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April 22, 2007

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Home > 2007 Issues > April 22, 2007

Ancient most agricultural heritage of India

Farm scientist Y.L. Nene’s path-breaking research produces a 900-page tome to support the thesis.

By Arabinda Ghose

During the late 1950s, Gwalior-born Yeshwant Laxman Nene had felt humiliated when his professors at the University of Illinois in the USA, where he was doing his Ph.D in Plant Pathology (Virology), used to taunt him saying India did not have any record of agricultural operations in the country during ancient days. Trained in the nationalist tradition since his boyhood, Yeshwant had promised to himself that one day he would present to his country and the world the history of Indian agriculture as it existed since the days of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

He never forgot this promise all through his teaching career at the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agricultural Technology from 1960 to 1974 even after his singular research achievement in discovering, for the first time in the world, the role of zinc in rice cultivation. This discovery had saved the rice crops in the Pantnagar area of modern Uttarakhand, which was wilting under the disease—locally called khaira—caused by lack of zinc in the soil.

From Pantnagar to Patancheru near Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, where the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is located, which he had joined as a Plant Pathologist, Dr. Nene had to deal with the “mystery” of a disease afflicting the chick pea (chana daal) crop with a disease called “wilt complex”. Later Dr. Y.L. Nene became the Deputy Director General of ICRISAT (the Director General of this FAO-sponsored organisation had always been a non-Indian) since 1989 to 1996.

On the sidelines of the Second International Crop Science Congress held in New Delhi in 1996, he released a sensational document called Surapal’s Vrikshayurveda, which was the English translation of the Sanskrit text (done by Dr. Nalini Sadhale, former Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Osmania University, Hyderabad), which demonstrated that ancient Indians were not only adept in agriculture, but in tackling plant diseases as well. The document was called Vrikshayurveda, the science of treatment of plant diseases.

This was done under the auspices of the Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad, set up by Dr. Nene and assisted by a band of selfless agricultural scientists fired with the same zeal. In an interview at the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on the occasion of the Crop Science Congress, Dr. Nene told this reporter that he would devote the rest of his life to the task of documenting the available material all over India and the surrounding countries in order to tell the modern descendants of the Vedic people spread all over Asia, that their forefathers knew more about agriculture than any other people in the world and this knowledge was documented.

This knowledge the Foundation has been sharing with the world through a quarterly magazine called Asian Agri History Journal, which has never missed an issue in the last 10 years—it is delivered four times every year without fail and without any delay. Dr. Nene had taken early retirement in order to devote his time and resources for ensuring publication of not only the quarterly journal, as also a number of other documents such as the Krishi Parasara, Kashyapiyakrishisukti, and a volume written by Dara Sikoh, son of emperor Shahjehan. Prof. Nene also has published documents recording observations of the first Mughal emperor Babur, and of Jehangir, son of emperor Akbar, which showed that Jehangir was a naturalist who meticulously recorded his observations about flora and fauna of each of the regions of his vast empire he had visited during his reign.

Apart from recording the agricultural tradition of the Indian sub-continent since the Vedic times, the Foundation publications throw some light on the history and culture of the people of the sub-continent since the Vedic times, which he places at 8000 BC for the Rig Veda. There are references regarding agriculture as prevailing in other countries of the region too since the Foundation collects information on agricultural heritage of the Asian region as a whole.

Recently, the Foundation brought out a 900-page volume recording the history of the development of agriculture in the Asian region, which is a virtual treasure for everyone living in the subcontinent and beyond. It is available with the Asian Agri-History Foundation,47 ICRISAT Colony-I, Brig. Sayeed Road, Secunderabad-500 009 for just Rs. 500 per copy.

Dr. Nene has dedicated this valuable document to the sage Parasara, (400 BC) whom he calls the author of the world’s oldest text on agriculture and the physician Surapala (1000 AD, author of the world’s first text on arbori-horticulture).

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