The roots of knowledge

Noted agro-economist N S Jodha had said in one of his papers that "in the search for innovativeness in drought management, public policies have bypassed an important source of insight -- the coping strategies of farmers". This book is a step forward towards understanding the farmers' knowledge, and the actual implementation of policies based on that.

If farmers living in resource-poor regions can manage to survive for centuries, harnessing the meagre resources available, they can by no standards be called fools. Yet, agricultural policies today are made by development planners without involving the tillers or taking into consideration their knowledge, skills and experience gained over centuries. The book not only documents peoples' knowledge but analyses and describes this route to sustainable rural development.

There are more than 36 case studies on indigenous knowledge, participatory research methodologies, institutional mechanisms, policy implications, etc., from across the world. The 1st part deals with theoretical considerations, the 2nd with methodological challenges, and the last with institutional innovations. Robert Chambers, the "father" of participatory rural development, says in the Afterward of the book "In moving away from reductionist, linear thinking and standard solutions, in favour of more inclusive holism, open systems of thinking and methodological pluralism, they promise to serve better the growing population of vulnerable resources poor farm families".

Over the past few years there has been a major debate on the kind of knowledge, research and extension activities that have accompanied the introduction of the green revolution. The environmental backlash of that revolution is also well known. What is blackballed is the issue of inequitable distribution benefits in the hotbeds of that revolution.

In contrast, the indigenous systems were more environmentally friendly, maintained social equity and made more economic sense. But many of these have gone into disuse or have been neglected by modern scientists, policy makers, and even by the development workers. What is needed is to revive these time tested systems. Design and policies based on these could be implimented in many areas.

This book will not only be useful for those who already believe in people's knowledge and in the "bottom up", people-centered approach for sustainable rural development, but will also be an eye opener for the uninitiated.

Ganesh Pangare is director, Oikos, the Centre for Natural Resource Management, Pune