“Rural sustainability is a prerequisite to urban sustainability”, Dr Rajendra Singh

If our rural areas are not healthy, the city can’t be healthy

India’s Waterman Dr Rajendra Singh needs no introduction. Honoured with the Stockholm Prize in 2015, for reviving the ancient dam technology in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in the 1980s to bring water to 1200 parched villages, Dr Rajendra Singh has dedicated his entire life to water conservation. Relying on traditional knowledge, local material and the science of common sense, he leveraged community help to rejuvenate nine rivers and restore groundwater levels.

The Ramon Magsaysay award winner was in Hyderabad for a conference and spoke to Sujata C on the topic of urban rural linkages, rural reform, permaculture and threats to agriculture.  The conversation got off with a few comments on negotiating the typical Hyderabad traffic with its long, winding concrete vines of flyovers and metro lines leading to the obvious question of urban sustainability.

Here are the edited excerpts:

On urban sustainability:

“When the villagers are forced to migrate to cities due to helplessness and hopelessness then cities cannot be healthy. Cities depend on agriculture for their food. Their food comes from the villages. If our rural areas are not healthy, the city can’t be healthy. If the rural areas are not sustainable the Indian city can’t be sustainable. If we want our villages to be self reliant, we have to make them sustainable, the water in the village, the soil, the seeds, the hard work of the farmers, everything is included in this. Without the sustainability of our villages, urban sustainability is not possible.

The way our cities are growing with metros, high-rise buildings and heavy traffic, it is not at all sustainable. The basic necessities of a city come from villages and the cost of transporting these add to the burden of public health. And the pollution that we create in the process, these put a question mark on the way our cities are growing. The public health of the cities is linked to rural health. To correct all these we have to take the route of sustainable development”.

On the link between rural reform and permaculture

“The meaning of permaculture is to give respect and love for everything that exists in nature. Our love and respect for agriculture will come when we stop using chemical fertilisers, herbicides to cultivate our food. The name permaculture itself means giving respect to nature as it is while growing our food. The viability of permaculture depends on the fact that there is no contract farming done in our country. It should be a contract farming free country. The biggest threat to permaculture comes from contract farming. The trend of corporate farming will not allow permaculture to grow. They will use any term for their farming – chemical free farming, natural farming, zero budget farming, they will come up with a thousand names, but in reality they will be doing business. This will be very dangerous for our agriculture.

Agriculture is the foundation of Indian life. It is not a business. It is our cultural heritage, our ‘sanskriti’, it is not our business. Agriculture is the bridge between nature and the needs of human lives. Contract farming and corporate farming is going to break this bridge, because the stakeholders will only be interested in profits. They will not be interested in the culture that envelops agriculture. There will be no love for agriculture in contract farming. Those involved will want to grow stuff that brings in more money”.

On the culture of agriculture:

“It is my belief that if we are talking about agriculture, we have to examine its foundational principle. We have to examine our soil, our ‘bhoo sanskriti,’ its diversity and its potential to grow food that is good for us, good for the soil and the earth. When my soil health, my water health and the health of my land is good, then I will be good. To keep this chain of good health active, permaculture is the entry point”, he concludes.

Viewed in the context of the farmer’s march, the intuitive advice from Dr Rajendra Singh can tackle present day farmers’ woes and will continue to be relevant in the times to come. 

This interview first appeared in Daana Blog and can be read here

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