Botanical Gardens and Herbal Medicines
Farming the Future: Sarkar's Unique Contributions to Agriculture
by Steve Diver
Chapter 17 in:
Transcending Boundaries: Prabhat Ranjain Sarkar's Theories of Individual &
Social Transformation. Edited by Sohail Inayatullah and Jennifer Fitzgerlad.
Gurukula Press, Maleny, Australia. 1999. pages 209-222.
Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar's (1921-1990) work in economics, intuitional science, music, health, and a host of other human endeavors is perhaps better known than his contributions to agriculture. Yet, in Sarkar's view, agriculture holds a prominent seat in human society. And while it was in his later years that he focused on agricultural systems to help revitalize rural India, Sarkar throughout his lifetime took an active interest in plants and their unique medicinal properties. When all of Sarkar's ideas on botany and agriculture are taken together, a comprehensive picture emerges.
P.R. Sarkar demonstrated a vast knowledge of plants and their many uses. In 1958 he published Yogic Treatments and Natural Remedies (1), a manual on the treatment of 40 diseases through the use of yogic asanas and herbal, ayurvedic, and naturopathic remedies. At least 70 plants were described for dietary and medicinal purposes. A nephew, Amal Kumar Basu, wrote about his uncle's annual visits to his family in Chinsura in the 1950s: "He always gave preference to ayurvedic remedies over allopathic ones. He gave the details about the medicinal value of different plants and he advised us to plant trees in open places" (2). The significance of plants in Sarkar's life was not only attested to by Himangshuranjan Sarkar, who said that his brother Prabhat would insist on planting trees in the empty spaces between the bungalows whenever he came to visit Himangshuranjan at his railway quarters (3), but by Sarkar himself, who once commented while touring a botanical garden in Caracas, Venezuela, "When I was a little boy, a boy of 19 or 20, I took much interest in botany and biology, particularly the animals and plants" (4).
Though Sarkar maintained an extremely busy workload (by many accounts he slept only two hours a night), he regularly scheduled daily field walks. Accompanied by acharyas (yoga teachers) or margiis (members) associated with the Ananda Marga social-spiritual organization he founded in 1955, Sarkar's conversations would frequently turn to the botany or geology of local surroundings. Even on trips abroad — to places as far away as Europe, the Middle East, Central America, South America, and the Far East — Sarkar demonstrated keen knowledge of the local flora.
In 1980, Sarkar initiated a Garden Program, and soon the space around his residence in Lake Gardens, Calcutta, was transformed into a botanical garden called Madhumalainca. In the Garden Program, each of the nine geographical sectors† of Ananda Marga was invited to bring 400 different native and rare plants to Madhumalainca each month. Acharya Asiimananda, the agricultural secretary of Ananda Marga, oversaw the cataloging of plants on arrival, and regularly spent two hours a day with Sarkar, taking notes pertaining to the culture of new plant accessions. Notebooks were filled with data such as the botanical, Sanskrit, and common English names of plants, their country of origin, and special properties or uses of individual plants. Several examples are provided in the table below.†To better organize social and spiritual services, the worldwide organization of Ananda Marga is divided into nine sectors which are comprised of large geographical areas corresponding to continents and national boundaries. Each sector is named after a key city in that sector: Dehli, Manila, Suva, Hong Kong, Qahira (Cairo), Nairobi, Berlin, Georgetown, and New York (e.g., United States, Canada, Mexico, West Indies, and Central America).
Table 1. Names of Selected Plants Catalogued at Madhumalaincha
Latin English Sanskrit Bengali Diospyrus virginiana Persimmon Prasun phalum Trachyspermum ammi Ajwain Ajmoda Jowan Luffa aegyptiaca Luffa gourd Rajakoshataki Dhundul Artemisia vulgaris Mugwort Nagadamani Nagadona Ipomea alba Moonflower Chandra-kanti Dudhiakalmi Vigna mungo Black gram Mudga Mung
Sources:The Garden Program turned into a major project, with a wide variety of trees, vines, herbs, and flowering plants arriving from all parts of the world. To prevent the spread of foreign diseases or pests, plants had to be inspected and shipped bare root, and this required careful wrapping in moist packing material instead of native soils or potting mixes. Sarkar paid special attention to plants from distant climates, relaying instructions to gardeners on pest control and plant culture. Avadhutika Ananda Karuna, a senior acharya who supervised garden maintenance, observed, "While working in his different gardens, I noticed that Baba† would pay meticulous attention to all the plants, orchids, fruits, and flowers. Because of his thorough supervision and care, many delicate plants were saved" (5).Acharya Asiimananda Avadhuta, personal communication in 1986
S.K. Jain and R.A. DeFilipps, Medicinal Plants of India, Volumes I and II. Algonac, Michigan, Reference Publications, Inc., 1991.
Vaidya Bhagwan Dash and Ku. Kanchan Gupta, Materia Medica of Ayurveda. New Dehli, B. Jain Publishers (P) Ltd., 1991.
Neo-Humanism, Ecology, and AgricultureMadhumalainca soon turned into a jungle. To accommodate the expanding Garden Program, attention turned to the establishment of gardens at Ananda Marga centers around India. Most notable among these were the gardens at the central headquarters of Ananda Marga in Tiljala (Madhukoraka), at the Ananda Nagar Master Unit in Purulia District of West Bengal (Madhumalaya and Madhukarnika), and at the Ananda Shilla Master Unit in the state of Bihar. Sarkar also visited Ananda Marga botanical gardens located in New Dehli, Visnapur, and Digha.†Baba means "Father" in the Bengali language; disciples in the Ananda Marga yoga society commonly referred to P.R. Sarkar as "Baba" as a form of respect and affection.
Yet, the Garden Program was clearly more than a grass-roots botanical garden movement based purely on aesthetics or environmental enhancement of the landscape. The collection and dissemination of plant germplasm between the nine sectors and agricultural projects of Ananda Marga was foremost on the agenda. Sarkar encouraged the maximum utilization of plant resources and said that research centers should be established to investigate a wide variety of topics including the acclimation of foreign crops, crop breeding, seed production, intercropping, and biofertilizers, among others.
In 1982, Sarkar published a book called The Liberation of Intellect — Neo-Humanism (6) wherein he described a new philosophy called Neo-Humanism, or the expansion of humanism to universalism. In Neo-Humanism, devotional sentiment is cultivated to the point where love is extended to all of humanity regardless of race, religion, political boundaries, or social stature. It can be understood in a succinct passage from Problem of the Day (7):Prout Economics and Rural DevelopmentFurther, in Neo-Humanism this love is extended to all of creation, including plants and animals, and even to inanimate matter down to the sub-atomic level. According to Sarkar, unless society adopts such a cosmic sentiment and develops a caring attitude for all of humanity as well as for the collective welfare of the flora and fauna of this earth, ecological problems will worsen, and balance (or "prama") in the physical, mental, and spiritual spheres will not be realized.The Supreme Consciousness (Parama Purusa) is my father and the Supreme Principle (Parama Prakrti) is my mother, the Universe is my native land and all of us are citizens of this cosmos.
One aspect of Neo-Humanism that figures in a discussion of Sarkar's ideas on agriculture is the concept of inter-creature relations. According to Sarkar, "each and every living entity, whether plant or animal, has two types of value: one, its 'utility value,' and the other, its 'existential value' (8)." In a 1986 discourse titled "Renaissance in All the Strata of Life" (9), he states:Sarkar's view that everything in Nature has an innate reason for being, coupled with the Neo-Humanistic paradigm that ecological responsibility is basic to human survival, is grounded in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Plants program (PCAP) he established in 1978. The aims and objective of PCAP are to prevent cruelty to animals and plants; to protect species of animals and plants from extinction; to create a sentiment of love for animals and plants; popularizing vegetarian food selection; supplying feed and fodder to cooperatives for the care of animals and birds; and creating a love for forests and sponsoring afforestation projects and social tree planting ceremonies. Establishment of botanical gardens and wildlife preserves are complementary activities of PCAP.The biological disparity between animal and plant — that disparity must not be there. Just as a human being wants to survive, a pigeon also wants to survive — similarly a cow or a tree also wants to survive. Just as my life is dear to me, so the lives of other created beings are also equally dear to them. It is the birthright of human beings to live in this world, and it is the birthright of the animal world and plant world also to remain on this earth.
The adoption of Neo-Humanism in modern agriculture will require a shift in sentiment and an alternative agriculture scenario wherein animals continue to play an essential role in both economical and ecological terms, but are not simply raised for slaughter. Positive examples of a Neo-Humanistic animal agriculture: pastures used solely to raise livestock for slaughter are planted into woody and herbaceous biomass crops; animal manures supply biofertilizers and composts; weeds and brush are controlled by grazing instead of herbicides; animal products (dairy, wool, and eggs) are obtained without harming the animal; other animal products (leather products and organic fertilizers like feather, fish, bone, and blood meal) are obtained when animals die from old age.
In 1959, P.R. Sarkar outlined the socio-economic theory known as PROUT, or the Progressive Utilization Theory. In PROUT, the economy is divided into three major sectors: public or key industries; cooperatives; and private enterprises. Ravi Batra, an economics professor at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas), treats education and health care as separate sectors and illustrates PROUT in the form of a pyramid in his book Progressive Utilization Theory: Prout (10).Master Units & Ananda Nagar
Pyramid Level 5: Free Health Care
Pyramid Level 4: Free Education
Pyramid Level 3: Small-Scale SectorPyramid Level 2: Cooperative Sector1. Proprietorships
3. Small Cooperatives
4. Small Farms and Cottage IndustriesPyramid Level 1: Public Sector1. Large-Scale Consumption Goods
2. Light Engineering Goods
3. Large-Scale AgricultureIt can easily be seen from this diagram that agriculture occupies a key position in PROUT economics. Agriculture is not only on the same footing as industry, but is closely tied to agro- and agrico-industries. Agro-industries are those involved in the processing of raw agricultural products, and include flour, oil, textile and paper mills, fruit and vegetable processing, dairy plants, and medicinal herb laboratories. Agrico-industries produce tools and supplies such as shovels, hoes, rakes, animal- and tractor-drawn implements, seeds, fertilizers, greenhouses, and pest control products needed for farm production.1. Raw Materials and Energy
2. Heavy Capital Goods
3. Public Transportation
Cooperatives receive special attention in PROUT economics. These include farmers' cooperatives, as well as producers' cooperatives such as agro-industries and agrico-industries closely related to farming activities. The benefits of agricultural cooperatives are readily apparent — they enable farmers to pool their resources, purchase inputs, and market crops while eliminating the middle man. Equally important, however, is the role that cooperatives play in the actualization of a decentralized economy, which is one of the principal goals of PROUT.
In addition, agriculture is given the same status as industry in PROUT, and this has significant implications in the agricultural economy. In industry, raw materials and labor costs, interest on loans, depreciation, maintenance costs, profit, the rate of output, etc. are fixed and included in costing. In contrast, farmers are often forced to sell their produce at low prices and thus they exist on marginal returns and quite often accumulate substantial debt. When agriculture is treated as an industry, farmers will be able to cost the price of seeds, labor, equipment and supplies, storage and inventory, depreciation, pension funds, etc. Farmers will also have the right to include a 10% to 15% profit on their produce as a regular part of their business. Thus, when the value of agricultural produce is properly calculated, farm families and rural communities will benefit greatly.
In 1966, Sarkar founded the Universal Proutist Farmers Federation (UPFF). Its purpose is to provide a political platform for farmers, to protect farmers from exploitation, and to assist farmers in the establishment of agricultural cooperatives. Other roles that UPFF may assume when PROUT is implemented on a wider scale are: provider of technical advice to farmers, organizer of educational and scientific conferences, and publisher of popular farm magazines and technical bulletins.
In many parts of the developing world, including India, China, and Southeast Asia, the proportion of people working in agriculture and rural industry is too high. For example, in India, 80% of the population lives in villages and 75% of the population works directly in agriculture. According to PROUT, 30% of the population should be engaged in agriculture production, 10% to 20% in post-harvest processing or agro-industries, 10% to 20% in pre-harvest production of agricultural supplies or agrico-industries, 20% to 30% in non-industrial industries (steel plants, brass and metal industries, oil refineries, and non-herbal pharmaceuticals), 10% in general trade and commerce, and about 10% in white collar or intellectual jobs.
In the United States, where only 2% of the population works directly in agricultural production, a different set of circumstances prevail. Though a 15-fold increase in the farm sector is not appropriate in a developed economy, clearly more people would take up farming were it economically feasible. In addition, when so many people are removed from the land and the inherent holism associated with living and working around Nature, it raises the question as to the cummulative effect on society. Indeed, the eco-psychologists suggest that many of the social ills present in industrialized countries are the result of such an imbalance.
Decentralized planning and self-reliance are basic features of PROUT economics. Planning districts are based on blocks (roughly comparable to a village or town), with several blocks making up a district (roughly equivalent to a county). In turn, several districts make up a socio-economic unit called a samaj. Samajes are "formed on the basis of factors such as common economic problems; uniform economic potentialities; ethnic similarities; common geographical features; and people's sentimental legacy, which arises out of common socio-cultural ties like language and cultural expression" (11). After a careful analysis of India's geography, soil conditions, natural resources, language, and cultural factors, Sarkar identified 44 individual samajes. The goal of the samaj movement is for each socio-economic unit to achieve self-sufficiency through the implementation of economic planning and policies.
In India, the Green Revolution — characterized as the specialization of agricultural enterprises coupled with capital-intensive technologies such as high-yielding rice and wheat varieties, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides — has seen mixed results. Though crop yields have increased in a few regions, most notably in the states of Punjab and Haryana, in many areas the masses of farmers and villagers remain poor. In addition, the economics of the Green Revolution mirrors that of Western agriculture — a few agribusiness dealers, large landowners, and multi-national corporations derive economic gains, while the vast majority of small farmers live on marginal returns. As a result, millions of rural Southeast Asians have flooded the big cities looking for jobs. However, industrialization has not kept up with urbanization, and now these former villagers live in an urban hell where clean drinking water, food, jobs, and shelter are scare. Urban planners have little hope for cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Dehli, and Madras.
Thus, one aim of PROUT is to create a rural counter-magnet to attract people to farms and villages. To solve unemployment problems in rural areas, Sarkar emphasized the development of samaj movements, increased utilization of plants, afforestation projects to reclaim arid and semi-arid regions, and creation of new goods and services in agro- and agrico-industries. A final component in PROUT'S rural development scheme is the creation of Master Units.
Master Units are multi-purpose development centers designed to assist rural regions. The aim of a Master Unit is to expand all possible services to the community at large, particularly in the fields of education, culture, economics, and spiritual upliftment. In reality, they also serve as model PROUT villages wherein the inhabitants not only find employment or provide services, but where they can also find community and enrich their spiritual lives.
At a minimum, a Master Unit should be five acres in size. The primary requisites of an ideal Master Unit correspond to the five minimum requirements of PROUT: food, clothing, housing, education, and medical care. As such, farming (or at least kitchen gardening) will play a central role on Master Units in order to supply as much locally produced food, fiber, and medicinal plants as possible.
The common features of a Master Unit are: (1) crop production; (2) dairy farming and animal husbandry; (3) cottage industries; (4) schools; (5) hostels; (6) children's homes; and (7) medical clinics. Though the hub of a Master Unit is spirituality, its programmatic goals are service to the community and invigoration of the local economy.
In addition, Sarkar said that special features† of Master Units should include: (1) wheat grinding; (2) a bakery; (3) a seed bank; (4) a cheap seed distribution center; (5) a nursery and free plant distribution center; (6) a sericulture and silk weaving center; (7) alternative energy production; (8) dairy processing; (9) apiculture or beekkeeping; (10) a training center for alternative agriculture; and (11) a sanctuary for plants and animals.
Food and economic self-sufficiency are the prime directives of a Master Unit. Thus, the integration of farm production with cottage industries is a necessary step in that direction. Sarkar outlined 10 kinds of cottage industries for agrarian-based Master Units:1. Farpro 1 - First stage of processing farm products of animal and insect origin like milk, wool, silk thread, lac, honey, and wax.The first Master Unit, Ananda Nagar, was established in 1963 when 500 acres of land was donated by a local Raja to Ananda Marga in Purulia District of West Bengal. Through various stages of development in the 1960s and 70s, Ananda Marga established primary schools, a technical college, and a medical clinic to serve the surrounding villagers. Beginning in 1987, three years before his death, Sarkar invigorated the Master Unit program with the aforementioned guidelines and placed special emphasis on Ananda Nagar as a model Master Unit. Today "The City of Bliss" is 1,200 acres in size and the focus of a multi-purpose development scheme, Ananda Nagar Rural Development project, aimed at transforming Purulia District.
2. Farpro 2 - All farm products derived from plants, for example, pappadams from pulses, beaten rice from rice, cereal flakes from cereal crops, jams and jellies from fruits, etc.
3. Inpro 3 - Industrial products and herbal medicines from plants such as essences, ayurvedic medicine, and naturopathic remedies.
4. Inpro 4 - Medicines of non-plant origin such as allopathic and biochemic medicines, as well as medical equipment like pressure gauges.
5. Com 5 - Fiber products of plant origin: jute, cotton, linen, hemp, banana fibers, pineapple fiber, sisal, lady's finger, basil.
6. Com 6 - Fiber products of non-plant origin: plastic, nylon, rayon, artificial silk.
7. Com 7 - Articles of mineral but non-metallic origin: calcium carbonate, calcium sulphate, calcium phosphate, conch shell, ivory, rubber, oyster shells.
8. Ind 8 - Non-metallic products such as soaps, shampoo, liquid soap, toothpaste, and brushes, detergent, nectar.
9. Ind 9 - Metallic articles excluding ferrous material: gold, aluminum, bronze, brass, zinc, as well as tin articles, thermometer, crockery.
10. Ind 10 - Iron materials and articles: steel, stainless steel, grinding machines, cement, fertilizers, microscopes.
†The special features outlined in Ideal Farming were apparently in reference to the Ananda Nagar Master Unit in Purulia District of West Bengal. Wheat, silkworms, dairy, and bees are site specific activities. However, integrated farming and linkage of complementary agricultural enterprises is clearly one of the goals of Master Units.
Ananda Nagar lies at the heart of one of the most backward, poverty stricken and neglected areas of the world. The service area of the Ananda Nagar Development program covers 125 square kilometers and encompasses 55 rural villages. The inhabitants surrounding Ananda Nagar are tribal villagers who experience most of the problems that rural people face in the Third World. Ninety percent of the total population of 50,000 live below the absolute poverty line. Only 40% of the men and 2% of the women can read, and fewer than 15% of school-age children attend schools. The absence of industry in this rural region assures dependence on subsistence farming and grazing. Farming is done on arid lands that once supported a lush broadleaf forest, but are now barren due to deforestation and overgrazing. Lack of food and medical facilities and malnutrition are the primary causes of abnormally high rates of chronic and acute diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, dysentery, leprosy, elephantiasis, and polio.
The long-term aim of the Ananda Nagar Rural Development project is the establishment of a self-sufficient, decentralized, local economy which will serve as the foundation for autonomous local development. In the short term, it is providing education, health care, and agricultural services which have the greatest immediate impact on improving the living standards and quality of life for local inhabitants.
The major areas targeted under the Ananda Nagar Development Program are:
Though a list of all the projects under each category would go on for several pages, the agricultural projects under way at Ananda Nagar include:
One special feature at Ananda Nagar is the PASAKA Conservation and Research Center, a "garden for the development of all beings." PASAKA is a sanctuary two square kilometers in size for rare plants and endangered animals, especially those misplaced due to the destruction of forests.
In 1987, Sarkar initiated a series of seminars on farming and Master Units at his residence in Lake Gardens, Calcutta. Notes from these lectures, later published as Ideal Farming (12) in 1990, ran over 250 pages and covered topics such as: important crops of Bengal, integrated farming, blending of crops, plant combinations, biofertilizers and microvita, cultural practices, pest control, growing seasons in relation to the Bengali calendar, roadside and lakeside plantings, and water conservation.
From 1979 onwards, Sarkar developed case studies of regional development in India and Bangladesh. These notes, found in the Prout in a Nutshell (13-21) series, are a commentary on cash crops, soil types, farming systems, and agro-industries of Jammu and Kashmir, Bengal, South Bengal and Contai Basin, Bihar, Tripura, Assam, Manipur, Bangladesh, and the Ra'r'h.
Focusing on agricultural crops adapted to Bengal, Sarkar spoke at length on types and varieties of oil seeds, pulses, fiber crops, cereals, vegetables, sugar crops, fruits, nuts, grains, spices, medicinal plants, and trees. Notes on individual crops in Ideal Farming frequently go into great detail regarding cultural advice, medicinal value, industrial products, and so on. For example, the following excerpts are from an entry on grapes:
A wine called 'asoke risaja' used in the treatment of female diseases can be prepared from overripe grapes and sold to medicine factories.
Seedless grapes are generally grafted, but seeded grapes may or may not be grafted...Grapes should be grown on a slanting trellis or platform.
Research will improve the preparation of grape products and discover more uses for grapes.
Grape varieties suitable for research:
(1) round, big; (2) round, small; (3) long, big; (4) long, small; (5) Chinese, small; (6) German; (7) Iberian; (8) French; (9) Italian.
Sandy, reddish soil is good for growing grapes. Grapes can successfully be grown in Ra'r'h, but bone dust should be added to the soil to make the fruit sweet.
On the border of the vineyard the following crops should be grown — large cardamon, ipecac (a medicinal plant), cinchora (the source of quinine and other anti-malarial preparations) and hing (asafoetida).
Throughout Ideal Farming Sarkar suggests crops and farming practices for Ananda Marga farming projects in general, paying special attention to those adapted to Ananda Nagar. Likewise, both Ideal Farming and Prout in a Nutshell contain many references to the agriculture of the Ra'r'h, or the Land of Red Soil, which is a region of West Bengal and Bihar where Ananda Nagar is located."Farming projects should also cultivate some selected items for special emergency survival. These include vegetables, pulses, potatoes, and fodder for dairy cows to ensure milk production."One aspect of Ideal Farming that deserves special recognition for its remarkable detail and insight into complementary interactions between plants is the section on the blending of crops. According to Sarkar, "Our system of integrated farming is designed to utilize every inch of land. Not only should the surface land be fully utilized, but the space under the surface, and even the space above the surface, should be used to the maximum." The aim of crop blending is increased productivity of the land and the associated ecological benefits that arise from biological diversity and vegetative cover.
"Some of the nuts that should be grown at Ananda Nagar are pistachio, almond, walnut, chestnut, and cashew."
"In Ra'r'h the soil is of a sticky nature so it does not allow water to seep underground. This type of soil is very good for aman (autumn rice) cultivation. Ra'r'h has the best soil for aman cultivation in the entire world."
To achieve maximum utilization of land, Sarkar stressed the adoption of three cropping systems: mixed cropping, supplementary cropping, and crop rotation. Under each category, he listed new and unique crop combinations and months in which they should be sown or transplanted. In mixed cropping, two or more crops are grown in a field at the same time (e.g., potatoes, spices, eggplant, pumpkin, and cauliflower). In supplementary cropping, there is one main crop and a minor crop to support it (e.g., orange trees interplanted with coffee trees, tea bushes, and ginger plants). When two or more crops are raised in sequence on the same land each year, it is known as crop rotation.
Sarkar emphasized two main principles of crop rotation: 1) maximum crops should be planted in the minimum period of time, and 2) maximum crops should be planted in the minimum of space. An example of the first principle is reaping four crops of rice in a year where previously only one or two crops had been grown annually. The second principle deals with intensive use of land through mixed and supplementary cropping. An example is provided in the following excerpt for potato:
Grow potato in mounds in rows with a cauliflower between each potato as a surface crop. The potatoes are root crops, so no competing root crop, such as peanut, should be grown at the same time. On the slopes of the mounds small spices like cumin can be planted. After one month when the potatoes have partly grown, canals for irrigation should be dug between the rows of potatoes. In the canals brinjal (eggplant), cucumber and chili can be planted. Cauliflower matures before potato. When it matures it can be cut, but the roots should be left in the soil so as not to disturb the potato crop.
Sarkar also emphasized a system of planting trees and associated herbaceous plants (i.e., "filler" plants or intercrops) in the boundary areas of all schools, farms, orchards, homes, and roadsides. Ideal Farming contains two lists of tree crops and associated filler plants suitable for roadside plantings and boundary plantings at Ananda Nagar.
Afforestation, orchard establishment, tree plantations, and roadside and boundary tree plantings are a focal point of Sarkar's integrated farming system, not only for increased productivity of the land and utilization of plant resources, but also because trees play an important ecological role in regulation of groundwater and rainfall. Forests attract clouds and thus influence rainfall. The root systems of trees not only bind soil and associated soil moisture, but also retain water, which they slowly release back into the soil when the water table drops, regulating the flow of underground water. The destruction of forests and its associated consequences on the water cycle has led to the spread of arid lands and deserts.
Sarkar was emphatic about an impeding global water crisis. He spoke about the destruction of forests, the loss of trees along riverbanks, water pollution, and groundwater depletion. He identified the causes of drought and explained why the use of surface water through ponds, canals, lakes, and reservoirs are preferable to the digging of wells for irrigation and drinking water. Two of the more noteworthy programs he offered as solutions to conservation of water were afforestation and lakeside plantations. Sarkar said that a massive, scientific afforestation program must be launched and carried out both intensively and extensively. This can be done in a two-phase approach:
1. In the first phase, fast-growing trees which grow to their full height in six months to two years and provide valuable green cover are planted. Sarkar listed ten types of trees adapted to the Ra'r'h (among them Sesbania grandiflora, Dalbergia sisoo, Albizzia lebbeck).Sarkar's lakeside plantation system consists of five types of plants whose locations are specified in relation to the pond or lake:
2. In the second phase, slow-growing trees like teak, which also provide green cover and can be harvested after 30 years or so, are to be planted.
31,000 gallons Coconut Black pepper1. Slope plants: pineapple, asparagus, aloe vera, eggplant, chili pepperLakes bigger than Plants Creeper
These plants not only conserve water and check soil erosion, but can also provide an income for local people. They should be planted horizontally across the slope to serve as a hedgerow against erosion. Terraces are recommended on larger tracts of land.
2. Boundary plants: palm trees, creepers, vegetables, fruits
Palm trees (and other locally-adapted trees), creepers, and food-producing plants should be planted around the lake according to the storage capacity of the reservoir.
Microvita Theory and Agriculture3. Wire plants: creeping vegetables, flowers, and fruitsSarkar's integrated program of afforestation, lakeside and riverside plantations, and roadside and boundary plantings falls within the framework of the agroforestry and permaculture international land-use movements. All three systems are based on a mixture of perennial and annual crops arranged spatially and sequentially to gain multiple ecological and economic benefits.
A wall should be built around each lake and topped with wire to keep out large animals and prevent accidents. The wall serves as a trellis for creepers planted at the base and atop the wall.
4. Aquatic plants:
Thorny types: lotus (Nelumbo nucifera); makhana or prickly water lily (Euryale ferox); and Victoria water lily (Victoria regina)
Non-thorny types: water lily (Nymphaea sp.) and water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis)
Aquatic plants are known for their beauty and also produce organic matter and food.
5. Surface plants: any plant adapted to local soil types
Surface plants are grown on flat land surrounding the lake. A mixture of aesthetic and crop- producing plants can turn a lakeside plantation into a productive beauty spot.
Though the notes and ideas recorded in Ideal Farming are brief in comparison to the voluminous literature of the aforementioned perennial-based systems, when all of Sarkar's ideas and programs (The Garden Program, Neo-Humanism, PCAP, PROUT, UPFF, Master Units, ideal farming systems, etc.) are viewed as a whole, a broader framework emerges.
One final item in Sarkar's legacy to agriculture that merits attention is the utilization of microvita in agriculture. The theory and concept of microvita was propounded by Shrii Sarkar in a 1986 discourse given at the semi-annual meeting of the Renaissance Universal Club in Calcutta, India. Notes from this seminar, as well as succeeding lectures on microvita, are summarized in Sarkar's monumental book Microvitum in a Nutshell (22).Summary:
For the purpose of this essay, microvita may be summarized as subtle, sub-atomic living entities that organize energy to create physical and mental forms in the universe. One helpful analogy is to think of microvita as the software (living expressions of cosmic consciousness†) behind the hardware (atomic structure). Of particular importance in this discussion is the existence of positive, neutral, and negative forms of microvita. Further, there are three types of microvita: crude, subtle, and very subtle.Two broad areas in which microvita research has immediate promise in agriculture are: (1) the interaction between microvita and biofertilizers, and (2) formulations of chemical fertilizers for specific purposes.†The introduction of cosmic consciousness at this juncture is not a departure from serious agricultural discussion, but rather acknowledgement that Sarkar's microvita theory bridges the gap between intuitional science (yogic practices and philosophy) on one hand, and materialistic science (physics and biology) on the other.
Biofertilizers such as animal manure, compost, and biogas sludge are a basic component of eco-agriculture systems like organic and biodynamic farming. Biofertilizers provide humus and increase biological activity in the soil, thus resulting in better soil tilth, improved water infiltration and water-holding capacity, and enhanced resistance to crop pests. However, in addition to these scientifically-documented benefits, farmers that use biofertilizers commonly ascribe a subtle "vital" quality to their soils and crops.
Until the theory of microvita emerged in 1986, the concept of vitality in agriculture has largely been one of subjective interpretation. Sarkar's theory lends credence to the decades-old observation of ecological farmers, especially those employing Rudolf Steiner's biodynamic approach, that biologically-raised crops possess enhanced "life force."
According to Sarkar, "There are two types of fertilizer — organic and inorganic. When fertilizers are used, bacteria is also being used indirectly. This bacteria functions in two ways — one is positive and the other is negative. When you utilize biofertilizer bacteria, that is organic fertilizers, the function of the bacteria will only be positive. You should start practical research into positive microvita from the study of biofertilizers and their positive functions" (23).
In Sarkar's new theory microvita play a pivotal role in the creation of unicelluar organisms such as bacteria and microorganisms. Microvita occupy the silver lining between the subtle and crude, between ideas (emanating from the cosmic mind) and matter (atoms and unicellular organisms). Since biofertilizers are regulated and inhabited by a diversity of soil microbes (fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, yeasts), it follows that feed and food crops raised on biofertilized soils (as well as the people and livestock that consume them) may be energetically and nutritionally strengthened by the presence of these positive microvita.
The second area in which microvita research in agriculture has potential is in the formulation of commercial fertilizers for special uses. Synthetic commercial fertilizers are composed of inorganic nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as calcium, magnesium, sulfur and trace elements like boron, copper, zinc, and iron. In the view of modern agriculture, fertilizers are unchanging in their action on soil fertility and crop production. A common expression is "nitrogen is nitrogen is nitrogen", implying that plants cannot distinguish between different carriers of nitrogen fertilizer or whether an element is derived from an organic or inorganic source.
However, in microvita theory, atoms are composed of numerous microvita; several billion microvita may compose a single carbon atom. Chemically, two brands of fertilizer derived from different mineral deposits may contain the same exact elements, yet the number of microvita present may be different. For example, the chemical formula for copper sulfate in Brand X may be CuSO4•5H20 (Group A MV 20 million), while Brand Y may be CuSO4•5H20 (Group B MV 10 million). When used as a micronutrient fertilizer in greenhouse hydroponics, or when it is foliar-applied to tomatoes as a copper fungicide to control bacterial spot, the results between the two brands of copper sulfate may not be the same. The difference is due to the variation in quantity or quality of microvita.
Sarkar provided two examples whereby differences in microvita makeup can bring about qualitative changes in crops. The first is jute in Bengal. Although the seed source may be the same, when jute is raised in Bengal there is a clear difference in the quality of jute fibers between the districts of Maymansingha, Jalpaiguri, and Murshidabad. The reason for this difference is variation in the number of microvita. The second is potato. Even when the same type of fertilizer is used, the rate of production and taste of potatoes between plots may not be uniform in all cases. The cause lies in the number and denomination of microvita. In this instance the difference in the number of microvita in oxygen accounts for the contrast.
Other research topics in agriculture where the subtle manipulation of microvita may produce interesting results include: microbial inoculants for composts and soils, biodynamic preparations, herbal medicines and botanical extracts, specialized foliar fertilizers, homeopathic remedies for farm animals, and seed treatments.
The mysterious microvita already exist, according to Sarkar. It is just a matter of time before some farmer or scientist fits the pieces of the puzzle together and reveals their secret.
Usually known as a social philosopher and spiritual teacher, Shrii Sarkar also made a significant contribution to the theory and practice of agriculture. This essay has provided a brief introduction to Sarkar's multi-faceted ideas on the broad topic of agriculture. It is now the task of current and future generations of farmers and researchers to create a whole new agriculture based on his visionary ideas.References:
1. P.R. Sarkar, Yogic Treatments and Natural Remedies. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1958.
2. Ac. Vijayananda Avadhuta, The Life & Teachings of Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, Volume 1. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1994, 231.
3. Ac. Vijayananda Avadhuta, Anandamurtiji As I Knew Him. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1994, 73.
4. Ac. Prasiidananda Avadhuta (ed), Baba's Love for South America: Mystical Experiences with a Spiritual Master - Volume I, Ananda Marga Publications, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 1995.
5. Ac. Vijayananda Avadhuta, Anandamurtijii As I Knew Him. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1994, 74.
6. P.R. Sarkar, The Liberation of Intellect - Neo-Humanism. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1982.
7. P.R. Sarkar, Problem of the Day, Renaissance Series No. 1. Baglata, Purulia (West Bengal), Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1959, 1.
8. P.R. Sarkar, The Liberation of Intellect - Neo-Humanism. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1982, 63.
9. P.R. Sarkar, "Renaissance in All the Strata of Life", Prajina Bharatii (March 1986). Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 3-6.
10. Ravi Batra, Progressive Utilization Theory: Prout, An Economic Solution to Poverty in the Third World. Dallas, Texas, Venus Publication, 1989, 73.
11. Ravi Batra, Progressive Utilization Theory: Prout, An Economic Solution to Poverty in the Third World. Dallas, Texas, Venus Publication, 1989, 114.
12. P.R. Sarkar, Ideal Farming. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1990.
13. P.R. Sarkar, "Some Aspects of Socio-Economic Planning," (June 1979) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 15. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1988, 28-39.
14. P.R. Sarkar, "Bangladhesh," (February 1989) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 19. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 7-13.
15. P.R. Sarkar, "Tripura," (July 1986) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 19. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 14-17.
16. P.R. Sarkar, "Bihar," (April 1989) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 19. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 18-30.
17. P.R. Sarkar, "Talks on Bengal," (various dates) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 19. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 46-59.
18. P.R. Sarkar, "The Socio-Economic Potential of Bengal, " (June 1986) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 20. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 1-39.
19. P.R. Sarkar, "Northeastern India," (April 1989) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 20. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 45-51.
20. P.R. Sarkar, "Contai Basin Planning," (June 1988) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 20. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 52-55.
21. P.R. Sarkar, "South Bengal," (April 1989) in Prout in a Nutshell Part 20. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1991, 56-62.
22. P.R. Sarkar, Microvitum in a Nutshell. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Publications, 1993.
23. P.R. Sarkar, Ideal Farming. Tiljala, Calcutta, Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, 1990, 9.
Author: Steve Diver
How to order book:
Transcending Boundaries: Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar's Theories of Individual
and Social Transformation, Edited by Sohail Inayatullah & Jennifer Fitzgerald
Book Review and Table of Contents
This collection of essays is the first book to explore Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar's social, scientific and spiritual contributions to the knowledge base of humanity. The authors not only examine how Sarkar has addressed issues in diverse fields such as political theory, health science, macrohistory, women's studies, art history, communication theory and ethics but as well how he has redefined current disciplines. Indeed, Sarkar gives us a new paradigm, a new map, of how we see ourselves, others, nature and the future.
Written by leading academic experts and writers, these essays truly transcend boundaries - they open up a new frontier where Sarkar's own concepts of Tantra, Microvita, Neo-Humanism, Coordinated Cooperation, Bio-Psychology and the Social Cycle can enter relevant areas of academic discourse.
A companion bibliography to this essay — on the useful plants and agriculture
of India — can be read online at:
Selected Bibliography on the Useful Plants and Agriculture of India