Spiderman comes to town

Georges Brossard came to town to inform us that tiny creatures can solve most of our problems

Published: Sunday 31 October 1999

H e came to town to talk about the bees and ants. In the process, he conquered the hearts of the children. Adults, however, were a little sceptical. Georges Brossard, a Canadian national of French origin, is a man on a mission. His message is simple: think small, and see insects from a different perspective. As tillers who farm the soil and fertilise it. As scavengers who keep the landscape picking clean even the bones of the mighty lion. And as pollinators who harvest honey and keep alive the biological world.

Pollinators are amazing, he said. Farmers who use pesticides are not doing themselves a favour. Pesticides kill pollinators. Farmers in the West are getting wise. They now rent bees to enhance agricultural produce. And it works. The crop of apples from an orchard goes up five-fold if the farmer rents bees to help him out. The bee-keepers are as happy as the farmers.

Why isn't renting of bees a business in India? Perhaps we think too hard and seek big solutions to small problems. Bees and beetles fail to earn our respect despite the amount of hard work they are capable of. A beetle can lift nine hundred times its body weight. So, if Arnold Schwarzennegger thinks he is strong he can think again, maybe he ought to check out a beetle.

Reliance on large-scale and, at times, counter-productive applications of fertilisers is typical of our mindset. We seek mega-solutions to small problems. A joke from the Internet that is doing the rounds these days epitomises the dilemma facing the typical Indian policymaker. This is how it goes. During the early days of the us space programme, astronauts complained that they did not have pens that could be used to write in space. Ball points, fountain pens, or even quills, nothing worked out there. So, money was made available to the suppliers of pens for research into producing a pen that would write in space. Considerable research and thousands of dollars later, a suitable pen was finally produced. It worked both in space and underwater. The problem was solved, but at an almighty cost.

Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency ( cia ) achieved a breakthrough of a different kind. A leading Soviet scientist working on the space programme wanted to defect. The cia picked him up. The first thing they asked him was how the Russians had solved the problem. It was simple, the defector said. The Soviets used pencils. Is there a lesson in this for us?

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