Mystery of the Missing People

This book offers a collection of 39 papers on the various research activities of scientists of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute, (CAZRI), Jodhpur, working in Rajasthan's arid zone. The book first deals with the natural resources inventory, and later goes on to describe the various researches being carried out at the CAZRI and a few other institutions.

What is starkly missing, however, is documentation on how the people in the region have been managing their resources and have coped with the inhospitable terrain for centuries. The best example of this is the Raika pastoral community. But the book contains nothing on the Raika's deep knowledge about both their livestock as well as grazing lands.

Scientists busy themselves squabbling about the relative merits of this or that species of grass or animal, without pausing to ponder about their practical applications in the lives of the Raikas. One is not even aware if all this cultivated knowledge is passed on to the local people at all.

The scientists are clearly more comfortable with jargon and Western experiments, and have missed the value of native knowledge. For example, Jodhpur town had a network of interconnected canals, tanks, and wells for managing its surface and groundwater resources. But how many scientists at the CAZRI, located in that very time, have ever given a thought to this system.

Kolarkar and Bharara are exceptions. They have been working on issues related to the desert peoples' native ecological knowledge. In fact, Kolarkar has documented the khadin (an indigenous system of agriculture through which wheat and gram can be cultivated in low-rainfall area like Jaisalmer). Bharara has been working on pastoral issues and indigenous knowledge.

The book offers a rich harvest of data, but is mum on how to make the common man's life a little more comfortable, and keeping the ecology of the area intact.

Ganesh Pangare is director, Oikos, and professor of environment studies at the Centre for Development Studies and Activities, Pune