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Ideas For India

Dec 07, 2003
Holistic farming

There are some who think that the hymns of the Vedas are irrational rants. At the other extreme are theologists who appropriate them all exclusively for Hinduism. But the majority sober opinion has it that the hymns express an integrated theory of the universe in sublime verse. At a minimum, there is no dispute about the rigourousness of mathematical theorems and solutions expressed in poetic form. So there was a time when art, science and spirit were together without being apologetic.

Separation of the spirit from the scientific may have come about in Indian life because of its encounter with the West. Agriculture too had to pay a price. An activity that was rooted in the veneration of the five elements of nature—the panchamahabootha— was splintered and the farmer became a yield extractor using products of ‘modern science’. We are not going into the politics of this debate. We are here to survey a whole clutch of developments that seek to redress the split.

A return to holistic farming is discernible in a series of connected trends. And because these are taking place in the West we may expect --and find-- clear how-to instructions shorn of fluff. Such a survey is relevant here because two whole generations of Indians have alienated themselves from traditional knowledge.

This survey is intended for them and not the great number of farmers who have remained close to proven knowledge. The idea of ‘modern farming’ never got to many, and several of those that did catch the bug, quickly did their sums and got back to ‘old’ ways. Almost everything we are going to say in English here will make ready sense to them. When ‘modern’ Indians become aware of the disconnection they have suffered they benefit society in many ways. For one, they view the unlettered farmer’s ways with kindlier eyes. For another, they become patrons paying a premium for his produce. Finally, they can persuade a farmer coming adrift to return to ways that endure.

Holistic farming is more than ‘organic farming’, the current buzz phrase. You have mostly done ‘organic farming’ when you have foresworn chemicals. Not enough to attain holism. For over seventy years, followers of Rudolf Steiner’s ‘Biodynamics’have been farming with an awareness of the cosmos. They believe it’s not enough to factor in the plant, its produce and its economics. You have to bring in the cosmos. A plant is a creature like you and me, not a mere photosynthetic mechanism. Steiner followers plant after consulting cosmic almanacs and care for the earth and not just the plant. They have also developed soil specific ‘remedies’ as in homeopathy.

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