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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!