In presenting a short popular account of the ideas inspiring the work of her husband, Sir Albert Howard, formerly Director of the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, and Agricultural Adviser to States in Central India and Rajputana, the author believes that she is satisfying a demand. She has not written for the specialist nor is she competent to do so; but she joins herself to those who without being scientists are yet interested in the use made by mankind of the rich mantle of verdure which covers the earth and which is the source of our food and most of our raw materials. There exists a deep conviction that this use should be a wise one and a right one.
Sir Albert Howard's work stands out by reason of his recognition of this truth. What he advocates goes far beyond the immediate interests of the farmer or of the agricultural research worker. His ideas have developed gradually, most rapidly perhaps in recent years, when surprising points of view presented themselves; indeed, the advance has lately been so sweeping that by the time it has reached the public each book written by him seems behind the development of his thought. These books have attracted readers in all parts of the world and are notably influencing the practice of agriculture. But not even these books and all his other writings and speeches taken together give quite the full message of his genius, which seems to flow more richly and gather more force by very reason of the constant living response which it is evoking in others.
Thus there has come into being a school of thought inspired by his leadership, which has chosen to call itself the School of Organic Farming and Gardening, though more is involved than this expression implies; the title is convenient but nothing more. Of this school there are many I distinguished exponents. Its characteristic qualities are courage, cheerfulness and the willingness to dare. A break has been made away from the doubt and uncertainty which for a half a century have prevailed both among practical farmers and scientists: the reformers do not see why agriculture should be unsuccessful nor why it should be so despondent. They believe the earth can be cultivated, that it can be cultivated properly, and cultivated prosperously. They base this belief both on scientific argument and knowledge and on very successful pioneering experiments.
It has been the greatest asset of their leader that in the course of his long life he has been able to weld three things together: a natural love of farming inherited by blood and nursed in boyhood; a severe and comprehensive scientific training which went far beyond the subjects immediately associated with agriculture; and a prolonged period of work in the East. On the last point stress may be laid. In spite of our boasted research and scientific advances it is by no means certain that our Western cultivation of the earth's surface equals that of the Eastern races; in many directions we have much to learn and certainly something to unlearn. Moreover, the effects of tropical or sub-tropical climates are such that only by residence in such climates can a clear idea be gained of the working of natural law: results are immediate and unmistakable, and the scientist is led, almost against his will, to recognize much that is obscured in more changeable and milder zones. A residence among the Eastern races in some tropical country should therefore be part of the training of every scientist who wishes to devote his knowledge to agriculture.
Such residence would teach above all things respect, respect for Nature but also respect for ancient human experience. It would burst once for all the narrow confines within which the agricultural research worker has lately chosen to restrict himself; it would take him into the fields and among the peasants and would save him from the condition of being a laboratory hermit which at present seems to be the ideal of so many. It is regretted that in the present short book there has been no opportunity of developing Sir Albert Howard's trenchant views on the present state of agricultural research, views which, if they could gain the acceptance which they merit, would bring about as great a reform in the formal scientific world as has been initiated in the world of farming by his campaign for fertile soil.
For it is to the thesis of a fertile soil that every argument and every practice reverts. This would be the possession of all races and all peoples. The principles underlying the demand for the restoration and maintenance of soil fertility admit of no frontiers and laugh at political and economic perplexities; some hopeful minds believe that many existing difficulties of this nature would vanish if we could learn to cultivate Mother Earth rightly, feed ourselves properly and insist on a free exchange between the nations of the direct and indirect products of sunlight. However that may be, it is certain that some respectable advances would be made in human welfare. In the belief that this is the concern of all, whether knowing anything or nothing about science and about agriculture, the author presents her book to the public.
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