AT THE TIME McCarrison was working among the Hunzas, another great idealist, Sir Albert Howard, was engaged in agricultural research at Pusa, in southern India. It is unfortunate that these two men could not have met then, because they would have supplemented each others’ researches materially. Neither one had as yet attained to his knighthood. That came later as a reward for brilliant achievements in their particular fields of work. In the researches of Sir Albert Howard, whose recent death on October 20, 1947, was a great loss to all organiculturists, was disclosed the secret of the robust health of the Hunzas.
As a mycologist, or student of fungus growths in the West Indies, he had an opportunity to observe the diseases of sugar cane. He came to the conclusion that the existing methods of scientific research under which specialists learned “more and more about less and less,” while as researchers they were sequestered in little cubbyholes, playing around with hop-o’-my-thumb experiments in flower pots, would never solve the problem of plant disease. When in 1905, he was appointed to the coveted position of Imperial Economic Botanist to the Government of India, he decided upon a daring course of action. He would get out of his cubby-hole and break away from the traditional method of using pocket-handkerchief plots for the experimental growth of plants.
For years in the West Indies he had been thinking along revolutionary lines. He believed he had found the basic cause of disease in growing plants, but to prove his point he intended to be practical and to apply his theory on a farm scale, not in little glass tumblers. He experienced a little difficulty in getting the higher-ups to agree to such an unheard of practice, but finally, after stubbornly adhering to his objective, he obtained 75 acres of land with sufficient money and no restrictions of any kind to hinder the carrying out of his revolutionary idea. His theory was, not to wait until the plant got sick, not to use the artificial method of spraying poisons to prevent disease organisms from taking hold, but to endow the plant with such strength that it could resist disease organisms. He stood for preventive as opposed to corrective measures.
THE HUNZA VALLEYSir Albert had an instinctive feeling that the use of chemical fertilizers was doing more harm than good, that it was destroying the life and vitality of the topsoil, that it was merely a “shot-in-the-arm” which gave a momentarily stimulated spurt in yield, but struck back viciously later in bringing about conditions that actually invited disease.
Around Pusa he noticed that the natives never used artificial fertilizers or poison sprays, but were extremely careful in returning all animal and plant residues to the soil. Every blade of grass that could be salvaged, all leaves that fell, all weeds that were cut down found their way back into the soil, there to decompose and take their proper places on Nature’s balance sheet. But in our country this “law of return” is flagrantly violated by the modern, scientific farmer, with proper coaching from the professors in the agricultural colleges. The old method, they contend, involves too much manual labor. They resort instead to the factory-made “devil’s dust” powders which come in convenient bags and which allow them plenty of time to go to Grange meetings. Perplexed, they listen to the advice of the apostles of the new agriculture on how to spend a great deal of time and manual effort in coping with plant and animal diseases which their grandfathers, who more or less practiced the “law of return,” knew very little about. The minute they forsake the methods of their fathers and grandfathers and become scientific, they have set up a process of slow but sure devolution which will cause them to do twice as much work eventually.
Sir Albert applied the Pusa methods to his farm for five years and wasn’t surprised when he observed a gradual lessening of disease. The most amazing development occurred with respect to his work-oxen, which were fed the lush crops raised on land that was becoming more and more enriched with living, organic fertilizer material, and not with dead chemicals. Sir Albert’s small farmyard was separated from the large cattle-shed of a neighboring farm by only a low hedge and his oxen often rubbed noses with foot-and-mouth cases. In spite of the fact that they had not received inoculations, his cattle did not contract the disease. Sir Albert Howard duplicated this test on different occasions at other experimental stations, notably at Quetta (1910-1918) and Indore (1924-1931). He proved again and again that disease could be eradicated through proper nutrition.
Howard became famous for his development of a process (it has been termed the Indore method) for making a compost fertilizer. In observing the ways of Nature in field and forest he discovered that there is a relationship between plant and animal matter of three to one: three parts plant to one part animal. Animal matter takes in bird droppings, the decaying bodies of dead earthworms, insects and other animals in the soil. Plant matter includes dying weeds, fallen leaves, etc. His Indore compost method is based on this three-to-one ratio.
Sir Albert’s idea spread. It was put into practice on coffee, sugar-cane plantations and tea-growing estates and by cotton, sisal and rice growers, as well as by many farmers in England. Wherever the use of common synthetic fertilizers was abandoned and compost substituted, there resulted a tremendous reduction in disease, a higher quality of crop and comparable if not superior yields. Sir Albert Howard sums up his work with the classic statement, “Artificial chemical fertilizers lead to artificial nutrition, artificial animals and finally to artificial men and women.” Another author put it in a different way. He said, “The only crop that can be raised on poor land is poor people.”
Eventually Howard and McCarrison met and the missing link in the Hunza chain was supplied. McCarrison embraced Howard’s work with enthusiasm. In his series of Cantor lectures delivered before the Royal Society of Arts in 1936 (published in book form under the title Nutrition and National Health) McCarrison said, “Further, the quality of vegetable foods depends on the manner of their cultivation; on the condition of soil, manure, rainfall, irrigation. Thus we found in India that foodstuffs grown on soil manured with farmyard manure were of higher nutritive quality than those grown on the same soil when manured with chemical manure. Spinach grown in a well-tended and manured kitchen-garden was richer in vitamin C than that grown in an ill-tended and inadequately manured one. Examples of this kind might be multiplied, but these suffice to indicate ways in which agricultural practice is linked with the quality of food. . . .”
In 1926, at Madras, India, McCarrison again proved that grains grown with compost as the fertilizer element contained more vitamins than those on which artificial fertilizers were employed. The Journal of Indian Medical Research (14:351, 1926) gives a full description of these tests. In the Journal of the Royal Society of Arts January 2, 1925) McCarrison said further, “Does the nutritive and vitamin value of cereals vary with the conditions of their growth? During the course of an exhaustive inquiry into the food value of the various rices in common use in India, I had reason to suspect that such might be the case. I found that various paddies varied considerably in their nutritive values. I could find no reason for this in their chemical composition. So it occurred to me that it might be due to differences in the content of vitamins, i. e., of substances which are incapable of detection by chemical means. Such differences might, I thought, be brought about by differences in soil or manure, or other conditions of growth of the grains. It was not possible to put this conception to the test in the case of rice, but it was possible to do so if I used millet, which is another staple grain largely used in India. Accordingly, Dr. Norris, Agricultural Chemist to the Madras Government, had nine of the experimental plots at the Agricultural Farm, Coimbatore, sown with the same millet seed. These plots have been in existence for 15 years or so and have been manured in different ways. One had no manure in all this time; another was manured with nitrates; another with phosphates; another with potash; others with various combinations of these, including one which received a complete chemical manure; the ninth plot has been manured with the natural manure of cattle. When the time came these various plots were cropped, the crops weighed and samples from each crop analyzed by Dr. Norris. There were the usual variations in quantity of the crops, and the usual differences in chemical composition associated with different forms of manuring, but the chemical analysis provided no consistent evidence that the nutritive value of the different samples might vary because of variations in certain chemical constituents of the grain. When I came to test the quality of these grains by feeding-experiments on animals, I found that the millet grown on soil manured with natural cattle manure was more nutritious and contained more vitamins than that grown on an exhausted soil, the latter being the worst of all in these respects. I was in the middle of this work when my researches came to an untimely end owing to financial retrenchments in India, so I was not able to repeat the experiments, nor to extend them to other grains. I wish, therefore, to be very guarded in drawing conclusions from them, but it does seem that the nutritive and vitamin values of millet seeds depend on the manurial conditions of their growth.” This observation is of tremendous significance and opens up a field of investigation which may prove to be of great importance not only for India, but for other countries.
Several other investigators, M. J. Rowlands and Barbara Wilkinson, carried out tests which gave similar results. In the Biochemical Journal (Vol. 24 No. 1, 1930) they say, “This research was undertaken because one of us (M.J.R) had noticed that pigs which were fed on home-grown and home-ground barley and wheat always did much better than those pigs which were fed on purchased barley and wheat, and that certain cattle did better on certain fields. It was decided to find out whether this was due to the lack of lime or other mineral constituents of the land. The results of this investigation were not satisfactory. It was then decided to try the effect of artificial manure versus dung.
“A crop of clover and grass was grown, one-half fertilized with dung, the other half with chemical fertilizers including basic slag, kainit and sulphate of ammonia. Then rats were tested by feeding them the product of these fields . . . .
“. . . . the rats were divided into two lots; one lot was put on a deficiency diet with 20 per cent of the ‘artificial’ seed . . . The rats on the ‘dung’ seed showed good growth or a slightly subnormal growth. . . . The rats on the ‘artificial’ seeds all grew very poorly, not one giving normal growth. . . . It can be seen that the former have gained nearly twice as much as the latter. . . . The rats on the ‘artificial’ seed were in a poor condition; in some the hair was falling.””
J.I. Rodale 1948 The Healthy Hunzas
Available free here link
FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING ON THE HUNZA
Wrench, G. T., M.D. (1938). The Wheel of Health
Available free here link