Category Archives: Sachetan

The Adivasi Academy in Gujarat

local futures header

A lead about the Adivasi Academy in Gujarat was seen on the website of Local Futures/International Society for Ecology and Culture.

CHS-Sachetan’s co-founder, Winin Pereira, valued the thinking of one of its founders, Helena Norberg-Hodge, linguist and author of ‘Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh’, writing:

Winin Pereira3“Regarding Helena’s book, I am not merely “delighted” but astounded at the similar conclusions drawn, almost as if we are reading each other’s minds. In some cases she has used expressions very similar to mine . . . Also amazing is the fact that two communities so different in nature (one in the cold, resource-poor region of Ladakh and the other in the tropical, high-resource area of Maharashtra; one highly religious and the other animist) should have similar customs and culture”.

The website continued: Adivasis – tribal groups considered to be the aboriginal population of India – are facing powerful social and economic pressures that lead many to abandon their own language in favour of Hindi, Gujarati, or English.

Warlis carrying firewoodWarlis carrying firewood

CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira studied and recorded the Warli culture for many years. As Shabnam, daughter of Nergis Irani, wrote during the finally successful campaign opposing the plan to build a P&O port in Vadhavan: “We are all fighting to protect what both him and us love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he provides will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis and in ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but emulated”.

Winin and colleagues in Jeevan Nirwaha Niketan, offered healthcare and education to children from disadvantaged families, who repeatedly fail the school entrance or end-of-year tests. The curriculum stressed the values of a just participatory and sustainable society, based on Indian culture. It was delivered first in Marathi; in the final grade, five, Hindi was introduced and a working knowledge of English imparted. Research has found that early years’ teaching in the mother tongue is most effective – see the references here. The director’s report records that by 1984, there were seven social work sections housed in different parts of Andheri and four hundred participants, not counting families and others in surrounding communities.adivasi academyThe Adivasi Academy, based in Tejgadh, Gujarat, is trying to save the endangered languages of the linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent and to show its students that their native languages and cultures are worth preserving. It has been established to create a unique educational environment for the study of tribal communities and aims to become an institute for the study of tribal history, folklore, cultural geography, social dynamics, economy, development studies, medicine, music, arts and theatre.

The building is an example of eco-friendly and cost effective construction, using entirely local materials and labour, bringing to mind the clay structures designed by Keralan architect, Laurie Baker.

In the early days of the Academy, it was decided that formal educational qualification need not be the most serious consideration for being appointed as member of faculty at the Academy. At least one batch of students was trained by Shri Mansing Rathwa, who has never attended a school, but is a tremendous painter of Pithora, and Dr. Bhagwandas Patel, a highly accomplished folklore scholar—forming a single team for conducting classes for Museuology students learning to organise, arrange and manage museums. Young journalists and expert filmmakers have come together to teach the students of Media Studies.mahua treeRajmohan Gandhi, Mahashweta Devi, Justice M N Venkatachaliah have lectured the students, sitting on the rock under the famous mahua tree at the Academy, and lectured students ranging from 7 to 30 in age.

The Faculty has a mix of young postgraduates drawn from Adivasi communities and visiting scholars including Prof. Shereen Ratnagar, Prof. Lachman Khubchandani and Dr Ashish Kothari.

The Sorosoro website records that Ganesh Devy, former professor at Yale, arrived in Gujarat in the 90s to teach at Baroda University and made contact with a large number of indigenous tribes in the area. He sat under a tree one day and listened to village youngsters as they spoke about the way they envision their future, and what should be done to help their communities develop. Today some of those youngsters hold key positions in the academy:

“The air here is filled with a sense of peace, serene joy, pleasure for togetherness, and pride in showing short-term visitors what has been accomplished: a genuine economic and cultural development center for native populations”.


Small farmers in the new state of Telangana

Peter Melchett of the Soil Association sent this link to an interesting blog by one of the National Geographic ‘young explorers’, Andrew Flachs, a student at Washington University who is undertaking research into agricultural change and the adaptation of ecological knowledge among small farmers in the new state of Telangana, India.

Relaxing after an interview

Relaxing after an interview

CHS-Sachetan founder, Winin Pereira would have valued many insights mentioned in these blogs, such as the one below, revealing the far from obvious advantages of this slow & painstaking traditional rice harvesting.

hand harvesting rice

bullock power for contructing rice paddiesAbove, from a later blog:

Andrew refers to one village using agri-farming methods, renaming it “Matenjerapet”.  It was ravaged by erra bommadi (red disease); farmers watched as their cotton plants turned red and stopped fruiting and pesticide sprays had no effect.

Another village 60kms away – “Daggiravi” – has declared itself to be organic and chemical free, adopting low-cost methods to maintain soil health and kill bugs. An NGO has been training farmers, supplying them with access to materials, and marketing their produce to people who are willing to pay a little extra for chemical-free food or cotton. Since this declaration, more than 10,000 people have visited this village of 50 households.

marketing rice to traders or governmentPhoto by Andrew Flachs

Another insight Pereira would have appreciated: farmers will take a lower price from market traders than they could get from government, because, after assessing each crop for quality, size, and durability traders offer a price – usually a few hundred rupees below the price set by the government that day – and pay immediately in cash, whereas the government can take up to a month to deliver.

Andrew Flachs ends “Farming is hard for both organic and GM farmers but the organic farmers (in “Daggiravi”) have traded a small measure of freedom in technique for an extra safety net to help with difficult problems and provide security in the face of crop failure. The NGO provides marketing and training assistance make – and benefits alongside the farmers as more press means more visitors, more grants, more state support, and more resources to help build the organization and attract more farmers with more programs. Here in India, sometimes it’s not the farm, but the forces behind it that make all the difference”.


A clean fuel source?


Ialgae hydrogen pondn the ‘90s, Winin Pereira, co-founder of CHS-Sachetan, referred to pond algae releasing hydrogen in small quantities, but a search  revealed no further information in his books and papers.

Interest in this subject has been growing. In 2001 the National Center for Biotechnology Information referred to a paper by A. Melis and T. Happe, Hydrogen Production. Green Algae as a Source of Energy, (Plant Physiol. 2001 November; 127(3): 740–748. PMCID: PMC1540156). They opened with the assertion that hydrogen gas is thought to be the ideal fuel – when burnt, no carbon dioxide is produced, only water – but continued:

“A challenging problem in establishing H2 as a source of energy for the future is the renewable and environmentally friendly generation of large quantities of H2 gas”.

Five years later, Indian broadsheet Daily News and Analysis reported that researchers from the University of Bielefeld in Germany and the University of Queensland in Brisbane, working as a team, had succeeded in breeding algae, which produced hydrogen in previously unheard-of quantities.

They had genetically changed the single-cell green alga ‘Chlamydomonas reinhardtii’ in such a way that it produces an especially large amount of hydrogen. This mutation is called ‘Stm6’.

A bioengineering team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also addressed the problem of algae producing only a small amount of hydrogen, their main focus being on the creation of compounds like sugar needed for their survival. They developed an enzyme that increases hydrogen production by 400% and suppresses the algae’s need to create sugar, all without killing the creatures.

In April the MIT website  described this work and referred to a paper they had published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The abstract is available via the link given, but will be totally unintelligible to non-scientists.

Like the genetic engineering strategy, this bioengineering option is not yet commercially viable and further work is under way in several research establishments.

algae chinese beaches

Perhaps China will decide to undertake further research and utilise periodic green algae invasions which have been damaging its aquaculture and tourist beaches for years. Currently gathered, dried and used as fertiliser, could the algae one day be producing enough hydrogen to power vehicles?


Unhooking from a transport & energy-intensive economy

CHS-Sachetan co-founder Winin Pereira would have had much to discuss with the late Robert Hart, who planted and cultivated a  Forest Garden in Shropshire UK, though recognising that its potential was different from such gardens in Kerala.

Many people visited Robert’s ‘temperate Forest Garden’ over the years and the writer spent a memorable day there.

Environmentalist MP Zac Goldsmith reviewed Robert’s book about his life and work, focussing on his perception that growing and seemingly unconnected problems emerge as connected symptoms of something deeper:

“The shortening of links between farmers and ‘consumers’, for example, leads not only to the strengthening of communities and local economies, but also to an increase in local diversity, a consequent decrease in the need for chemical inputs, whose function is primarily to support artificial monocultures, and perhaps, most importantly, it results in the unhooking of whole communities from dependence on the transport and energy intensive economy . . .

“Rather than relying on vast high-tech energy plants, water storage tanks and centralised sewage treatment, communities around the world are re-inventing simple technologies which can be assembled and managed using local skills and resources.”

This simple but essentially comprehensive localising message was first posted on a sister website

The role textbooks have played in advocating the Western industrial model of development

Many years ago the co-founder of CHS-Sachetan, Winin Pereira, also conducted an analysis of school textbooks used in Maharashtra and found evidence that they actively promoted the Western industrial model of development, in which a small group of the rich and powerful control and exploit the vast majority.

The textbooks, which I was shown, conditioned children to see urban life as admirable. The advantages of village life – the clean air, varied wildlife, unbroken family and community ties – were ignored; instead the emphasis was placed on comparative size and quantity. The village “has small roads … only a few buses … small schools … few shops … small dispensaries.”

Pereira’s thinking is similar to the earlier work of another polymath, Ivan Illich –- and the later – and current practice of  Bunker Roy who founded and runs the Barefoot College in Tilonia and many other activities.

A summary of his findings may be read here.

Plant-based medicines

Many powerful pharmaceutical drugs have been banned because of side effects that are often more serious than the treated condition. The recent announcement of a new range of cannabis-derived drugs recalls the work on medicinal plants at the Centre for Holistic Studies in Mumbai and later Nashik. 

Cannabis grown under licence for oil & seeds

Porton Down-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which is described as being the global leader in prescription cannabinoid medicines, has just been given permission to grow 20 tonnes of cannabis a year in Britain. This biotech group has created Sativex, a cannabinoid medicine which treats spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, now available on prescription in New Zealand, Canada, Spain, Britain and Sweden. 

Justin Gover, GWP’s managing director, believes that cannabinoids, the active molecules found in cannabis, can be used to treat conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, liver problems and even cancer. 

CHS notes that ‘side-effects’ were not a feature of adivasi medicine and has recorded information about 85 plants used in tribal medicine which successfully treat a wide range of ailments. There is a vital difference in the technology: in allopathic medicine an effective substance from the plant is isolated and only this ‘active’ ingredient used, but tribal doctors [bhagats] use the whole plant, which contains many chemicals – and sometimes several plants working together. 

These remedies are under threat, not only from the ‘development’ of forest and tribal land, but also the international corporate attempts to control herbal knowledge. These have led to high-profile cases such as the unsuccessful attempts to patent turmeric and neem, the latter following a ten year battle against these wealthy and powerful companies. 

Further information can be found in CHS publications, including: Asking the Earth and From Western Science To Liberation Technology.

Though food/seed patents are the subject of the book, The Future Control of Food – A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security, co-edited by colleague Geoff Tansey, much of the information is relevant to medicinal plants.

The British involvement: Enron [India] revisited


Mumbai’s Centre for Holistic Studies, a resource-centre and library with extensive databases, gave support, information and encouragement to farmers resisting the Dabhol power project in Maharashtra.

CHS’ Indranet Journal,Vol 3, No 2-4,1994, published ENRON –THE POWER TO DO IT ALL, by Winin Pereira, Subhash Sule and Abhay Mehta. Later, Abhay’s book, “Power Play” on the Enron-Dabhol Project was published.

Looking back I saw that in June 1997 CHSUK posted a bundle of cuttings to Amnesty UK who were seeking information, following serious violence against the ‘project affected’. CHS-Sachetan gave a lot of evidence to Amnesty International’s Emma Blower and Sangeeta Ahuja, who produced a detailed report on the human rights violations perpetrated against local people living near the Enron power project in Maharashtra.

About the fifth cutting I wrote: “I have heard that British companies had insured this project and that the London office of Payne & Linklater were acting in some capacity for Enron.” This was confirmed in The Lawyer’s article (28.7.10) ‘Linklaters in line for India tax bill after court ruling.”

The Jubilee Debt Coalition’s 2011 report

The report – which can be downloaded via its new site – details the ‘dodgy deals’ underwritten by the British government [taxpayer] via the UK’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD).

In theory ECGD is an insurance project but in execution far more. It has a particularly deplorable record in foisting arms deals on countries which could not afford them by means of the ‘offsets’ mechanism – but that’s another story.

The Jubilee Debt Coalition’s report notes that the ECGD denied that support for Enron’s Dabhol power plant project had been given when first asked in 2010, but later acknowledged this in their response to a Freedom of Information request on 6.10.10. Its support – ‘overseas investment insurance’ – came well after serious concerns had been expressed about its viability.

A websearch reveals that in 2004, a letter was sent to Mike O’Brien, Minister of State for Trade and Investment about the Dabhol Power Project, India, from Indian and UK organisations including Corner House (UK), All India Power Engineers Federation, India, National Confederation of Officers Associations of Central Public Sector Undertakings, India, Corporate Accountability Campaign, Friends of the Earth—England, Wales and Northern Ireland  and the National Working Group on Power India. It was copied to ECGD, ABN Amro, ANZ Grindlays, Treasury, Standard Chartered Bank, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DFID, National Audit Office, BP, Shell and British Gas.

It made most serious allegations, recounting that:

“ANZ Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and ABN Amro had approached the ECGD at some stage during 2003 to make claims under the ECGD’s political risk insurance scheme. The report suggested that the amount of claims to the ECGD could be in the region of $60 million. The grounds for the claims appear to be that the Indian governments, at both state and local level, have behaved in such a way over the Dabhol Power Project that an expropriation has occurred.”


“We believe that, in examining the claims made by the three banks, the ECGD should give serious consideration to whether the banks concerned conducted adequate due diligence before investing in what was clearly at the time an extremely risky project and whether the ECGD would be rewarding poor investment decisions by paying such a claim. We also believe that the ECGD must examine whether paying a claim to the banks concerned will lead to the Indian government and Indian financial institutions having to assume an unfair share of the financial burden resulting from the crisis in the project. It is clear that for a lasting and equitable solution to the crisis, foreign investors will have to accept some form of realistic burden-sharing.”

Please bear with the website ‘blip’: suddenly no spaces appear after the commas.