Blessed is the man who leaves this world at the peak of his life and reaches God’s lap. Unfortunate are those who are left to reminiscence the memories. I never thought that I should have to refer Dr.Alexander Daniel in the past tense, during my lifetime.
Julius Caesar was lucky to have friends like Brutus and Anthony to remember and describe him after his death, I wish I had elocution of that caliber to describe Dr. Daniel.
Dr. Daniel, more than a colleague was like the elder brother to me I never had. He affectionately called me “Dada” and son “Junior” – names by which we are now known in the national organic agriculture movement. It is his warmth and heartfelt affection that won him hearts transcending all barriers. He used to guide and inspire us at all times – good and bad. The more we tried to match his strengths, the more we realized the futility of the effort. His enthusiasm was contagious and I am today proud to say I was amongst the first ones to whom, his feverish zeal seeped in. At times he made us jealous of his ability to keep his cool at all times as well as see the silver lining first and then see the dark cloud. He was a dreamer, a visionary, a leader and above all, a great human being who will be remembered and cherished in the hearts of many, not only for his work but also for human qualities. I believe that the only most fitting respect to this great individual is to cherish his legacy by carrying his work with the same vehemence and vigor that characterized Dr. Daniel.
Dr. Daniel made his journey from Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu to the western part of the country. He studied Economics and specialization in Agricultural Economics. Right from his college days Alexander was an active participant in various student activities. I had the opportunity of meeting one of his classmates during the last January conference at Bidkin. The classmate remembers that they never expected Alexander to appear for the final examination as scheduled, let alone passing it. After obtaining his M.A. degree in Economics, Alexander opted to specialize in Agriculture Economics. During his student and youth days he become in contact with people like Prof. N. G. Ranga who influenced his thoughts to a large extent. Alexander had opted for the job with United Planters Association of South India (UPASI) and was stationed in South India mostly. This body of Tea Planters’ Association provided ample opportunities for Dr. Daniel to learn the techniques of production and marketing of a very important item of Indian agriculture, i.e. tea. He also could analyze and realize the harsh ground situation affecting lives of the tea garden labourers. During his tenure with UPASI, he was also witness to the rise of countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka in the international tea business scene. This gave him an opportunity to provide leadership, inputs to the planters and garden owners. He constantly thrived for excellence. It was for his endeavor and perseverance that the tea gardens in South India become quite prominent in the national tea business scenario
Tragedy struck at that point in his life when his youngest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Affectionate as ever, Dr. Daniel was very much close and fond of his children, particularly to the youngest one. Dr. Daniel engaged himself full time in providing treatment and relief for his son but God had plans otherwise. With all his parents’ help and personal bravery, the young boy succumbed to his illness after a certain time. This was a turning point in Dr. Daniel’s life and he decided to devote their time and energy towards rural development. That was the birth of Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD). Creation of IIRD was not to increase another one to already crowded field of NGO’s in the country. It is unique in many respects. The focus was clear cut and is on rural development through sustainable agriculture. For him agriculture is not only means of production but a source of livelihood and lifestyle. Dr. Daniel himself chose the base in Aurangabad, quite a backward town in Maharashtra at that time. The agriculture fields in districts of Aurangabad lack irrigation facilities. Rain is also scant and irregular, so the farmers can at the best hope to get one full crop and some supporting or fractional one in a full year. Dr. Daniel could realize that the path for salvation of the farmers of Maharashtra region was the use of organic method and practices. So, organic agriculture became his chanting or mantra.
Right in the 1980’s Dr. Daniel could realize the need for globalization in thoughts. He believed in the slogan “Think Globally, Act Locally”. With this end in view he offered his candidature to become the world board member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM). He also created a regional body by name IFOAM – Asia. This was the first time such a regional body become so active and vibrant. Aurangabad was the base of IFOAM – Asia. After a stint of successful two years at IFOAM World Board, Dr. Daniel decided to host the 3rd IFOAM – Asia Congress in India. After discussing the various stake holders the venue was decided as Bangalore. The country never saw such a gathering of people involved in various fields of agriculture interacting on a single platform. It was one of the most successful international scientific conferences ever to be held in India.
While at IFOAM World Board, Dr. Daniel could understand the attitude of the northern countries to impose their thought process and business style on the developing countries. He could foresee the risk of intellectual imperialism, to thwart the aspirations of the farmers of third world countries. Organic agriculture has a very rule based approach to farming practices. This approach and the methods of documentation are rather alien to the illiterate farmers of India. He therefore initiated steps to form the Indian standards for organic produce. I had the opportunity of working with him in that sphere right from the beginning. I could see the amount of dedication and insight that he brought in to draft the first set of standards for organic agriculture in India. He did it with all God’s speed to avoid the developed countries to impose their standards on us. This was quite early for unprepared minds of the bureaucracy in India who were neither willing nor able to understand the situation and need of the hour. Many of the departments fell prey to the glib talks and suave approach of the different foreign agencies. It was a tough fight between unequal but perseverance and dedication won in the long run. During those historical days it became clear to him that the stage is set for representative of the developed world to dominate Indian agriculture scene. So, as a token of challenge, first set of standards for organic agriculture in India was published. This was a result of total voluntary efforts by the representatives of many a grass root NGO’s
The various commodity boards like Tea Board, Coffee Board etc. and their relevant ministries woke up and hurriedly started preparing their own respective standards. It appeared at the time that the motive is not so much to pursue knowledge but to declare their autonomous and independent existence. It was ironical that Dr. Daniel acted as adviser to many of them since they lacked the vision and zeal to fructify the creative approach.
Being an agricultural economist himself, he could easily appreciate the fragmented land holding pattern of the farmers and focused on the problems of the small and marginal farmers. It was clear to him that if the fruits of organic agriculture have to be brought at the doors of the small farmers, the only method would have to combine them in a sort of cooperative. This approach got its first reward in the tribal farmers of the Khandmahal, when district of Orissa united themselves into 172 cooperative(One hundred seventy two) with their apex marketing body, named KASAM. It was a moment of exceptional glory when the first consignment of Organic Turmeric left the shores of India for USA.
Right at the time of starting his activities at Aurangabad, he could realize the plight of the women in the farming community of India. So, it became his mission to make the women population self sufficient and self supporting. The women farmers were at the centre of all the activities of IIRD. There was a new wave of awakening amongst the rural women of Maharashtra region. They all rose to his clarion call and assembled under the umbrella of IIRD to live a better and fuller life. This was the signal most remarkable achievement of IIRD in the field of and I fear to say Dr. Daniel’s absence will be felt most here in this field.
I have already said earlier that Dr. Daniel was a person who while acting locally could always think globally. He never lost his vision of remaining in tune with whatever’s happening anywhere on this globe. He could always foresee and realize that the government plays a very significant role in the policy making and also in implementing the various polices of the Government so he was in constant touch with the relevant departments and played positive role everywhere.
I venture to say that originally he was architect for creation of the National Centre of Organic Farming, head quartered in Gaziabad under Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). It was the result of his constant endeavour that the NGOs all over the country were brought into the forefront and given the task of spearheading the training programmes for Indian farmers to make them acquainted with the principles and practices of organic agriculture. He was quite selective in his approach that not all the fruits of his labour should be devoted to export only. He felt that the benefits of organic agricultural produce should first accrue to the Indian public and then to the outside world. So, he always put emphasis on local marketing, local standards etc. It was the result of his untiring efforts that the organic bazaar concept based on producer – consumer linkage and understanding, started in the year 2002. Slowly and gradually the concept is gaining momentum and has become a regular feature in some of the metro cities of India.
It is very difficult to describe the activities and achievements of a person like Dr. Daniel, through one article, particularly at a time, when everybody’s mind is mum at the shock. I am aware that I have left out many more of his achievements. I came in touch with Dr. Daniel almost at the end of my professional life. Though he always called me “Dada” but it was he, who was like my elder brother. I have not been keeping too well during the recent past and almost everyday, it was his routine to call me up and enquiring about state of my health and keep asking me to stay within the limits. He was never physically weak and there was no apparent sign of sickness, but now it appears that none of us could realize that the giant tree was being moth-eaten from inside. So when the call came, the fall was instantaneous. The lawn of organic agriculture movements needed his sacrifice and that was it. This was a man extraordinary but practical thoughts a gentle colossus.
In the end, I would like to say,
“Shed a tear ‘causes I am missing you,
But it’s still alright to smile,
I think of you everyday now”.
Mr. Chandan Mukherjee