aversion of this School, which has variously portrayed it as being disconnected from Vedic antecedents, irrational, superstitious, regressive, barbaric — ultimately “imagined” and, by implication, illegitimate.

hist_quote24. A refusal to acknowledge the well-documented darker chapters of Indian history, in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim victims (ironically, some of these tyrants are glorified today); the brutal intolerance of the Church in Goa, Kerala and Puducherry; and the state-engineered economic and cultural impoverishment of India under the British rule. While history worldwide has wisely called for millions of nameless victims to be remembered, Indian victims have had to suffer a second death, that of oblivion, and often even derision.

5. A neglect of tribal histories: For all its claims to give a voice to “marginalized” or “oppressed” sections of Indian society, the Leftist School has hardly allowed a space to India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief systems and heritage. When it has condescended to take notice, it has generally been to project Hindu culture and faith traditions as inimical to tribal cultures and beliefs, whereas in reality the latter have much more in common with the former than with the religions imposed on them through militant conversions.

Illustration 'Women of Bombay' from 'What I saw in India', by H S Newman, Partridge & Co., 1885

Illustration ‘Women of Bombay’ from ‘What I saw in India’, by H S Newman, Partridge & Co., 1885

6. A biased and defective use of sources: Texts as well as archaeological or epigraphic evidence have been misread or selectively used to fit preconceived theories. Advances of Indological researches in the last few decades have been ignored, as have been Indian or Western historians, archaeologists, anthropologists who have differed from the Leftist School. Archaeologists who developed alternative perspectives after considerable research have been sidelined or negatively branded. Scientific inputs from many disciplines, from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies have been neglected.

7. A disquieting absence of professional ethics: The Leftist School has not academically critiqued dissenting Indian historians, preferring to dismiss them as “Nationalist” or “communal”. Many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line, enforced through political support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The Indian History Congress and the ICHR, among other institutions, became arenas of power play and political as well as financial manipulation. In effect, the Leftist School succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarising the academic community.

hist_quote3And there we have it. I signed the petition (which you will find here) and commented: “The Indic approach to understanding the patterns of the past has been systematically denied, suppressed, altered, misrepresented, miscast, ridiculed and marginalised by the historians who are the subject here. In my view, aspects that have a great deal to do with shaping events and the lives of peoples – language and spirituality – have been ignored altogether by the ‘leftist school’. In so doing, a gigantic corpus of work and memory concerning our Bharatiya past has been concealed or neglected to a condition of near ruin, and this has been disastrous for the transmission of the values and ideas which are part of our heritage. That is why I welcome this call for a new historiography of Bharat.”

The 50 original signatories of this statement are:

1. Dr. Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Emeritus Professor, Cambridge University, UK; Dean, Centre of Historical and Civilizational Studies, Vivekananda International Foundation, Chanakyapuri, Delhi; member, ICHR
2. Dr. Saradindu Mukherji, historian, retired from Delhi University; member, ICHR
3. Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director, CPR Institute of Indological Research, Chennai; member, ICHR
4. Dr. M.D. Srinivas, former professor of theoretical physics; former vice-chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study; chairman, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai; member, ICHR
5. Dr. Meenakshi Jain, associate professor of history, Delhi University; member, ICHR
6. Michel Danino, guest professor, IIT Gandhinagar; member, ICHR
7. Prof. B.B. Lal, former Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
8. Dr. R.S. Bisht, former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
9. Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Govt. of Tamil Nadu; Vice Chancellor, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Viswa Mahavidyalaya, Kanchipuram
10. Dr. B.M. Pande, Former Director, Archaeological Survey of India
11. Prof. Dayanath Tripathi, former Chairman, ICHR; former Head, Dept. of Ancient History, Archaeology and Culture, D.D.U. Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur; former Visiting Professor at Cambridge, British Academy
12. Prof. R.C. Agrawal, President, Rock Art Society of India; former Member Secretary of ICHR
13. Prof. K.V. Raman, former professor of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Madras
14. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Dancer and Research Scholar
15. Prof. Kapil Kapoor, former Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antararashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha (Maharashtra)
16. Prof. Madhu Kishwar, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
17. Dr. Chandrakala Padia, Vice Chancellor, Maharaja Ganga Singh University (Rajasthan); Chairperson, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
18. Sachchidanand Sahai, Ph.D. (Paris), National Professor in Epigraphy, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Advisor to Preah Vihear National Authority under the Royal Government of Cambodia; member, ICHR
19. Dr. J.K. Bajaj, Director Centre for Policy Studies, Former Member ICSSR
20. Dr. Makarand Paranjape, Professor of English, JNU; Visiting Global South Fellow, University of Tuebingen
21. Dr. Nikhiles Guha, former professor of history, University of Kalyani, West Bengal; member, ICHR
22. Prof. Issac C.I., member, ICHR
23. Prof. (Dr.) Purabi Roy, member, ICHR
24. Prof. Jagbir Singh, Former Professor and Head, Dept. of Punjabi, University of Delhi; Life Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala.
25. Dr. G.J. Sudhakar, former Associate Professor, Dept. of History, Loyola College, Chennai
26. Dr. Bharat Gupt, Former Associate Professor, Delhi University
27. Prof. O.P. Kejariwal, Central Information Commissioner & Nehru Fellow
28. Dr. S.C. Bhattacharya, former Professor and HOD, Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, Allahabad University; former National Fellow, IIAS, Shimla
29. Prof. S.K. Chakraborty, former professor, Management Centre for Human Values, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
30. Dr. Amarjiva Lochan, Associate Professor in History, Delhi University; President, South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture & Religion (SSEASR) under IAHR, affiliated to the UNESCO
31. Dr. R.N. Iyengar, Distinguished Professor, Jain University, Bangalore
32. Professor (Dr) R. Nath, former Professor of History, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur
33. Kirit Mankodi, archaeologist, consultant to Project for Indian Cultural Studies, Mumbai
34. Prof. K. Ramasubramanian, Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit, IIT Bombay; Council Member International Union for History and Philosophy of Science; member, Rashtriya Sanksrit Parishad
35. Dr. M.S. Sriram, Retired Professor and Head, Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Madras; Member Editorial Board, Indian Journal of History of Science; Former Member, Research Council for History of Science, INSA
36. Dr. Amartya Kumar Dutta, Professor of Mathematics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
37. Dr. Godabarisha Mishra, Professor and Head, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Madras
38. Dr. R. Ganesh, Shathavadhani, Sanskrit scholar
39. Sri Banwari, Academic and Journalist; former Resident Editor, Jansatta
40. Dr. S. Krishnan, Associate Professor, Dept of Mathematics, IIT Bombay
41. Dr. Rajnish Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
42. Dr. Vikram Sampath, Director, Symbiosis School of Media and Communication; former Director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) – SRC; historian and author
43. Prof. K. Gopinath, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
44. Prof. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, former Professor and Head, Dept. of Vaishnavism, Madras University
45. Dr. Sumathi Krishnan, Musician and Musicologist
46. Dr. Prema Nandakumar, Author and translator
47. Dr. Santosh Kumar Shukla, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
48. Dr. Siniruddha Dash, former Professor & Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Madras
49. Dr. Mamata Mishra, Managing Trustee, Prof. K.V. Sarma Research Foundation
50. Dr. Chithra Madhavan, historian and epigraphist

Written by makanaka

November 20, 2015 at 00:59

Asia takes the research and development lead

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Ten Asian countries, including some developing countries in South-East Asia, have, as a bloc, caught up with the global leader in research and development (R&D) investment, the United States, a report by Scidev.net has said.

The report quoted is the National Science Board’s ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’ which is a broad base of quantitative information on the U.S. and International science and engineering enterprise. The National Science Board (NSB) is the policymaking body for the USA’s National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NSB report has said that total science spend of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam rose steadily between 1999 and 2009 to reach 32 per cent of the global share of spending on science, compared with 31 per cent in the US.

“This information clearly shows we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise,” said NSF Director Subra Suresh of the findings in the ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’. “And we must take seriously new strategies for education, workforce development and innovation in order for the United States to retain its international leadership position,” he said.

Well over a year ago (2010 November), the UNESCO Science Report 2010 had as its primary message stated that Europe, Japan and the USA (the Triad) may still dominate research and development (R&D) but they are increasingly being challenged by the emerging economies and above all by China.

The report depicted an increasingly competitive environment, one in which the flow of information, knowledge, personnel and investment has become a two-way traffic. Both China and India, for instance, are using their newfound economic might to invest in high-tech companies in Europe and elsewhere to acquire technological expertise overnight.

The USA's National Science Foundation (NSF) launched a number of new initiatives designed to better position the United States in global Science and engineering. Photo: National Science Board / Richard Lerner

Other large emerging economies are also spending more on research and development than before, among them Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey. If more countries are participating in science, the UNESCO Science Report 2010 saw a shift in global influence, with China a hair’s breadth away from counting more researchers than either the USA or the European Union, for instance, and now publishes more scientific articles than Japan.

A “major trend has been the rapid expansion of R&D performance in the regions of East/Southeast Asia and South Asia,” according to the biennial report ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’ produced by the National Science Board, the policy-making body of the US National Science Foundation, which drew upon a variety of national and international statistics. The report also mentions that the share of R&D expenditure spent by US multinationals in Asia-Pacific has increased.

According to the new Indicators 2012, the largest global S&T gains occurred in the so-called ‘Asia-10’ – China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand – as those countries integrate S&T into economic growth. Between 1999 and 2009, for example, the U.S. share of global research and development (R&D) dropped from 38 percent to 31 percent, whereas it grew from 24 percent to 35 percent in the Asia region during the same time. In China alone, R&D growth increased a stunning 28 percent in a single year (2008-2009), propelling it past Japan and into second place behind the United States.

“Asia’s rapid ascent as a major world science and technology (S&T) centre is chiefly driven by developments in China,” says the report. “But several other Asian economies (the Asia-8 [India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand]) have also played a role. All are intent on boosting quality of, and access to, higher education and developing world-class research and S&T infrastructures. The Asia-8 functions like a loosely structured supplier zone for China’s high-technology manufacturing export industries. This supplier zone increasingly appears to include Japan. Japan, a preeminent S&T nation, is continuing to lose ground relative to China and the Asia-8 in high-technology manufacturing and trade,” the report says.

International R&D highlights
(1) The top three R&D-performing countries: United States, China – now the second largest R&D performer – and Japan represented just over half of the estimated $1.28 trillion in global R&D in 2009. The United States, the largest single R&D-performing country, accounted for about 31% of the 2009 global total, down from 38% in 1999.

(2) Asian countries – including China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand – represented 24% of the global R&D total in 1999 but accounted for 32% in 2009, including China (12%) and Japan (11%). The pace of real growth over the past 10 years in China’s overall R&D remains exceptionally high at about 20% annually.

(3) The European Union accounted for 23% total global R&D in 2009, down from 27% in 1999. Wealthy economies generally devote larger shares of their GDP to R&D than do less developed economies. The U.S. R&D/GDP ratio (or R&D intensity) was about 2.9% in 2009 and has fluctuated between 2.6% and 2.8% during the past 10 years, largely reflecting changes in business R&D spending. In 2009, the United States ranked eighth in R&D intensity – surpassed by Israel, Sweden, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan – all of which perform far less R&D annually than the United States.

(4) Among the top European R&D-performing countries, Germany reported a 2.8% R&D/GDP ratio in 2008; France, 2.2%; and the United Kingdom, 1.9%. The Japanese and South Korean R&D/GDP ratios were among the highest in the world in 2008, each at about 3.3%. China’s ratio remains relatively low, at 1.7%, but has more than doubled from 0.8% in 1999.

“India’s high gross domestic product (GDP) growth continues to contrast with a fledgling overall S&T performance.” The figures show that China, while still a long way behind the United States, is now the second largest R&D performer globally, contributing 12 per cent of the global research spend. It has overtaken Japan, which contributed 11 per cent  in 2009. The proportion of GDP that China devotes to science funding has doubled since 1999 to 1.7 per cent and China’s pace of real growth in R&D expenditure “remains exceptionally high at about 20 per cent annually,” the report says. Overall, world expenditures on R&D are estimated to have exceeded US$1.25 trillion in 2009, up from US$641 billion a decade earlier.

“Governments in many parts of the developing world, viewing science and technology as integral to economic growth and development, have set out to build more knowledge-intensive economies,” it says. “They have taken steps to open their markets to trade and foreign investment, develop their S&T infrastructures, stimulate industrial R&D, expand their higher education systems, and build indigenous R&D capabilities. Over time, global S&T capabilities have grown, nowhere more so than in Asia.”

The scientific landscape is not conveniently demarcated by blocs, whether formed by states or by private sector interests. As UNESCO has said, even countries with a lesser scientific capacity are finding that they can acquire, adopt and sometimes even transform existing technology and thereby leapfrog over certain costly investments, such as infrastructure like land lines for telephones. Technological progress is allowing these countries to produce more knowledge and participate more actively than before in international networks and research partnerships with countries in both North and South. This trend is fostering a democratization of science worldwide. In turn, science diplomacy is becoming a key instrument of peace-building and sustainable development in international relations.

India’s new agricultures, clean and local

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The new issue of Infochange India’s journal, Agenda, is about India’s new agricultures. I’m delighted to have edited and compiled this volume, the contributions to which you can read on the Infochange India website. It is in my view a nicely balanced volume, with insight and knowledge from practitioners and academics, government officials and activists. Here are the contents:

Infochange Agenda journal on New Agriculture, coverTowards a new agriculture – With roughly 45,000 certified organic farms operating in India, there is finally a rejection of resource-extractive industrial agriculture and a return to traditional, sustainable and ecologically safe farming. All over India rural revivalists are rejecting the corporatised, programmatic, high-input model of agriculture and following agro-ecological approaches in which shared, distributed knowledge systems provide ways to adapt to changing climate and a shrinking natural resource base. Rahul Goswami explains.

An evolutionary view of Indian agriculture – Farmers work with knowledge systems that evolve with time and circumstance. They learn and unlearn, choosing the appropriate knowledge in their struggle to earn a livelihood. While scientists rely on averages, the knowledge of local people is dynamic and up-to-date, continually revised as conditions alter, writes A Thimmaiah. The integration of scientific knowledge systems with indigenous knowledge systems is vital to make agriculture sustainable.

Tamil Nadu’s organic revolution – With chemical farming becoming uneconomical and grain yields declining, more and more farmers are switching to organic agriculture, says natural scientist G Nammalvar in this interview with Claude Alvares. Nammalvar has been training organic farmers and setting up learning centres in Tamil Nadu for three decades. Trainings sometimes need to be held in marriage halls in order to accommodate up to 1,000 farmers.

Return to the good earth in Sangli – Jayant Barve used to market chemical fertilisers and pesticides and practise chemical agriculture himself. In 1988, he switched to sustainable agriculture, and has never looked back since. In this interview he emphasises that despite much lower input costs, organic farming does give the same yield as chemical agriculture, sometimes even more. An interview by Claude Alvares.

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

The new natural economics of agriculture – Farmer Subhash Sharma watched the decline of his soil and agricultural yields before he let nature be his teacher and understood the agro-economics of agriculture. He abandoned insecticides and chemical fertilisers and relied instead on the cow, trees, birds and vegetation.

Climate change and food security – Rice production in India could decrease by almost a tonne/hectare if the temperature goes up 2 C, while each 1 C rise in mean temperature could cause wheat yield losses of 7 million tonnes per year. A recent national conference on food security and agriculture deliberated strategies to protect agriculture, food and nutrition security in the time of climate change. Suman Sahai reports.

Local solutions to climate change – In developing countries, 11% of arable land could be affected by climate change. Indeed, farmers are already facing the impact of climate change. The need of the hour, say Sreenath Dixit and B Venkateswarlu, is not to wait for global agreements on mitigating climate change but to act locally, intelligently and consistently, as is being done with water harvesting solutions for rainfed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh.

Tackling climate change in Gorakhpur – The people of Gorakhpur district, UP, have come to expect heavy rains followed by long dry spells as a consequence of climate change. But they are no longer allowing climate change to affect their crops. At shared learning dialogues, they are learning about the benefits of multi-cropping, alternative farming, soil management and seed autonomy. Surekha Sule reports.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields. The produce from such fields once fed the capital city of Panaji, which now imports food 130 kilometres from the neighbouring state of Karnataka

Agriculture at nature’s mercy – In recent decades, market forces have prompted farmers in the Sunderbans to choose modern, high-yielding varieties of paddy, oblivious to their sensitivity to salt. Cyclone Aila, which caused a huge inundation of salt in the fields, proved that this was a costly mistake: every farmer who sowed the modern seed ended up with no produce, while those who planted traditional salt-tolerant varieties managed to harvest a little rice. Sukanta Das Gupta reports.

Resilience of man and nature – Cyclone Aila seemed to have broken the back of agriculture in the Sunderbans. Most observers, including Santadas Ghosh, felt it would be years before agricultural activity got back to normal. But just three months after the cyclone, salinity notwithstanding, seeds were sprouting and the freshwater ecology stirring with life.

Animal farms – The Green Revolution impacted livestock-rearing as well as agriculture. Farmers were encouraged to shift from low-input backyard systems to corporatised capital-intensive systems. As a result, write Nitya S Ghotge and Sagari R Ramdas, there was an artificial divide between livestock-rearing and agriculture, leading to the further crumbling of fragile livelihoods of small and landless farmers. Organisations such as Anthra are now working with communities to revitalise and re-integrate livestock and agriculture.

Women farmers: From seed to kitchen – Women contribute 50-60% of labour in farm production in India. There is evidence to suggest, writes Kavya Dashora, that if agriculture were focused on women, outputs could increase by as much as 10-20%, the ecological balance could be restored, and food security of communities improved.

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Empty claims of financial inclusion – Government has been broadcasting its success in doubling institutional credit to the agricultural sector. But these numbers have little meaning: 85% of accounts opened were inoperative, 72% had zero or minimum balance, and only 15% had a balance over Rs 100. It is paradoxical, writes P S M Rao, to talk about ‘inclusive growth’ when our policies and practices tread the path of exclusion.

Natural farming, tribal farming – In major parts of India, agriculture is in crisis, with very low returns and large-scale destruction of cropped lands. Conservation agriculture can help small and middle farmers escape the downward spiral that impoverishes them even as it destroys the soil and ecosystem, writes Vidhya Das. Tribal farmers in particular have an intuitive understanding of natural farming techniques, Agragamee discovered during its nascent initiatives in organic conservation agriculture with tribal farmers in Orissa.

The home gardens of Wayanad – Wayanad, which has been in the news for the high number of farmer suicides, is also known for widespread homestead farming. A typical home garden integrates trees with field crops, livestock, poultry and fish. Home gardens form a dominant and promising land use system and maintain high levels of productivity, stability and sustainability, say A V Santhoshkumar and Kaoru Ichikawa.

Small farmer zindabad – More than 80% of India’s farmers are small and marginal farmers. It has been empirically established that small farms produce more per hectare than their larger counterparts. It is therefore imperative to protect the interests of small farmers through measures that help promote and stabilise incomes, reduce risks, and increase profitability, and at the same time improve availability and access to inputs, markets and credit. Extract from the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), ‘The Challenge of Employment in India: An Informal Economy Perspective’ (2009).

The tired mirage of top-down technology – India’s large and complex public agricultural research and extension system, obsessed with the area-production-yield mantra, is geared towards harnessing technology to close the yield gap, while overlooking ago-ecological approaches entirely. This has been an error of staggering proportions, says Rahul Goswami.

The gap between field and lab – In India, publicly-funded research shapes the choices available to farmers, food workers and consumers. But farmers and consumers are only at the receiving end of agricultural research, never involved in it, says Anitha Pailoor. Raitateerpu, a farmers’ jury in Karnataka, wants to ensure that citizens are involved in decisions around science, technology and policymaking.

Kudrat, Karishma and other living seeds – Prakash Raghuvanshi has developed dozens of high-yielding, disease-resistant, open pollinated seeds, distributing them to 2 million farmers in 14 states. He also trains farmers in the basics of selection and plant breeding at his small farm near Varanasi. His aim is clear: to conserve and protect desi (indigenous) seed varieties, thereby freeing the farmer from the stranglehold of foreign seed companies and the cycle of debt and dependence. Anjali Pathak reports.