Mandala Of Indic Traditions
Review: Honey Bee. A journal brought out by Srishti Innovations, Ahmedabad.
Editor Anil K. Gupta. Annual Membership $ 30/- for individuals and $200/- for
by D.P. Agrawal
The editors explain that Honey Bee is a metaphor indicating
ethical as well as professional values which most of us seldom profess or practice.
"A honey bee does two things which we, intellectuals often don't do, (i)
it collects pollen from the flowers and flowers don't complain, and (ii) it
connects flower to flower pollination. When we collect knowledge of farmers
or indigenous people, I am not sure whether they don't complain. Similarly,
by communicating only in English or French, or a similar global language, there
is no way we can enable people to people communication. In the Honey Bee network,
we have decided to correct both the biases. We make it a matter of principle
to always credit whatever knowledge we collect from them and to share, fairly
and reasonably, any benefit arising out of the knowledge or value addition in
the same. Similarly, we also have insisted that this knowledge be shared in
vernacular languages so that people to people communication can take place."
The editors further explain that Honey Bee is also a knowledge centre, which
pools the solutions developed by people across the world in different sectors
and links, not just the people, but also the formal and informal science. They
are aware that the solutions the people find need not always be optimal. "But
it is definite that a strategy of development which does not build upon on what
people know and do well cannot be ethically very sound and professionally very
accountable or efficient."
Anil Gupta gives some telling examples of the innovations as well as the institutional
context of the process. In Kutch there is large grassland called Bunni
comprising saline flat soils. Incidentally this is Asia's largest pasture. People
have developed a very ingenious way of conserving fresh water in the sub-soil
system called virda. The farmers take square blocks of wood, generally
the branches of Prosopis spp., and make a square frame of the same. After
the rains when the salts have leached down, they dig a well of 20-25 feet deep
and line it with wooden frames with a layer of grass in between. These frames
prevent soil from caving in and the grass lining filters the water, which moves
into the well from the surrounding soil. These wells are filled up with the
soil during rainy season, but when water is required, the soil is taken out
and the water oozes in from the sides. Since the specific gravity of fresh water
is less than the saline water, it floats on the saline ground water. For at
least two-three months after opening the virda, water remains drinkable.
Later it becomes saline. This is a traditional technique, which has provided
answer to the problem of drinking water for human and livestock use for centuries
in this area. Perhaps, this technique is of use in other arid environments as
well. Incidentally, there is no technology developed by modern science of comparable
efficiency and low cost. There is also no mechanism available today for people
to people transfer of such technologies and ideas.
The editors claim that they have a large number of examples of use of local
materials to solve plant protection problems. Farmers have found new uses of
existing plant biodiversity to control the pest and disease problems in the
crops. Take for example the traditional use of 'naffatia' (Ipomeae fistulosa),
a plant often used for fencing purposes. Animals don't eat it and there are
not many other uses popularly known of this plant. It is toxic in nature and
sometimes; the branches have been dried and used for making baskets for storing
seeds or grains. During 1973, when there was a steep oil price hike, many farmers
started looking for substitutes for chemical pesticides. In one such area where
farmers were tired of using chemical pesticides, a schoolteacher namely Gamel
Singh thought of using the extract of naffatia as an herbal pesticide.
There are many tales of about how the idea of using this plant for controlling
this pest originated.
The Honey Bee group did some research on it and found it quite effective against
not only some of the pests but also against certain microbial and fungal cultures.
In another example, a tribal person in Bharuch district devised a unique method
of pest control. He took help of 8-10 farmers or laborers who stood in a line.
They took the leaves of a creeper (Combretum ovalifolium) and put these
in a shoulder bag. The people moved in the windward direction after catching
blister beetle from the air and crushing it with the leaves already collected.
The combined effect of insect and leaf extract seemed to produce some signals,
which repelled the insects. Modern science cannot think of such devices. Similarly,
there are large number of other plant extracts (other than neem), which
have been developed by the farmers and which could help in making crop cultivation
in marginal regions more profitable. The editors suggest that if there could
be a special fund for supporting formal research on farmer's innovations in
public or private sector labs, a whole range of sustainable technologies, which
are cost effective, could be developed. These technologies may help transform
agriculture not only in developing countries but also in economically developed
nations too, which are biodiversity-wise poor like the European and North American
countries. These innovations may help in transferring technologies from south
to south and south to north (Based on Anil Gupta's circulated paper, Grassroots
Innovations for Sustainable Natural Resource Management).
I think people who value Traditional Knowledge Systems and have faith in the
genius of the common people, must subscribe to this journal.