Sunday, October 16, 2005

Future of a prosperous India: Agriculture

India had been a self sufficient nation for centuries where the village was a self sustaining entity with its own cultural identity. God blessed us with fertile lands and intellecutally capable people who utilized the blessings and catapulted as a Global power to recon with till the 17th century.

Then came the colonial rule of India, a dark part of our history. The rule of British on India was unfortunate in a lot of ways and if we are to introspect, lack of scientific innovation, absence of quest for knowledge, lack of solidarity amongst Indians and absence of a strong conviction to defend our homeland are some of the root causes of why we were ruled by so few of another race for more than two centuries.

The colonial era was marked with a focus to transport wealth and capability into the European nations and destroying the fine balance and self sufficiency of Indian economy. While India is a strong nation that has historically been able to survive the ravages of invasions, the systematic destruction of grass root village economy brought the Indian village economy to bankruptcy. The independent India not only inherited the bankrupt state of Indian villages, it also inherited a cultural corruption that forced us to believe in inferiority of our race, religion and scientific achievements.

50 years and more of freedom, we've had some achievements like that of the green revolution courtesy scientists like M.S. Swaminathan, however, we still have 54% of Indian citizens engaged in agriculture contributing only 29% to the GDP of India. We need more scientific innovation and growth in low cost agricultural technologies that would contribute to the self sustenance and competitive edge of Indian agriculturists. It is important to note that we're talking abour more than half of the country that is engaged in agriculture( 54% ) with a majority of farmers having small land holdings making large scale farming techniques irrelevant to most Indian farmers.

Our honorary president of India, A.P.J Kalam in his speech to the nation envisions that India can become a global power if we were to have 44% of our nation engaged in agriculture with the rest split in manufacturing and services sector respectively. The challenge is not only to wean 10% off the agriculture successfully and absorb them in manufacturing/services sector within the rural sector, but also to ensure that the remaining 44% of Indian agriculturist are able to produce more food grains and other natural products at a scale and competitive edge which can be compared to that of America.
Dr Kalam envisages that the focus should be towards PURA -Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas. PURA we hope would facilitate creation of employment in the rural areas itself. The aim is to provide physical, electronic and knowledge connectivities to a cluster of villages thereby leading to their economic connectivity and prosperity.

While PURA aims at building the infrastructure in the conventional way, we as urban citizens should also try to understand more about the potential of agriculture, socio-economic conditions of the villages as a unique entity while making attempts to disseminate awareness about an education system that would work in the best interest of the citizens of rural India.

If life gives you an opportunity to help a farmer, then do not shy away, coz he is the one who brings food to our table.
This article is in honour of the farmers who lost their lives to poverty and to those who continue to struggle year on year to somehow make ends meet and yet they do not give up their culture "Agri-culture"

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Re-Discovering the scientific achievements of ancient India

Recently while browsing the the subject of alternate fuel sources for the world, I came across an article on how scientists in USA are discovering that Cow Dung cake could be an alternate for regional fuel requirements within USA. It got me thinking on whether this was a "Discovery" at all ??

Rural India and the people in the countryside across the subcontinent have been using a combination of straw and cow dung as a source of fuel for centuries. I recall that as a kid I used to see cow dung cakes drying on the road sides and unused walls in the villages of Uttar Pradesh (Northern India) . I used to see similar cow dung cakes up for sun baking deep in the southern India too (Karnataka).
Our rich cultural heritage combined with highly developed written language system in ancient India gave us the competitive edge to collect and pass on the collective wisdom and knowledge generation on generation. It is because of this collective wisdom spanning centuries that we find day-to-day application of ancient scientific discoveries and achievements in various parts of India that ironically are called "rural and backward" in current context.

I wonder if the average Indian who is a descendant of the most ancient civilization on earth completely understands the significance of this collective scientific wisdom that our ancestors bestowed to India ?
It is paradoxical and somewhat saddening that while the western scientific fora is exploring the ancient practices of the east to find solutions for the increasing natural resource constraints being faced in the new world; The east is trying to ape the modernisation and advancement of the western world without realising that not all of these modern marvels are in harmony with nature and may not be sustainable in the times ahead.

I cannot help but question the collective pride or the lack of it that we Indians exhibit when faced with modern marvels of the western world. Do we ever wonder how will the west sustain this tremendous pressure on mother nature and its by-products a century from now ? Have we ever put in efforts to explore our rich cultural heritage that has taught us to live in harmony with nature ?
If at all we imbibe the know-how that western civilization has to offer and blend it with our historical achievements - we could in effect ensure that both mankind and the rest of the beings co-exist; thereby maintaining the delicate balance of nature.
My brief experience of life in rural India happened when we visited a friend at a rural town called Gobichettipalayam in Tamil Nadu. The visit was an eye opener for me where I experienced supreme bliss of sleeping in a naturally air conditioned room in the middle of a super hot afternoon. (Courtesy Historic know-how of local people in utlizing giant coconut tree branches) .
In contrast, when one looks at the rampant development of buildings in Urban India that are symbols of prosperity for majority people, it compells me to compare life in rural India which is far more peaceful and fulfilling than staying in posh buildings with no trees in the vicinity, with no birds chirping around.
In conclusion, I would say that the boon of ancient cultures like that of the Native Americans, Mayans and Hindu civilization must be rediscovered and shared with the youth of this generation.
To me the cow dung cakes seen across rural India are symbols of pride that proves application of science in India lives within each one of us through our rich historical and cultural heritage and we should ensure that we share this wisdom with the younger generation who will then carry the responsibility to blend the wisdom of east with new technological advancements of the western world.