Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Lessons from history

Rimjhim Jain's article on the mysterious decline and disappearance of the Indus Valley civilisation (August 15, 1993) made fascinating reading.

It was indeed ecological imbalance, as pointed out in the article, that led to the slow but sure desertification of a populous civilisation so mighty in its fortifications that the awe-struck Aryans, migrating in hordes, invoked the sky god Indra to rain fire and destroy the iron city walls. These invocations, found in the verses of the Rig Veda, are the only historical references to the civilisation that disappeared without a trace, leaving behind only some ruins and an indecipherable script.

History is meant to teach lessons to posterity. Signs of slow and steady ecological imbalance are again creeping upon us, as is evident from the oversilting of our river systems, deforestation and the increasing salination of soil. A magazine such as yours should continue to make the clarion call to save us from a path of sure destruction, at least as long as sense prevails. Incidentally, you will be interested to know that I'm contemplating an exchange programme with a school in Karachi through which students from our school could visit Moenjodaro and Harappa and students from Karachi, Ajanta and Ellora.

Finally, an enquiry. On the back inside cover of the issue, there is mention of video cassettes available to schoolchildren on hire or loan. What about schools outside Delhi? I ask this because we have a weekly audio-visual period and "green films" are at the top of our preferences as the children really enjoy them.


Crossbreed controversy

I would like to express my appreciation apropos the article Carving oases in drought-prone Kutch (August 31, 1993). Such reports help one keep abreast of grassroot level initiatives, which, in turn, are conducive to developing macrolevel policies.

I was particularly concerned about the mention in the article about crossbred cows. It is mentioned that "the local cattle breed Kankrej gives just three to five litres of milk a day, but crossbreeding experiments have achieved a yield of 10 to 15 litres a day".

The above assumption is questionable. Were the experiments conducted in the villages of the project area of the Shree Vivekananda Research and Training Institute (VRTI) and how many farmers were involved? Can it be recommended, on the basis of these observations, that an average farmer within the VRTI project area, or Kutch in general, be able to maintain crossbred cows for milk production and produce the required biomass?

A crossbred cow giving 15 litres of milk would need more than a tonne of balanced cattle-feed, more than five tonnes of quality green fodder and more than two tonnes of quality dry fodder. Has VRTI worked out a fodder budget for each village, in terms of requirements and availability, in order to develop an appropriate animal production plan that fits in the existing farming system, and will it be sustainable? Has the VRTI survey sounded the opinion of the local farming community, especially the women? These questions need to be raised within the organisation before a crossbreeding programme is considered.

The impression I got from the article is that the community is struggling to survive in a hostile semi-arid environment. While it is true that animal husbandry can play a relatively more important role in the farming system of such environments, it does not justify intensive animal production comparable to well endowed areas. Another aspect that needs to be considered is that a technological intervention based on crossbreeds in such a fragile area will suit only a few well-off farmers. Growth based on such intervention will only escalate existing inequities.

Generally, there is inadequate realisation that livestock production is a land-based occupation, as a result of which they are not appropriately integrated. Also, nongovernmental organisations working in this field need and deserve good professional and technical support.


Cattle power

I would like to draw your attention to your cover story on non-conventional energy sources (May 15, 1993). You have deemed it fit to discuss only mini microhydel sources, photovoltaic systems and wind energy, leaving biogas energy out of your purview.

The fact is that we in India are energy starved, we must tap sustainable and affordable energy sources. India has 25 per cent of the world's cattle population and, therefore, we cannot ignore the potential of biogas. We have before us the Chinese example where biogas has revolutionised the energy and agricultural sectors.

We have been involved in the propagation and development of biogas for the last 16 years and will be happy to share whatever information we have on it.


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