Giving back what we have learned from India

Chris Simoens
08 October 2018
Disruptions in the agricultural sector drive many Indian farmers to despair and suicide. In order to increase their self-confidence, Johan D’hulster helped them rediscover their rich agricultural tradition, that taught the West composting techniques, among other things.

Who?

Johan D’hulster, organic vegetable grower

 

What?

Each year, he goes to India for a few weeks to improve the farmers’ self-confidence by reminding them of their country’s rich agricultural tradition.

 

Why?

Massive deforestation and large-scale agriculture have brought small farmers to despair.

 

 

My wife and I have a 5.5 hectares organic vegetable farm in Schriek. After a career of 38 years, the time has come to pass the flame to the passionate young generation.

 

10,000 years-old Vedas

Twelve years ago, I discovered a new passion: India. In 1998, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) decided to revitalise the dilapidated temple city of Khajuraho, including its lost fruit and vegetable gardens. That is how I got involved in the project. Since 2005, I have been going to India for a few weeks every year to share my experience.

India is a magnificent country with beautiful people, but the situation of the farmers there is incredibly distressing. Unfortunately, I found out that the West has played a major role in this.

Until about 100 years ago, Indian agriculture was very productive. The country’s agricultural tradition was built on wisdom. The Vedas, writings dating back to 10,000 years ago, already stated that truly sustainable agriculture with balanced cycles is only possible if a third of the land is covered with trees. Cows are crucial, because their manure is rich in microorganisms, which is essential for maintaining soil fertility. The Vedas show enormous respect for all living beings, the soil and water. Composting has also existed in India for centuries.

The Green Revolution, which was introduced en masse in 1964, did provide food, but not without introducing monocultures, pesticides, fertilisers and super varieties.

British colonisation and Green Revolution

But then came the British coloniser, who introduced the idea of 'exploitation of nature'. A massive amount of trees were felled for the export of hardwood. Agricultural resources were completely destroyed. Wheat, rice, cotton and cane sugar were shipped in their entirety to London. The exploitation was at its worst during the Second World War when India made unseen sacrifices. Even military uniforms and parachutes were largely manufactured in India from cotton which was abundantly available there.

The Green Revolution, which was introduced en masse in 1964, did provide food, but not without introducing monocultures, pesticides, fertilisers and super varieties. Contaminated soils, pollution, extreme drought and loss of biodiversity are a general problem nowadays. Many farmers commit suicide. Small-scale agriculture has been completely disrupted. And then to think that of the 700 million Indians active in agriculture, 80 percent are small-scale farmers often working on a piece of land of less than 1 hectare. Before the Green Revolution, these farmers had a huge diversity of varieties of millet, sorghum and leguminous crops.

The centre has already gained considerable renown in the state of Uttar Pradesh. When I am in India, I am constantly invited to speak to groups of farmers. Above all, I am trying to appeal to their sense of pride.

Johan D'hulster (standing) speaks to a large group of farmers (sitting)
© Johan D'hulster

Humane Agrarian Center

Together with, among others, the powerful farmer leader Prem Singh, I felt the need to change this. That is why we founded the Humane Agrarian Center, a centre for the preservation of the wisdom and tradition of Indian agriculture. It aims to inspire farmers to take their destiny into their own hands and regain their honour and dignity. We are trying to get the farmers back to their country’s rich tradition, which includes the composting technology. This rich tradition is remarkable, because it was only a century ago that the Brit Albert Howard brought this technique from India to Europe.

The centre has already gained considerable renown in the state of Uttar Pradesh. When I am in India, I am constantly invited to speak to groups of farmers. Above all, I am trying to appeal to their sense of pride. For centuries, they were told that the farmers are worthless and that their place is at the bottom of the social ladder. This is where I tell them how traditional Indian farming systems actually have everything to inspire the world and safeguard the future of our planet.

 

What farmers really need

Together with Prem Singh, I have also written a booklet in which we explain our principles: What farmers really need. Among other things, we defend the idea that farmers should be autonomous in 5 areas: seed production, water, energy, soil fertility and their thinking. Indeed, farmers need to learn to think for themselves again. Academics, advisors and bureaucrats are doing that for them today. We stand for a holistic vision with balanced cycles (see figure). The booklet has become a big success in India.

 

Model for a circular agriculture

 

I am pleased to see that more and more farmers are getting their hopes up and put their new insights into practice. Thousands of farmers are currently investing in water storage systems and farm-level agroforestry. But sometimes you come across someone who, long ago, decided to make radical choices against the tide. There was a Brahmin, a priest, who built his own 2 hectare farm, including 1 hectare of jungle. We found a green oasis of biodiversity and fertility, with monkeys everywhere, and with no sign of a drought problem. The most beautiful illustration of our vision, according to which rain can only develop if you have a wooded landscape, soil fertility and an active underground water level. Moreover, a sustainable agricultural system requires little water.

Agriculture is extremely important as the basis of society. That is why I am convinced that we must save the small farmer, who will in turn have to save the world, with agriculture that integrates itself as harmoniously as possible into the whole. I am pleased to be able to contribute to this.

 

www.intach.be

 

 

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