This profile was prepared when Pandurang Hegde was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
After five years' grassroots struggle the Appiko Andolan won a watershed victory; it persuaded the government to stop selling the remnants of the western Indian forests that had protected the hills, water system, soil, and climate of the region. Though deforestation continues, this change opened the possibility of restoration and renewal.This was not a victory won in the drawing rooms of a distant capital. It was one of the first major examples of poor, seemingly powerless local people organizing in gradually widening circles in peaceful but persistent defense of their environment. It began in Sirsi, Pandurang's home village, and eventually engulfed five hill districts and exerted an influence by example well beyond.Pandurang is now turning to the next, even longer and more difficult job how to build a grassroots mass movement that will not only continue the still necessary struggle against further damage to the region's environment but help thousands of villagers take up regionally adapted, sustainable agriculture. These alternative forms of agriculture would have to develop from what the farmers already know but would take them in a quite different direction than the government's current policy. Instead of fostering the "green revolution," with its heavy dependence on chemicals and high financial costs, Pandurang plans to lead in the direction of locally adapted, organically oriented farming.He will be demonstrating and helping spread some of the most advanced forms of alternative agriculture, drawing heavily on the Japanese One Straw Revolution and Australian Permaculture models. Working closely with the two or three other leading groups that are working with these ideas in other parts of central and southern India, he hopes his work will become a regional center from which these ideas spread broadly. However, his central focus is on the grassroots. Having the most advanced models accessible is important. But far more urgent, is reaching the missions of small farmers and helping them learn and eventually become the champions of a new, profitable (especially for small farmers), easily understandable, and environmentally safe and sustainable way of working with the land. This is where his long, extraordinarily intense and successful years of building a people's Appiko Andolan Movement puts him in a unique position. He knows in his spirit as well as in his mind how to proceed. Although still mastering the agricultural techniques he hopes to spread, he knows both the realities facing his small-farmer neighbors and how they think. He knows how to help them take up new ideas and approaches individually, and also how to help them build up a powerful movement with staying power.Pandurang Hegde is, in effect, hoping to create the first people's movement of alternative agriculture. It will build on the technical ideas others have been demonstrating. It will also build on the people's movement he helped create to stop the earlier headlong environmental destruction taking place in the region. But the goal is much more ambitious than either of these building blocks.