About Dr. Y L Nene – the Editor
Dr Yeshwant Laxman Nene (son of Laxman and Laxmi Nene) was born on 24 November 1936 at Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, India. He obtained BSc (Ag) in 1955 (Gwalior), MSc (Ag) in 1957 (Kanpur), both from Agra University, and PhD in Plant Pathology (Plant Virology) in 1960 from the University of Illinois, USA. He was recipient of several medals, scholarships, and fellowships during the student career.
Dr Nene was assistant, associate, and full professor and Head, Plant Pathology at GB Pant University of Agriculture, Pantnagar, Uttarakhand, India from 1960 to 1974. He founded the department of plant pathology. His major achievement was solving the mystery of “khaira” disease of rich, which had forced farmers of the region to give up growing rice. Dr. Nene discovered, for the first time in the world, that rice crop in fields could suffer from a deficiency of zinc and this deficiency was the cause of “khaira”. Bumper crops of rice could be raised in the region again. Since then zinc deficiency in rice was found to occur in many parts of India and several other countries, which resulted into increased yields of rice everywhere. In 1967, this work earned Dr Nene the International Rice Research Prize in a worldwide competition that was organized by the FAO to celebrate the “International Rice year 1966”.
In 1974, Dr Nene was invited to join as the first internationally recruited plant pathologist by the newly established International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, Hyderabd, India. He founded plant pathology research programs at ICRISAT. His major contribution, while working at ICRISAT, was solving a 40-year-old mystery of a disease of chickpea (gram) called “wilt complex” This work enabled scientists to produce disease resistant varieties for the first time for use by farmers all over India and elsewhere. Dr. Nene headed the Pulses and Groundnut Program (1986-89) and later held the position of the Deputy Director General (1989-96) at ICRISAT.
In 1996, Dr Nene took voluntary retirement from ICRISAT to spend full time to the activities of the Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF). Since then, he has been working as Chairman (AAHF) and Senior Managing Editor of a quarterly journal “Asian Agri-History”.
Dr. Nene is recognized internationally as a plant pathologist and an authority on pulses, such as pigeonpea (toor), chickpea (gram), mungbean, and others. He has traveled to more than 60 countries for professional work, has received many fellowships, awards, honors, both nationally and internationally for his researches, and has published more than 500 research papers, books, and bulletins.
Researching agricultural heritage of India is currently a passion for Dr Nene and he plans to spend rest of his life to the mission of AAHF, which he founded with support from many well known professionals.
Indian civilization is at least 10,000 years old and farming was the main activity of people. The Indian subcontinent produced all kinds of farm products in plenty, and barring occasional years of famine mainly due to drought, people enjoyed food security. Despite the rich agricultural heritage, the foreign authors highlighted agricultural advances of countries/regions such as China, Greece, Rome, Egypt, and West Asia, and for reasons best known to them ignored the Indian subcontinent. One reason was India remained colonized for almost a millennium by West Asians and Europeans. It is a fact the conquerors usually disdained the conquered and highlighted, with deep prejudice, the cultural weaknesses. They were interested in finding faults with the lifestyles of subjugated people. Thus the glorious past of Indian agriculture was never highlighted correctly. In fact, the European literature continuously denigrated India and Indian culture and thus the colonizers succeeded in projecting India as one of the most backward countries.
The imperial rule of the British did considerable harm to Indian agriculture. In the early years of the 20th century, the British introduced formal education in agriculture, which was modeled on European knowledge base because the traditional Indian knowledge base was considered hopelessly outdated and unscientific. Also, the education was to be imparted primarily to revenue workers and landlords, and not to farmers. Even after India gained independence in 1947, agricultural education continued to remain ‘West’ oriented and there was hardly any focus on farmer’s problems. Introduction of the American pattern helped to some extent in improving interaction between agricultural researchers and farmers. However, even today close interaction between farmers and farm scientists is abysmally inadequate. On the one hand, resource-poor (70%) Indian farmers still plan and operate largely on the basis of tradition and on the other, the farm scientists plan and operate on the basis of their ‘West’ oriented knowledge. It is imperative that the agricultural scientists of India are thoroughly educated in traditional agriculture. Only then, there will be a meaningful interaction between farmers and scientists, which in turn should lead to sound agricultural progress towards sustained food security.
Because of the internecine wars in the Indian subcontinent throughout the second millennium, loads of handwritten documents, reflecting scholarship in every aspect of life, were destroyed or looted and taken outside India. It seems, however, that some literature, including that of agriculture is still lying in scattered locations throughout India. We need to unearth all such literature to study it with respect and seriousness.
During the British rule, George Watt, a botanist did monumental work by compiling six volumes of “A Dictionary of Economic Products of India” from 1889-1893. These volumes contain enormous information on Indian agriculture of the 18th and 19th centuries. After independence, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi sponsored few publications on history of Indian agriculture. The four volumes by M S Randhawa provide an overview of India agricultural history from ancient to modern times. However, the information in these volumes lacks depth. It is highly regrettable to note that these excellent documents have not attracted attention of agricultural scientists.
The Asian Agri-History Foundation (AAHF) was established in 1994 to facilitate dissemination of information on agricultural heritage of South and Southeast Asia. Trustees of the AAHF believed that there is a great deal to be learned from traditional wisdom and the indigenous time-tested technologies that have sustained the farmers in these regions in the past. One of the major activities of AAHF is to promote interest in traditional agriculture among scientists, so that they focus their research on Indian farmers’ problems and needs, rather than remain hooked to researches carried out in the West.
In a conference of the Vice-Chancellors of agricultural universities held in April 2003, it was resolved that a course on agricultural heritage of India will be introduced in the undergraduate curricula of agricultural universities and colleges from 2004. It is disappointing, however, however, to note that only one university has so far introduced such a course. The major constraint to positive action has been the unavailability of a resource/textbook to prospective teachers.
The present compilation of articles (chapters) by the undersigned should facilitate the work of teachers and students. It is sincerely hoped that this book will sufficiently orient teachers and students to undertake research to validate and improve traditional technologies for immediate benefit of resource-poor farmers.
Most of the chapters included in the book were published earlier in the quarterly journal, Asian Agri-History and in the proceedings of the workshops and conferences held by AAHF. All the 84 chapters put together should give comprehensive orientation to Indian agricultural heritage to any reader.
The chronology of historical events that occurred in ancient India has been controversial mainly because foreigners wrote Indian history and Indian historians by and large relied on those earlier texts. It is only in recent years that Indian scholars are researching and correcting historical distortions. Based on considerable reading of old and new literature, the undersigned has compiled a tentative chronology of events that are related directly or indirectly to agriculture (Appendix I).
It is sincerely hoped that the book would not only stimulate interest in India’s agri-heritage in India but also all over the world.
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