Review: Honey Bee. A journal brought out by Srishti Innovations, Ahmedabad. Editor Anil K. Gupta. Annual Membership $ 30/- for individuals and $200/- for institution/library.
by D.P. Agrawal

The editors explain that Honey Bee is a metaphor indicating ethical as well as professional values which most of us seldom profess or practice. "A honey bee does two things which we, intellectuals often don't do, (i) it collects pollen from the flowers and flowers don't complain, and (ii) it connects flower to flower pollination. When we collect knowledge of farmers or indigenous people, I am not sure whether they don't complain. Similarly, by communicating only in English or French, or a similar global language, there is no way we can enable people to people communication. In the Honey Bee network, we have decided to correct both the biases. We make it a matter of principle to always credit whatever knowledge we collect from them and to share, fairly and reasonably, any benefit arising out of the knowledge or value addition in the same. Similarly, we also have insisted that this knowledge be shared in vernacular languages so that people to people communication can take place."

The editors further explain that Honey Bee is also a knowledge centre, which pools the solutions developed by people across the world in different sectors and links, not just the people, but also the formal and informal science. They are aware that the solutions the people find need not always be optimal. "But it is definite that a strategy of development which does not build upon on what people know and do well cannot be ethically very sound and professionally very accountable or efficient."

Anil Gupta gives some telling examples of the innovations as well as the institutional context of the process. In Kutch there is large grassland called Bunni comprising saline flat soils. Incidentally this is Asia's largest pasture. People have developed a very ingenious way of conserving fresh water in the sub-soil system called virda. The farmers take square blocks of wood, generally the branches of Prosopis spp., and make a square frame of the same. After the rains when the salts have leached down, they dig a well of 20-25 feet deep and line it with wooden frames with a layer of grass in between. These frames prevent soil from caving in and the grass lining filters the water, which moves into the well from the surrounding soil. These wells are filled up with the soil during rainy season, but when water is required, the soil is taken out and the water oozes in from the sides. Since the specific gravity of fresh water is less than the saline water, it floats on the saline ground water. For at least two-three months after opening the virda, water remains drinkable. Later it becomes saline. This is a traditional technique, which has provided answer to the problem of drinking water for human and livestock use for centuries in this area. Perhaps, this technique is of use in other arid environments as well. Incidentally, there is no technology developed by modern science of comparable efficiency and low cost. There is also no mechanism available today for people to people transfer of such technologies and ideas.

The editors claim that they have a large number of examples of use of local materials to solve plant protection problems. Farmers have found new uses of existing plant biodiversity to control the pest and disease problems in the crops. Take for example the traditional use of 'naffatia' (Ipomeae fistulosa), a plant often used for fencing purposes. Animals don't eat it and there are not many other uses popularly known of this plant. It is toxic in nature and sometimes; the branches have been dried and used for making baskets for storing seeds or grains. During 1973, when there was a steep oil price hike, many farmers started looking for substitutes for chemical pesticides. In one such area where farmers were tired of using chemical pesticides, a schoolteacher namely Gamel Singh thought of using the extract of naffatia as an herbal pesticide. There are many tales of about how the idea of using this plant for controlling this pest originated.

The Honey Bee group did some research on it and found it quite effective against not only some of the pests but also against certain microbial and fungal cultures. In another example, a tribal person in Bharuch district devised a unique method of pest control. He took help of 8-10 farmers or laborers who stood in a line. They took the leaves of a creeper (Combretum ovalifolium) and put these in a shoulder bag. The people moved in the windward direction after catching blister beetle from the air and crushing it with the leaves already collected. The combined effect of insect and leaf extract seemed to produce some signals, which repelled the insects. Modern science cannot think of such devices. Similarly, there are large number of other plant extracts (other than neem), which have been developed by the farmers and which could help in making crop cultivation in marginal regions more profitable. The editors suggest that if there could be a special fund for supporting formal research on farmer's innovations in public or private sector labs, a whole range of sustainable technologies, which are cost effective, could be developed. These technologies may help transform agriculture not only in developing countries but also in economically developed nations too, which are biodiversity-wise poor like the European and North American countries. These innovations may help in transferring technologies from south to south and south to north (Based on Anil Gupta's circulated paper, Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Natural Resource Management).

I think people who value Traditional Knowledge Systems and have faith in the genius of the common people, must subscribe to this journal.