An agricultural testament

The Professor Luís Carlos Pinheiro Machado, from the federal universities of RS - BR and SC - BR, was also president of EMBRAPA in 1985. Writer, and a high-level scholar of Agronomy, recently toasted us, bringing us a book by Sir Albert Howard, whose name is the same as that article you read. The translation was up to Professor Eli Lino de Jesus.

Sir Howard was an English researcher, extensionist and botanist, author of several books, who was born in 1873 and died in 1947. The book in question was written in the late thirties, so about eighty years ago. At that time, India was still an English colony, and Mr. Howard was just a young man of 26, when he was sent by the English government, for agronomic work in the West Indies.

Sir Albert Howard (Source: Ikaki Bagh)

He began his agricultural research in 1899, in mycology, specializing in diseases of cane and cocoa. He was a botanist at Wye College in Kent, responsible for experiments with hops, pests and diseases. In 1905, he was appointed economic botanist of the British Empire, for India. It received the Pusa Agricultural Research Institute, with 75 acres for production and experiments. In 1910, he had practically eliminated the pests and diseases on that farm, without "artificial" fertilizers, as he said, and without pesticides!

Our goal, in reading the book, was to try to understand how Sir Howard achieved this feat, which was later extended to several properties in India and also to other countries that copied his model. This international dissemination occurred mainly through the scientific articles written by Howard. We highlight “Indore Process”, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts (Nov / 1935), an article endorsed by Revista Nature (Feb / 1936).

Well, Sir Howard, already in 1910, proposed the three basic principles of plant health. They are:

1. Fungi and insects are not the real cause of diseases and attacks on crops, but only attack non-adapted varieties, of cultivated inappropriately.

2. Protecting crops through spraying can protect yields, but hides the real problem: knowing how to produce healthy and strong crops.

3. The burning of infected plants is an unnecessary loss of organic matter, as this doesn't occur in nature, since fungi and insects live freely.

Sir Howard's unsatisfied scientific spirit made him test these principles in time and space. He did this for 21 years and in three different locations! In Puza (1910 - 1924), Quetta (1910 - 1918) and Indore (1924 to 1931). On all farms, he was completely successful in removing pesticides and "artificial" fertilizers, as he called chemical or synthetic fertilizers.

In his book, The Agricultural Testament, Sir Albert Howard, makes the following statements:

→ “The first principle of successful agriculture is a correct correlation between growth and decomposition processes. If we accelerate growth, we have to accelerate the decomposition. ”

→ “The basis of fertile soil and prosperous agriculture is humus.”

→ “The Mycorrhizal association is the living bridge of fungi, between the humus in the soil and the sap of plants.”

To maintain and increase the amount of soil humus, the most important point of fertility, Sir Howard created what he called the “Indore Process”.

This process was nothing more than the conversion of animal and plant residues into humus, which, according to him, “caused a considerable improvement in health, both plant and animal, in the case of integrated systems.” By then, you may have already suspected what this famous “Indore Process” consisted of… Yes! Nothing more or less than a legitimate microbial composting process. Almost the same as what we are doing today.

The name Indore, was a tribute that Sir Howard paid to the region where he first developed the process. Among the few differences between the Indore Process and the composting that we do today, I was struck by the fact that every effort was made to capture or store the animals' urine. Sir Howard said that urine was essential in the process, both as a source of nitrogen and to speed up the process. For this, he spread a bed of chopped grass or sawdust, in the place where the animals would spend the night.

Then, during the day, she collected the bed already manured and took it for composting. Laborious? Certainly; but it seems to have paid off, back then.

In Sir Albert Howard's book, several accounts are recorded of farmers who had great success in their crops, using only the compost produced, as fertilizer. They are producers of coffee, cane, cotton, tea, pastures and vegetables, among other crops. In various regions of the world! Here is one more phrase from him to meditate on today, which is on page 322 of the book: "The slow poisoning of the soil by artificial fertilizers is one of the greatest calamities that have been inflicted on agriculture and humanity." See what we are doing today! Nematodes, diseases, soil compaction ... and we are increasingly applying highly soluble fertilizers. Is that the way out? Or are we simply believing what they have always told us?

To conclude, I transcribe here the interesting conclusion, quoted in the book on page 117, by researcher Dymond, in 1938, regarding organic fertilization:

“Artificial fertilizers are easy to apply, are easily bought in good times, or prohibitive in bad years; constitute a topic of endless conversation with neighbors; a source of arguments for salespeople; they are an obligation and an excuse for our conscience; on the other hand, humus means more work, more attention, transport and some problems. However, humus is the basis of permanent agriculture; artificial fertilizers are a policy of "here and now", of immediacy, and tomorrow, be damned ".

Has much changed, eighty years after that declaration?

Antonio N. S. Teixeira

Executive Director - IBA

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  1. Current and amazing text.

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