Saturday, January 19, 2013

U-turns in knowledge flow

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis, by Rowan Jacobsen is a great book; you will want to become a bee-keeper, too.

One of the persons mentioned in the book is Kirk Webster, a beekeeper in Vermont's Champlain Valley, who figured out how to keep his bee stock healthy.
Central to Webster's worldview was the work of Sir Albert Howard, the father of the organic farming movement.  Howard, Britain's imperial economic botanist in India in the early 1900s, studied the farming practices of India's peasants and wrote two books based on his observations: An Agricultural Testament and The Soil and Health.  He was knighted for his work in 1935.
For Howard, successful farming and food production - healthy plants, animals and people - required balance.   Any agricultural enterprise must achieve a state of equilibrium that mimics nature if it is to survive and prosper.....

For India's Macaulay's children,  there is no knowledge in their native practices  (unless it is blessed by the West).   Thus indigenous knowledge is lost, and then recovered, for instance through Sir Albert Howard's descendants,  India will re-import "organic farming".

(I'm not saying that the practices that India's farmers followed cannot be better understood by science, and improved upon - I am saying that this was work that Indians should have done, had they the awareness and self-confidence.  If an area has had flourishing agriculture for centuries, one should ask, how did they do it, what are their practices that made it sustainable? and proceed from there.)

There is a similar loss of genetic heritage, except for efforts like this one.