Anil Prakash Joshi
This description of Anil Prakash Joshi's work was prepared when Anil Prakash Joshi was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.
A botanist from India's western Himalayan foothills, Anil Joshi is identifying new uses of bio-mass waste and weeds and helping villagers launch, manage and control related enterprises.
The New Idea
The Indian villagers' use and misuse of available land and local vegetation has long determined rural India's economic health. This is especially true for villages in the lower Himalayan ranges with 67 percent of the land capable of even being cultivated, under forest cover. Yet, unfortunately, "invasive bio-mass," or weeds, have colonized vast areas, damaging land and inhibiting the growth of other vegetation. Anil contends, "If the uses of a plant can be ascertained, it ceases to be a weed. Therefore, in an environment where eradication of weeds cannot solve the problem, what is needed is a new control concept . . . [that] emphasizes the possible uses of the plant, not its non-use or eradication."Beginning with this premise, Anil has established methods of plant use that have spawned a wide range of new developmental initiatives in more than 46 villages. By finding consumption and other patterns of usage for weeds, remarkable changes have been brought about. Previous destructive land use patterns have changed, natural catastrophes have been averted, rural electrification has increased, sustainable cottage industries are developing and, most importantly, villagers have a greater sense of ownership and control over new, rural technologies.
Loss of community control over bio-mass has led to the economic problems of the villages in the hills of India. While only twelve percent of the available land is cultivatable, mismanagement of local vegetation has further depleted agricultural yields. Little or no effort has been made to develop uses for vast numbers of unutilized plants. This has led to high population pressure on land under cultivationover 1,000 people per acre! As a result, the yield from cultivated plots can sustain village communities for no more than three months in a year. Villagers have begun to depend on earnings of members who have migrated to the plains, a fact that has discouraged village communities from making an effort to revive local resources and local markets. Furthermore, the 1980 Forest Conservation Act discourages individual or community participation in the plantation, protection and management of forest resources. It also gives the state the right to dispose of commercially viable species wherever planted. Technically trained forest management experts do not take into consideration the village community's knowledge of forest conditions or its needs when they are drawing up forest management priorities. As a result, village communities are left to fend for themselves. While the rural poor gain little by protecting tree cover, they succeed in establishing their ownership over a patch of land by cutting down the trees and putting it to plow. This has led to large-scale deforestation of land over the years and to the exhaustive use of sparse local vegetation for fuel, fodder and agricultural yield. It has also resulted in a loss of primary green cover and the subsequent colonization of the land by weeds.The corrective measures previously taken have been ineffective. Although conventional methods of weed controlfelling, burning, uprootinghave been applied in these areas, they cannot stop the spread of weeds or encourage the regeneration of other vegetation. Biological and chemical methods of eradication can arrest weed growth only in initial stages of spread. While some weeds have traditionally been used for compost, medicines and pesticides, these methods have been isolated, unscientific and unplanned.
What began as Anil's enthusiastic initiative in 1979 is today the Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO) an institution of 30 people, a large number of whom are qualified scientists and engineers.HESCO operates at two levels. On one level, Anil and his team of scientists work directly with grassroots communities of 40 villages in the Garwhal and Kumaon districts of Uttar Pradesh. They provide villagers with information and training in technologies gathered from local wisdom that can be sustained by local resources to address local needs.The villagers are key partners in the botanical research. Their involvement at the beginning helps generate the credibility and early momentum essential to the spread of Anil's innovations. The team of professionals works closely with the villagers, focusing on their economic and developmental needs and tapping into their local resource strengths to encourage activities that will open new avenues to self-reliance. In this way, Anil and his team are breaking down institutional and psychological barriers between the scientist and the community.Marketing and distribution are managed and controlled by local leadership. For example, there are over a dozen independent centers now under local leadership making fiber-based products. Under the technical guidance of trained HESCO staff, various beneficiary groups, especially women and children, gain from living in the low-cost houses being made from grasses available locally, fiberglass composting units and toilets based on prefabricated ferro cement, and the gunny bags and stone that are also constructed in villages. A village of nineteen families has been identified as the "HESCO Gram" (model HESCO village). The families have constructed HESCO homes and composting pits, have HESCO toilets, run enterprises of plan-based drugs and herbal pesticides, practice rainwater harvesting techniques and are setting up fruit plantations.At another level, HESCO has set up the Bio-Mass Resource Centre to document the available range of bio-mass in various agro-climatic zones and to establish an inventory of its conventional and potential use. Consequently, HESCO is training several government and nongovernmental organizations to implement its repertoire of innovative technologies. This is facilitating quick replication of HESCO's efforts and is also a concrete step toward the organization's long-term objective, which is to set up an exchange of rural technologies that will facilitate the optimum use of bio-mass across the country.HESCO is currently working with nonprofit organizations in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, South Bihar and Himachal Pradesh. Impressed by HESCO's new approach to landslide control, the Border Road Organization has appointed it as their advisor for the hills bordering Uttar Pradesh. HESCO has also liaised with several Indian universities and research centers to solicit institutional support for the research, implementation and transfer of technologies.
Anil was born in 1955 in the Himalayan village of Koldwar. As a botanist, Anil's doctoral degree in ecology, combined with his personal conviction that villagers need to optimize the use of nature's bounty, has formed a marriage of science and entrepreneurship in the organizational plan for HESCO.Anil's first-hand experience in use of the region's traditional wisdom provided him with a realistic sense of how much intervention would be needed to change perceptions about bio-mass use. After three years of teaching botany in a local college, he decided to take his ideas from the laboratory into the field. His father, who is a farmer, continues to be a strong source of encouragement, as are his wife and son.