Peter Proctor: Singing The Song Of Sustainability

In the very country where Mahatma Gandhi composed the strains of non-violence to win freedom, there’s a symphony that’s being orchestrated by one man – and it’s all about sustainability.

I hadn’t heard about him till a few days ago. Living in our ivory towers, very often oblivious to what happens outside of our own world, cocooned in a safe and comfortable island of family, friends and comfortable living, what happens outside is very often sadly overlooked, never mind how important and how revolutionary it is. We tell ourselves it should be different, we try – but it’s never quite enough and living far out of our comfort zone needs a lot more dedication. Sitting out on our terrace one evening, watching the dogs play, my husband’s cousin who had just wound up working in Singapore and was back in India announced that he was going to attend a four-day Peter Proctor workshop. The name rang a bell, vaguely - but I had no idea what exactly it was all about. Then he went on to tell me about the work this incredible man was doing and I was amazed.

In our own small way in our pocket-sized garden, we practice organic gardening – letting the neem tree leaves that fall keep the soil pest-free, spraying the plants and fruit trees with tobacco and crab apple flower solutions. What Peter Proctor was doing however, was starting a revolution – quietly and effectively at the grassroots level of agricultural India. Why did this man come all the way from New Zealand braving the heat and dust of rural India to start a movement that would take on the might of multinationals and their juggernaut on its way to control everything we eat and drink? Why would a man who is partially deaf, with one glass eye, an opera buff, who doesn’t particularly like spicy Indian curry come halfway across the world to try to save debt-ridden Indian farmers from the clutches of corporations like Monsanto?

Because he cares. Yes, Peter Proctor cares – and this caring goes beyond the farmers and their plight. He cares about the planet and what we as humans are doing to denigrate it. He cares enough to say, ‘Enough!’ and to do his bit to work in tandem with Nature, not against it. He cares enough to want to try and bring back the beauty of balance that Nature should ideally have. To repair the delicate web of interdependence that all creatures in the world should be connected with.

It all starts with a bucket of dung – cow dung. One Man, One Cow, One Planet - the DVD is about how one man approaching 80 might just turn the tide when it comes to the stranglehold that large international corporations have on agriculture around the world. They call him the ‘father of biodynamics’ and he points the way to the true meaning of ‘the green revolution’ – not with the corporate giants’ answers to unlimited agricultural growth but farming in tune with Nature, built on the themes of sustainability and self sufficiency. Most Indian farmers own a cow for milk and a bull to pull the plough. So the cow dung needed to sing the song of sustainability is easy enough to come by. Peter Proctor puts into practice what the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner advocated almost a century ago. Though the Steiner theory of biodynamics might be a bit esoteric on reading, when it is put into practice, it becomes eminently practical.

Peter Proctor’s book, Grasp the Nettle explains how it all works. The cow dung is used to create compost and it has to be prepared in a particular way. It involves CPP or Cow Pat Pits where the cow dung is layered in pits. One preparation involves the dung being put into cow horns and then being buried. It is left in these pits right through winter after which the crumbly textured mix it turns into is mixed with water and sprayed on the crops. This preparation enables the plant to hold on the moisture for longer and helps the roots go deeper. The experiments are a total success – farms that have adopted this method have healthier and juicier crops. Little wonder that Peter Proctor is almost venerated by the rural Indian farmer, many of whom have wiped out their debts and shed the yoke of corporate control thanks to following his ‘back to Nature’ philosophy. When they hear he’s visiting, they come from miles around, sitting around him with their ubiquitous cell phones, waiting to hear the words of wisdom that fall from his mouth about the state of the soil. After all, it’s because of him that thousands of Indian farmers have stopped using chemical fertilizers and pesticides and have adopted biodynamics as a way of life.


Maybe it was easier in India than anywhere else in the world. After all, the cow has always been worshipped and it was easy enough to make them see why this way was so much better. Cow dung has traditionally had a number of uses in India – made into cakes and burnt as fuel, mixed with water and applied on floors to prevent insects from coming into the home and to manufacture biogas. And maybe the typical small holding Indian farmer was in tune with his land – and his cow of course – to realize that the so called green revolution, ushered in by the global pesticide manufacturers, only resulted in polluting the soil, poisoning it as well as the ground water. Unlike many other places in the world, the harsh effects of chemical farming were much more visible much sooner. With over half the population in India depending on agriculture, this was devastating!

Maybe that’s why Peter Proctor can be seen working among the rural farmers of India - maybe it was so much easier to convince people who lived in close communion with the land rather than farmers in more westernized societies where it takes much longer for the ill effects of chemical farming to be felt. Maybe when the holdings are small and so much depends on it, there’s a sensitivity to the soil and its needs – and an awareness of when things are good and in harmony with the rest of nature.


So it’s little wonder that many of these farmers look upon him as a Gandhi come to life. He has stood globalization on its head and he’s spreading the message of small holdings and a sustainable long term approach to farming versus short term profits and a systematic raping of the land. He’s helped that small farmer tune in to the rhythm of the land once more. The way things are going, it’s going to be an anthem of agriculture that the nation is going to reverberate with very soon – and from here, hopefully the world will soon be singing along too!

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Comments 69 comments

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Fascinating -- I'm going right back to the top to read it again, but just wanted to say that I may well go out and buy a cow today. . . although a goat might fit my yard, better. . .


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Shalini Kagal, thank you for telling us about Peter Proctor and his contribution to sustainable farming. It sounds like a very sensible way to go about fertilizing crops.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Just goes to show, one person can make a difference.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Teresa - I'm coming there for feta :D

Aya - yes, sensible and sustainable - and far from the Mammon crowd!

BrianS - exactly - makes me ashamed that I don't do enough.

Thanks all for stopping by and reading :)


SiddSingh profile image

SiddSingh 7 years ago

India has 200 million cattle, which is 20% of the cattle population of the world. If this is done right, we may yet make something of this. On the other hand, the Indian farmer is already utilising the cow to the fullest.

Here at my place, we are also engaged in a bit of farming, and at least once in a year, we use the cow-dung manure to fertilize the land. Of course, the only difference is that we have to purchase it in enough quantities. I remember when I was a kid, we used to ride in the small bullock carts carrying the manure.

Thanks for the great read!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

Hey Shalini:  As we have discussed in the past, I absolutely love learning about the pioneers who are cleaning up the world with the world itself, instead of with more and more "technology" and chemicals created by man, who created the problems in the first place.

As usual, you have taken a dry - though interesting - subject, and with your considerable writing skills have made it into a highly readable, enjoyable, and knowledgeable work that not only teaches us, but compels us to "feel as you do."

Plus, you're just darn fun!

Thanks for another superlative work!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Hi Sidd - thanks for reading! You are so lucky - I know so many kids today who have no clue how their milk gets to their table. A 'back to nature' trip is so essential for them to keep them grounded. Yes, te Indian farmer uses everything the cow has to give to the fullest - but here's something to use it a little differently and with such good results!

Christoph - thank you, thank you! Coming from you, that's praise indeed! Yes, I wonder why we tend to complicate life when we should be simplifying it - which is usually Nature's way!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Shalini, last night I finished reading a murder-mystery whose main character is named Peter Proctor.  Naturally, I couldn't imagine *that* Peter Proctor could have anything to do with sustainability! 

This is a great hub, Shal!  I've never considered the subject of self-sufficiency anything but fascinating, especially when David conquers Goliath!  Goliath believes he can control or ignore Mother Nature, when any fool knows Mother Nature controls *everything*.  Poisoning the water supply with chemicals in the name of making a fast buck is *not* the way to run a company.  Fifty years from now, companies like Monsanto will be gone, victims of their own greed, while small farmers in India will still be growing crops Mother Nature's way!


SiddSingh profile image

SiddSingh 7 years ago

Going on a slight tangent, Shalini, I would like to add something else that we have lost. Actually, it came to mind when you talked about Monsanto. Many years back, the farmers used to save a part of the gain produce to be used as seeds for the next crop. But now, thanks to genetic engineering and all, seeds have to be purchased every year. You cannot save it for the next year.


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

Shalini- I really enjoyed reading this as we hope to break the cycle of mass consumption and genetic engineering on our food. Its amazing how one man/woman cam make a difference and bring so much hope, especially to our kitchen table. thanks for the read.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

SiddSingh, Monsanto *can't* allow farmers to use leftover seeds from the previous year because a flaw in the genetic engineering process makes "old" seeds deteriorate.  If used the second year, the crop produced will be flawed too, in ways Monsanto already knows leaves them exposed to any number of lawsuits. 

My question being, if the seeds that grow each year's crop are that unstable, what is the corn or wheat or whatever doing to US after we eat it?  We are consuming the product of their technology after all.  Why not stick to *real* seeds that *can* be used the second year???  Seems to me Monsanto already *knows* there's a time bomb just waiting to go off down the road.


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

Thanks for this fabulous hub Shalini, I so agree with your saying that Peter Proctor "has stood globalization on its head and he’s spreading the message of small holdings and a sustainable long term approach to farming versus short term profits and a systematic raping of the land" ,, I had heard of his one man approach to sustainability but had no idea of his mind blowing efforts to improve agriculture in India - what a great man and it just goes to show that when a problem is approached with an open mind and a bit selflessness what can be done.... blown away ....cheers


ajcor profile image

ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

just shared this with the world via tagfoot and twitter - too good not to share!


AEvans profile image

AEvans 7 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

What a historical moment and what an honorable man, to think that he chained the course of farming. He is a blessing to all are honored to know him , and you did the honors of sharing the story with us. Wonderful!!!!:) By the way I like Spicy Curry...:)


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you all for your comments!

Jama - David and Goliath - what a fitting comparison! Maybe it was started by a Kiwi in India - but maybe this is the direction the world nees to take to survive!

Your question to Sidd brings chills - what happens when we eat grains that have been modified?

Sidd - exactly. Not just India - there are a number of American farmers who have got out of this stranglehold and are with determination going back to the old ways - guess it's a revolution whose time has come, thanks to awareness spreading so quickly today!

ajcor - yes - one man with the will and nothing is impossible! thanks for the 'sharing' :)

AEvans - historic and honourable is right. btw, the next time you and BP go on your world trip, I'll make sure there's spicy curry as well as bhang available :D


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

Excellent interesting hub. One man can make a difference. But there are the doomsayers and naysayers who reckon that every extra cow will add to the depletion of the ozone layer bringing global warming etc etc closer because of the gasses emited by the cows! Ba humbug bring on the cows I say!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you for coming by sixtyorso. The strange thing is, grass fed cows are not the problem - it's the farmed animals which are fed cattlefeed - mainly corn which they cannot digest - which are. So back to Nature wou;d also mean free range cattle which would mean less methane in the air - a lot less! There's hope because some large corporates are looking at how to lessen this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/17/...


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Sustainability is another word for freedom - freedom from ecological abuse and its ramifications. I hope someday our earth will become a haven for freemen. Thanks for sharing this hub of hope and inspiration :D


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

How right you are Cris - and we need to sing the song of freedom to survive!


kirubaharris 7 years ago

Thanks for bringing to light Peter Procter, who I had never heard of. Wonderful work by a great man. Once again he has proved how wise nature is.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks for reading K - apparently he really is treated like a god among those farmers!


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

You live and you learn! Thanks for this enlightening hub Shal...going back to the source really seems to be the answer to so many current problems.


ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

The GM seeds, suicide seeds, are genetically engineered to be sterile in the second generation. What you buy from Monsanto will produce a crop. The seeds from that crop will produce nothing.

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0126-07.ht...

Peter Proctor is a man of great compassion, courage and wisdom. I only hope his fight will be carried on by those he has enlightened.


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

Interesting thought about natural feeding and methane emission. thanks fr the additional information!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks for reading FP - yes, back to the old traditional methods seems to be for the best!

CWB - Seeds should be the repositories of life, shouldn't they? - somehow it seems so terrible to think of what we've done to them - thanks for the enlightening link! It looks like Peter Proctor's work will only gather momentum, not fade away :)

Thanks for coming by again sixtyorso - even cattle emission problems are because of man's interference!


C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S.Alexis 7 years ago from NW Indiana

There are many singing this song right here on HubPages! Great info and interesting write. Thanks for sharing.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Yes C.S.Alexis - isn't it great?


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

shalini this is a great hub. when i was reading up on the threat to traditional farming for my hubpage on genetically modified crops, i was so depressed, it sounded like a hopeless situation, thank you for introducing us all to hope

and, jama, the reason farmers are using less normal seed is that the large companies like monsanto are buying up regular seed producers and shutting them down. all gm seeds are not terminator seeds (most are) and the ones that are not, well it is a crime to use them again and companies like monsanto have spend a fortune prosecuting farmers for seed saving


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you Dolores for coming and reading. I'm glad I could bring you some news that smacked of hope! Yes, it is scary how quickly we could get sucked into the controlling claws of multinationals like these!


Staci-Barbo7 profile image

Staci-Barbo7 7 years ago from North Carolina

Shalini, your deep admiration and respect for Peter Proctor's work is very evident. As you mention in your article, you and your husband are already doing your part to achieve sustainable farming in your own family business. It seems that what Mr. Proctor advocates is a return to the agricultural principles that have been used by wise farmers for centuries, with some modern-day improvement in the application of those principles.

As for your prose - it is beautiful and moving, with a strong poetic "ring."


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you Staci-Barbo7 for reading and for your kind comments :) Yes, Peter Proctor brings hope where there was none before.


Gauri Kelkar 7 years ago

Hi Shalini,

I watched the movie "how to save the planet: one man one cow, one planet" recently and was blown away by the sheer simplicity of the whole concept and process. Not only does it help the debt laiden farmer but also helps in building back his lost pride as well. Not only that it helps create and empower the local community and release them from the shackles of of dependancy. I am writing a paper on Biodynamic farming and what designers can learn from it and your article has been really helpful.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you Gauri for reading - I'm glad you found it useful. Sometimes simple can be so profound! Yes, when I heard, I was blown away too!


Basil Steele NZ 7 years ago

This is the way we will change the world. Non violently and one person at a time. Empowering people and RECONNECTING them to this beautiful world. Thank you Peter!!!!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

I'm glad to see someone from NZ here - yes, thank you Peter - he's done so much for so many here in India!


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 7 years ago

A fascinating read. You are opening my eyes to things I never knew. Only goes to show I'm never too old to learn :)

Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

A wonderful story about how one wonderful person can change things around - isn't that incredible? Thanks for reading, Trish!


tejas 6 years ago

hello i am a doctor ... though i am in the medical profession right now .i have plans of eventually settling down in a village and making it self sustainable in every possible way....with biosustainable farming renewable sources of energy , good quality health and education etc,..i saw this programme on the discovery channel on mr.Peter Proctor. at the end i heard them mention on the t.v that he lives presently on the banks of the river cauvery near mysore city...and guess where i am from? right i am from mysore; i reside in mysore .i thought it will be a great inspiration as well as a learning experience to meet mr. Peter.....if u could please let me know his residential adddress .i would like to disturb him a bit. ;)


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Hi Tejas - Peter Proctor lives in New Zealand and conducts workshops there. There is a biodynamic centre near Mysore however where they do conduct workshops.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Your Hub is so timely today, so shortly after India said "NO" to BT brinjal.

You said about Peter Proctor, "He cares enough to...repair the delicate web of interdependence that all creatures in the world should be connected with." Indeed, that web now has huge holes poked through it and too many of its anchoring threads dislodged. I think we can all care enough to do our part, no matter how small, in repairing that web, as long as we allow ourselves to be informed about the issues, not blinded by the one-sided rhetoric coming from those who seek to gain at the expense of others.

I'm glad I found this "evergreen" Hub.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Hi Sally's Trove - always so good to see you! I've just posted a hub on Bt Brinjal :)

I do hope Peter Proctor serves as an inspiration to many for many more years!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

This is one awesome Hub! Really the recovery of our inter-connectedness is what could save us all, and bring new hope to the world and especially to the poor and the oppressed.

I liked what Cris A said in the comments - "Sustainability is another word for freedom." That is so true. And these kinds of ideas are so helpful in bringing about sustainability.

Thanks for sharing

Love and peace

Tony


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Hi Tony - we need to get back the interconnectedness - you're so right! If only we could!


crazykhan profile image

crazykhan 6 years ago from Lahore

nice hub friend


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Thank you, crazykhan.


LJ Evans 6 years ago

We just had a showing of the film "One Man, One Cow, One Planet" here in Fairbanks, Alaska, a week ago and it was quite inspiring. We have problems with manure not decomposing fast enough because the growing season is so short so Mr. Proctor's techniques would need some adapting here, but organic gardening is certainly practiced in the several farms here which provide locally grown foods through the community supported agriculture movement. I salute anyone who can help ordinary people live better lives as Mr. Proctor has in enabling the Indian farmers to get out of the debt and chemical farming cycles!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Hi LJEvans - glad you found the film inspiring. It's amazing what one man with the will to change things can do.


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Shalini, THanks for referring me to this site. I am not familiar with this man and I honor his work. It has been said, "Heroes alone don't shift the ground. Deep change comes only when regular people start naming what is happening, talking to one another, and, inevitably, when some of them decide that they can't accept such injustice." Thanks for talking about what is happening!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Hi Story - I so agree. In Peter Proctor's case, the injustice was thousands of miles away and yet he cared enough to try and change it!


Jaspals profile image

Jaspals 6 years ago from India / Australia

Very Informative as well well written article. Really enjoyed reading. Keep it up.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Thanks Jaspals!


SuperiorInteriors profile image

SuperiorInteriors 6 years ago from San Diego, California

Outstanding Hub! Thank you so much for sharing this with us!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Thank you for reading, Superiorinteriors!


Kimberly 5 years ago

Hi there, if anyone knows how to contact Peter and/or the full name and details of the place in Mysore where he lives please let me know via email to intergrativenutritionshg@gmail.com I live in Shanghai and China is another world power when it comes to agriculture and produce. It could do with some biodynamic farming! Thank you, kimberly


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India Author

Hi Kimberley - I've sent you an email.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, fascinating story, and it just goes to show how one man can make so much difference. Sometimes we forget what was used in the first place, and we think it is easier to go for the modern methods, we totally forget the real reason why we used the cow method in the first place, so it just goes to show that modern is not always right, nell


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India Author

Hi Nell - thanks for reading. He's really so amazing, isn't he?


David Moreno 5 years ago

I plan on using some of his techniques on my farm in Hilo,Hawai'i. I believe combining Geoff Lawton's water harvesting techniques and Peter's hummus building techniques will give me the best shot at a productive farm.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India Author

Hi David - how wonderful! Here's to your farm being very productive!


cathstuff79 profile image

cathstuff79 5 years ago from QLD, Australia

Love your writing! I hadn't heard of Peter Proctor before, now I'm interested in learning more.

Thank you also for promoting sustainable farming - these ideas are vital.


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India Author

Thank you cathstuff79 - yes, I agree, these ideas are vital!


Luke Taylor 5 years ago

Best of the movie

"Rather than Battling the problem, LIVE THE SOLUTION"

The most valuable commodity for the future will be the ability to garden and grow food that is more than stuffs to fill the stomachs


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India Author

Hi Luke - exactly!


brian Joffin 5 years ago

Thanks so much for Shalini, Peter proctor's work in India is mindblowing! He visited us in South Africa some years back and his simple straightforward no-nonsense approach to Biodynamics is just what the world needs. Its so wonderful how Biodynamic farming has caught on on India, and what is even more impressive is how communities have built up schools medical care also..its beautiful! A handful of people have been carrying Biodynamics for the past 20 or so years, and interest and enthuisiasm is now taking off! Brian from Stellenbosch, South Africa


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 5 years ago from India Author

Hi Brian - it's so heartening to hear that this kind of change is happening at the grassroots level. I wish more would wake up to the fact that we need to be kinder to our world! Thanks so much for coming by and reading!


joão batista 4 years ago

assisti uma reportagem pela tv,sobre Proctor Peter e isto mexe aqui dentro com certas coisas ja quase esquecidas o respeito a moral o ser que se diz ser humano,sou agricultor gostaria muito de saber mais.obrigado


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 4 years ago from India Author

Voce pode contata los aqui: http://backyardbiodynamics.com/


martinneesams 4 years ago

hello dennis i got it from a mate so this is there web address

filling address , they have a wealth of knowledge ,just say neesamsy give you there number


davyfetons 3 years ago

yous ok steven i got it from a friend so here is the site and details , just give them a call ,tell them d fetons

gift him out

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