Relations with Cultivators and the Treatment of Labour
General Relations with Cultivators
One of Sir Albert Howard's most genial traits was his capacity for human relationships. This was no less important an asset to his work than his scientific attainments and proved of great value during his years in India.
He was launched on a career of research at a time when agricultural science was being started as a comparatively new subject from several university centres and was concerned to prove its position as a branch of learning. The need for contact with the world of practice was rather wilfully ignored, and there was a fairly complete gulf of separation, for which blame was often wrongly put on the farmer. At any rate, it was assumed that in countries where formal education was lacking, the population would be ignorant, obstinate, and averse to knowledge.
Not even as a young man during his first appointment in the West Indies did Sir Albert subscribe to this foolish doctrine. As has been stated in another writing (Soil and Health, Sir Albert Howard Memorial Number, Spring 1948, pp. 6-7), he was in friendly and natural relations with the sugar planters among whom he lectured, advocating 'close and cordial co-operation' between scientist and planter, with even some sharing of research tasks. His own descent from a farming family of high reputation locally has already been referred to, as well as his intimacy with the Kentish hop growers, whose great experience and knowledge could not fail to impress even the most advanced investigator.
On arrival in India he met different circumstances. There was certainly here predominantly an illiterate population. Moreover, there were many faulty practices. He notes how very backward, for example, was the cultivation of fruit all over India; an early visit to Kashmir in 1910 to advise on the hop industry showed the cultivation of that crop as 'exceedingly defective'; he was surprised that even a small saleable crop could be produced under the conditions seen. (Report of the Imperial Economic Botanist for the Year 1910-11, p. 6.) Again, the utter confusion of the varieties of grains and almost every other crop was certainly baffling to a man accustomed to the orderly agriculture of Europe. The first picture was to confirm the general opinion, which viewed the Eastern cultivator as entirely dependent on the Western scientist for any advances which he might be able to make.
What was Sir Albert Howard's final view on such a question? As will appear in the course of this chapter there is in his writings a great deal of criticism on much that he observed among the Indian cultivators, criticism definite and decided; but there is also from the outset an obvious strain of that profound respect for the accumulated wisdom inherited from generation to generation which eventually convinced him that there was much to learn from the East: does he not call the Indian peasants his 'professors'? As he gradually shook himself free from the influence of the conventional schools of science, he realized what vast treasures of knowledge had been gathered in cultivation under difficult and often desperate conditions by those whose very existence was at stake.
In actual fact his views were directed to each problem as it occurred, and these problems not only differed greatly but were differently handled by the planters and peasants. As it happened, his early examination of fruits, tobacco, and indigo showed up surprisingly faulty methods. But when it came to the great staple crops like the cereals, there was quite a different picture; there might, in wheat growing, be confusion of varieties but, except for plant-breeding purposes, this was not altogether a disadvantage (the robustness of the wheats was possibly kept up by cross-fertilization; see Chapter 2); the cultivation of rice was extraordinarily perfect and even by the time Sir Albert left India the Western scientists could not state how it was done.
The explanation (this explanation is not derived from Sir Albert's writings) of these widely different standards of achievement among the cultivators of the East is surely obvious. In dealing with crops necessary to his existence the peasant is compelled to do his best; economic necessity may, indeed, sometimes push him too hardly and he tries to grow the wrong crop in the wrong place simply because he needs it so badly. (See Chapter 2.) But where the conditions are at all reasonable, he evolves great perfection of method in producing what matters to him so intensely. If, however, he has to deal with a non-essential crop, i e. grown for gain, his practice is much less certain and can be very faulty and careless. Such crops do not sustain life: they merely bring in money: the peasant is content to make a little cash in the easiest possible way, for a little money seems, in some parts of the world, a great reward.
Thus when Sir Albert arrived in the East, he found both good and bad. It is interesting to see how the faulty practices came to be forgotten in the overwhelming impression made by the general excellence of Eastern agricultural practice.
Tools and Implements
Sir Albert was always keenly interested in the tools used by the peasant. At first sight the great expenditure of human labour lavished on all cultivation operations in India with the help of very primitive tools appeared extravagant in the extreme; the introduction of more modern and efficient implements seemed an obvious direction in which Western science could help. In Wheat in India (pp. 77-86) there is a detailed review of many attempts made to introduce reaping, threshing, and winnowing machines on European models long before the Pusa Research Institute was created, and the reasons are given why almost every effort had failed, so that the experimental farms had speedily become 'museums of all kinds of European implements which were for the most part quite useless in a country like India'; a few years later he was commenting sardonically on the fact that he found, while on leave, small handy implements exhibited at Bristol for the use of the British smallholder but at Allahabad only large heavy machines shown to the Indian peasant. (Report of the Imperial Economic Botanist for the Year 1912-13, p. 16.) The poverty of the cultivator, to say nothing of the availability of abundant human workers, made such suggestions futile.
The existing system could not be radically changed, but it might be developed in useful ways. This must never exceed what the cultivator could afford, and, in a way, also what he was used to. This principle Sir Albert kept in mind to the very end, though he did not always limit himself to what the poorest could manage, but catered very largely for the fairly well-to-do man; his standard seems to have been the possession of a yoke of oxen; when more power was needed, the presumption was that the second yoke would be borrowed from a neighbour. Thus the maximum draught contemplated was four animals. This was sufficient to draw the kans eradicator, which has already been referred to in Chapter 1. Better implements would actually increase the efficiency of the animal team; thus the five-tine spring cultivator would increase efficiency threefold, and bring down the great cost of the cultivation of tobacco, though it was not a power machine beyond the planter's purse. (Ibid. for the Year 1915-16, p. 8.) When Mrs. Howard introduced some simple machines for slicing and paring in the drying of vegetables, she was careful not to have them driven by electricity or other power, but by an adapted bullock gear. The contouring of fields, again, was an operation entirely within the capacity of any ordinary well-to-do cultivator, and was, in fact, widely copied in many Provinces and Indian States.
At the same time Sir Albert was conscious of the disadvantages which the general backwardness of the population entailed. A passage has already been quoted in which this point is put (see Chapter 1), and the fact deplored that many excellent improvements fail simply through lack of the small amounts of capital needed to launch them; that meant that progress was most regrettably slow and the improvement of Indian agriculture most difficult. His own successes -- and they were startling -- could not blind him to the immensity of the problems to be overcome. Quite at the end of his career he was still stressing the fact that poverty, indifference, and illiteracy were formidable obstacles and that a rise in general standards of education was a crying need, without which little could be done. (Indian Agriculture, Chapter V, 'The Human Factor'.)
In the course of his twenty-six years' work in the country, however, some changes occurred. The following passage was written during the First World War, which was affecting the economy of the country.
'Speaking generally, there is no question that the time is rapidly approaching when Indian agriculture will be bound to adopt more efficient methods. The cost of labour is rising all over the country and already, in certain tracts like Sind and the Punjab, the supply often falls below the demand. The claims of the urban areas for workers are likely to increase with the spread of factories and with the improvement of communications. Once the supply of labour diminishes sufficiently, agricultural work is bound to become more organized in order that the men available may increase their output. Agriculture will then become more orderly, the small inefficient holding will disappear, labour-saving devices will make their appearance more and more and there will be less waste of effort.'
Possibly Sir Albert was still rather too eager, even at this time (1916) in the cause of innovation. The history of his opinion on the most important of all the instruments of husbandry, the plough, is illuminating.
He starts in 1911 with categorical advice as to the need for replacing the old wooden country ploughs of India by small iron ploughs of a modern kind. The object would be to open up the soil more efficiently in the hot weather in order to get the sterilizing effect of the sun on the harmful soil bacteria, giving scope for the more rapid multiplication of the more beneficent organisms when the rains broke. It was argued that when the cultivators had been taught by example the greater efficiency of the iron instrument, a great market for them would be bound to arise. (Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 31st October 1911, 'The Improvement in the Yield and Quality of Indian Wheat', p. 198.)
Ten years later he has a far better understanding of the question. The passage has so much bearing on the modern No Ploughing controversy that it is here given at length.
'The great contrast between the shallow cultivation of the Orient and the deeper tillage in vogue in Europe has exercised a profound influence on many of the improvers of Indian agriculture. At first sight it seems so certain that the work done by the primitive Indian plough, which only pulverizes the surface, must be inferior to that accomplished by an iron implement which works much deeper and also turns the soil upside down. Hence the persistent efforts which have been made to induce the cultivator to adopt iron ploughs in place of his old-fashioned wooden implement. The general introduction of the new method has been hampered by the limited strength of the work cattle who find soil inversion involves far too much work. As horses are not available in India for really deep tillage, the steam engine and the tractor have been introduced. It must be confessed that the response of the people to these innovations has been disappointing. Iron ploughs have not been adopted generally to anything like the same extent as some other devices of the West -- the sewing-machine, the safety bicycle, and the cheap American car, all of which cost much more money than an iron plough. In his attitude of aloofness to the soil-inverting plough and to power cultivation, the cultivator may after all be in the right. The matter needs a very careful and a very critical study. Iron ploughs cost more than country ploughs and moreover often do great harm by disturbing the levels of irrigated land and by interfering with the surface drainage in the monsoon-fed areas. The question naturally arises: Is soil inversion really needed in India? This process has been developed in Europe for two purposes: the destruction of the weeds of stiff land by cutting off the light and the exposure of the soil to the pulverizing effects of the frosts of winter. In India neither of these factors is of any importance. If weeds can be uprooted in this country, the sun kills them at once: soil inversion is not necessary for the purpose. Dryness and heat take the place of frost in improving the tilth. In some cases deep cultivation is needed in India, particularly in connection with the eradication of deep-rooting grasses such as kans (Saccharum spontaneum L. ) and in cleaning the land. It should, however, be carried out by an adjustable subsoiler which does not disturb the surface levels. The power needed for such deep subsoiling must be within the means of the people.
This principle, that whatever the Western scientist offered must fit into the general economy of the country, was also kept to the fore during the last piece of work in India, the experiments connected with the working out of the Indore Process. Throughout these investigations every implement used is an Indian one and Indian vessels of volume are adopted. The work was, of course, designed for India, but not every scientist would have taken the trouble both to work with indigenous tools and to record quantities in that way. It was sensible. Appropriate was also the demonstration, again at Indore during the first of the cultivators' meetings, of a strong and simple new bullock gear, by means of which any good cultivator could use his two pair of oxen to run a fodder cutter, threshing machine, or feed grinder; this, it is stated, would be 'a poor man's engine' if no other could be afforded, thus showing the peasant, by the ordinary working out of a mechanical device, how to make the best out of what he already owned. (Notes on the First Cultivators' Meeting, 11th-13th November, 1929, unpublished document.)
Receptive Capacity of the Indian Cultivator
In spite of the Indian cultivator's lack of formal education Sir Albert formed a high opinion of his ability to profit by what was shown to him. He started, after all, from a base line of familiarity with a number of facts. His knowledge of the soil may be described as unique; the Indian vernacular vocabularies for describing the state of the soil are far richer than anything we have evolved in our Western languages. Thus, in Wheat in India, in reference to the Punjab:
'The occurrence of these terms in the vernacular shows that the cultivators fully realize the existence of many types of soil of varying suitability for the growth of crops. Possibly a modern soil survey would do little more than express in a scientific way what is already understood and applied by the people.
'Many terms are used to describe the physical character of the soils: thus nyai is rich land round the homestead. Heavy clay soils are termed dakar, chamb, and the heaviest clays on which rice only can be grown are termed rakar. The best soils of the Punjab are well-drained loams known as rohi. The lighter loams are called rausli and the sandy soils which only grow millets are known as bhur or maira. Tibba is almost pure sand and reti is a soil with windblown hillocks of sand.'
The list continues, to give the terms used for the different waterings of land, whether rain moistened, canal moistened, moistened by rise of the rivers, etc. In the succeeding pages a great number of terms are mentioned (some classifying soils by amounts of organic matter they contain) for other parts of India. Clearly the subject interested Sir Albert and convinced him at the outset of his work that the Indian cultivator's knowledge of his craft of husbandry was no superficial knowledge, but detailed, comprehensive, and very exact. (These soil classifications of India go back at least to the time of Akbar and were used by Government for purposes of the district revenue settlements every thirty years.)
Of the cultivator's industry there could be no question. There is mention on one occasion of a practice of ploughing fields fourteen times in a season. What was perhaps more surprising was the accuracy of eye shown in the capacity to level and contour without the aid of instruments. (See Chapter 3.) This was compensation for the absence of literacy.
But was the peasant also shrewd and intelligent? Would he have the wit to adopt any promising innovation? Sir Albert was fond of quoting the popularity of the bicycle and the sewing-machine (see above), which had spread through India 'with the rapidity of a prairie fire', to prove that the Indian peoples might be relied on to accept what was worth while. The condition for success was, however, that any proposition should be launched in the right way. Suggested improvements should be clear cut and definite and not too frequent; the point is made in plant-breeding that a constant stream of new varieties, very similar to each other, only confuse the cultivator and defeat their own object.
'Before any scheme of seed distribution is adopted great care is necessary to establish the fact that the game is worth the candle. If the existing variety, indigenous or improved, is to be replaced by a new one, the new type must be a real and definite improvement. It is not worth while disturbing the cultivators unless a marked advance can be made. All new forms at the Experiment Stations should therefore be ruthlessly discarded unless they are at least 20 per cent better than the existing types in cultivation. A high standard should be set and maintained. The mistake is sometimes made of sending out variety after variety at short intervals. This not only shakes public confidence but also prevents any variety from ever being established. The importance of the time factor in seed distribution is sometimes not fully appreciated. Time is needed to obtain the confidence of the people, in developing the most suitable organization for seed distribution and in growing and storing the large bulk of seed essential for success.'
A second essential was to bear in mind the real difference between Experiment Station conditions and those in a country at large.
'The agricultural conditions at a well-conducted Experiment Station are somewhat different from those which obtain among the ryots in the surrounding districts. The improved cultivation of the soil at an Experiment Station results in a greater supply of soil moisture for the wheat crop than is available in the average ryot's holding. It is likely, therefore, that a variety of wheat grown under the two sets of conditions will behave quite differently. This is found to be the case, particularly if the maximum possible yield is desired at the Experiment Station. To obtain this maximum yield the variety must be a late one so as to utilize to the utmost the available growth period and the ample supply of soil moisture. Under Experiment Station conditions it is easily possible, with due attention to cultivation, moisture conservation, and choice of soil, to grow upwards of thirty maunds of wheat to the acre. If, however, these high-yielding varieties are grown by the cultivators, quite different results are obtained. With defective preliminary cultivation and insufficient soil moisture, these late potentially high-yielding wheats do not reach maturity before the onset of the hot weather has begun to diminish the moisture in the soil. The result is a low yield, often of rather poorly filled grain. The Experiment Station results are thus reversed.'
Thirdly, and the point seems obvious, it was essential to show results in the concrete. The cultivator must see crops in the field, the same sort of crops in the same sort of fields as he himself had to cultivate. This idea was brought forward early in 1910, when Sir Albert took the initiative in proposing a new type of demonstration at Pusa. He suggested that, instead of contributing to a forthcoming agricultural exhibition at Tirhoot, the whole exhibition could be much more effectively brought to Pusa. This was refused for 1911, the year proposed, but in 1912 a renewed suggestion won the day and the grounds of the Botanical Area at the Pusa Institute were lent, Sir Albert acting as secretary to the show. Tobacco and wheat were exhibited in the field, and, together with demonstrations on green-manuring, the value of pure seed, and of hot-weather cultivation, constituted five topics for instruction; plots belonging to two neighbouring ryots were also used for show purposes, the idea of sharing experimental efforts with the farmer, which Sir Albert had desired in the West Indies, thus taking effect. Lectures were given, repeated for late-comers, repeated again in the vernacular, and improved implements shown at work. Success was immediate. Fifty sets of a new spring-tine harrow were at once ordered by visiting farmers. The experiment was repeated in following years.
'These demonstrations were a great success and were followed closely both by planters and by cultivators. There is no doubt that this method of bringing home the results of the work of the Agricultural Department is infinitely more effective than publications or the exhibition of collections of seed and other produce. An acre plot of improved wheat or tobacco, for example, appeals much more strongly to the agricultural mind than results in print or in the shape of collections of seed.' (Report of the Imperial Economic Botanist for the year 1911-12, p. 18.)
Invitations to address the Bihar Planters' Association followed and two addresses were given in 1913 and 1914. From this time on relations with the wealthier zamindars and the ruling classes in India became very influential and paved the way for the later arrangements with the Rajput and Central Indian States in setting up the Institute at Indore.
As time went on, the confidence of the growers was given more and more unstintedly. The new wheats, for instance, could not be grown fast enough to supply the seed in demand -- there was 'instant appreciation' of their superiority; the Pusa system of field drainage was eagerly copied; the recommendations on the cultivation of tobacco and indigo widely accepted; the new receptacles for the carriage of fruit bought up in bulk at Quetta; as for the sun-dried vegetables, the demand was twenty times the supply. (Report of the Imperial Economic Botanists for the Year 1918-19, p. 64.) It was true that patience was sometimes needed. It has already been noted how much work had been involved in launching the returnable fruit crate in face of the opposition of the Indian railways and its relatively high cost, but by 1919 the supply was being gladly bought up by the dealers at five to eight rupees, though had these crates been offered seven years earlier it was safe to say not one would have been purchased (ibid., p. 65); a gradual education in the possibilities of the fruit trade had had to precede. Such matters are a commonplace in any country, but it is hardly surprising that Sir Albert could never be got to agree, on the basis of his own experience, that the Indian peoples were unreceptive. In looking back on the past in later years he was at pains to contradict so false an impression. Often the time-lag was swept away by their eagerness.
'One difficulty, which is not without interest, was encountered in getting the Indore process adopted. Several enthusiastic supporters of the Indore Institute, who were shown the process in the embryonic condition, were so impressed by its possibilities that they insisted on taking it up at once and flatly refused to wait for the final results. The consequence was that their processes had to be perfected as well as my own. In one Indian Province a vigorous composting campaign was launched in which one item called for immediate revision. Some difficulty was experienced in getting the necessary amendment made.
'I mention this incident, which was constantly happening in India, because there is a general impression in this country [England] that a well-marked time lag must always occur between the results obtained at an Experiment Station and their adoption in practice. The conventional view is that after a result is obtained it must be repeated on a large number of replicated and randomized plots (see Chapter 8, The Question of Statistics and Views on Artificial Fertilizer) and the figures must then be subjected to a rigid statistical examination. The idea seems to be to protect the farmer from false prophets, forgetting that he is perfectly capable of looking after himself. My experience contradicts this conventional view of the time lag. When results of real practical value have been obtained in India I never observed any delay in their adoption. The response on the part of the cultivators was immediate. There was therefore no opportunity for spending time on the replication and randomization process. The only difficulty met with was illiteracy. Propaganda was impossible by means of print, a circumstance which greatly reduced the rate at which improvements could be taken up over large areas.' (Address delivered as the Distinguished Visitor's Address to the Royal College of Science, 1935; Scientific Journal of the Royal College of Science, Vol. VI, 1936.)
The Formulation of a Definite Policy for Propaganda Work and Labour Relations
In spite of the great name gained for the Pusa wheats and the immense influence of the Pusa work generally, neither Sir Albert Howard nor his wife were finally satisfied that the fundamental question of relations with the population was being handled with sufficient vigour and enlightenment. They determined that transfer to their own Institute at Indore should be made into an opportunity for unique developments.
These developments took three directions: the training of students and of agricultural officers, the latter for local work; the holding of Cultivators' Weeks for conveying useful results to neighbouring farmers; and the adoption of the best possible conditions for the labour actually employed at the new Experiment Station, together with the arrangements for training such workers to be sent forth as leaders and teachers in their own communities.
The training of students was embodied in the constitution of the Indore Institute. Such training had also been given at Pusa. As will be set forth in the final chapter of this book, Mrs. Howard was particularly interested in the right way of handling such teaching. In the course of the first four years at Indore nine post-graduate research students completed their course and sought appointments in the various agricultural departments in India. What was more specialized were the grants and student-ships arranged by the various contributing States or by certain Indian benefactors for training staff for work in the States themselves. A number of agricultural officers were thus taught and there was also an interesting scheme for giving a month's course in general rural development to all the thirty-three tehsildars of the amins of the Indore State, five of these attending at a time. In these and other ways the contributing States were glad to look on the Institute as a great teaching centre in the closest possible liaison with their own officers and agricultural departments. The teaching was most popular and the visitors' quarters provided always occupied. (See Chapter 1.)
The aims were wide and went beyond the problems of cotton, beyond even the principles of agricultural science, to embrace, as already stated, general village welfare. Sir Albert was an enthusiastic advocate of the ideas of the late Lieut.-Colonel Brayne, who wished to see the scattered and divided work of the many authorities looking after the population concentrated in one co-ordinated effort, applied locally to specified areas and thence extending, in fact, the exact principles which have since been applied on a huge scale in the Tennessee valley work and in other parts of the world. (Great success has been achieved by such team work in Africa; see 'Team Work in Africa', by Fergus Wilson, O.B.E. , in Corona, Aug. -Sept. 1951.)
A second initiative was the holding of the Cultivators' Meetings. To some extent these had been foreshadowed in the 1912 and other exhibitions at Pusa mentioned above, but the actual model were the famous Cultivators' Weeks of Coke of Norfolk in the late eighteenth century in England. The arrangements were very carefully thought out, and organized groups were brought to the spot to see everything with their own eyes. Groups of visitors, 200 at a time, came for two days from eleven of the contributing States. They were in charge of officers, were housed and transported; none of the bewildering distractions of the large agricultural show were present, and everything was kept business-like, simple, and cheap. There were a series of definite demonstrations, what one might almost call lessons, six each day, on very varied subjects, cultivation methods, well-irrigation, crops, manures including composting, cattle food. The first meeting was held in 1928, and then annually.
'The first cultivators' meeting produced other results besides interesting a number of State officers and villagers in agricultural improvements. The general public, for the first time, began to understand the purpose of the Institute and to realize its great possibilities. Since the meeting took place in January 1928 there has been a growing stream of visitors, many of whom are either local notables or well-to-do men who are beginning to take up improvement of their land. Actual cultivators from the villages are now coming in large numbers, many of whom work for a time to learn new methods... It will be necessary before long to appoint a special member of the staff for this work so that this duty [of showing round] can be carried out effectively without any interference with the current work of the Institute... It is now generally recognized that the Institute has become an important research and training centre, which exports ideas and information on rural reconstruction as well as improved varieties of crops and new methods of cultivation. It is already acting as a stimulus in general rural development.'
The meetings were an unqualified success; 'flattery thick as butter' greeted the Director on the conclusion of the second occasion when one was held; they more than fulfilled the purpose for which they had been designed.
In the third place, as Director of the Indore Institute, Sir Albert Howard was an employer of labour. Field and harvesting work was carried out by a regular force of 118 persons, men and women, supplemented by temporary workers. What should be the policy of the Institute towards these workers?
The answer was bold -- an 'experiment', as it is called. Sir Albert's boyhood on his father's farm has already been mentioned; on the relations between employer and employed, he had good recollections. It was his business, as the farmer's son, to carry round the food and drink given in those days to the workers in the field; he described to me once the extraordinary care which was bestowed on carrying out this duty; there was an art in varying what was offered, especially for the hot work of hay-making, and home-brewed cyder, beer, small beer, tea, etc., were all provided in turn, at the farmer's discretion, whose reputation rose and fell with the skill he showed in providing for his workers what was so necessary for their comfort. On this point the standing of his own family was particularly good as excellent, generous employers. I have every reason to say that these fine recollections, gathered from the last years of the best period of nineteenth-century farming in England, were of profound influence throughout Sir Albert's life.
The scene was now very different. The first need was to recruit from the Indian villages 'an efficient and contented body of workers' in spite of the competition of neighbouring mills and factories. The initial attraction was to be regular and above all effective payment of wages. Something had to be done to ensure that there was no cheating of the workers, either by illicit deductions or by the more insidious method of inviting running debts at a canteen or store.
'Regularity of payment is a matter of very great importance in dealing with Indian labour. At Indore workers on daily rates received their wages twice a month -- on the 18th and the 3rd, in each case at 2.30 p.m. The permanent labour is paid monthly on the third working day of the following month. To ensure that all payments are actually made according to the attendance registers all disbursements are made in the presence of two responsible members of the staff. Both of these men have to sign a statutory declaration that the payments have actually been made. The signed statements come regularly before the Director for signature, and are in due course placed before the auditors. In making payments the envelope system is used, the payee making a thumb impression in ink in the register or signing his or her name. These arrangements have been found to prevent any illicit deductions on the part of the staff. The payments are made in public; the rate of everybody's pay is known; the signing of a proper declaration in the register makes it possible to institute criminal proceedings at once for any irregularity; the Director is always available for enquiring into any complaints. That none have ever been made proves that the labourers actually receive their pay in full at regular intervals. Payment is made in coin; no attempt at payment in kind has ever been made; no shops for the sale of food exist on the estate and nothing whatever is done to influence the workers as to how they should spend their wages.'
An outstanding, indeed, an unprecedented, achievement was the shortening of the working day from the usual ten hours to six in the hot weather and to seven and a half over the rest of the year. This was successful beyond all expectation and indeed so remarkable in the treatment of labour in the East at that period that Sir Albert was well justified in referring to it as 'a miracle' in the paper which he was invited to contribute to the official journal of the International Labour Office at Geneva.
'After the regular payment of wages, the hours of labour come next in importance. Indeed, in India rest and wages are to a certain extend interchangeable, as the workers regard any extra rest as equivalent to an increase in pay. At first, the Institute observed the ten-hour day so common in India, but this was soon given up. It was found during the hot months of April, May and June that both the labour and the cattle required more protection from the hot sun. An experiment was therefore made to reduce the hours of labour during the hot months to six daily, beginning work at sunrise and ending the day at sunset. The actual working hours of the three hot months were arranged in two shifts -- four hours in the morning and two in the afternoon with six hours' rest during the heat of the day, i.e. from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At the same time the work was speeded up and both labour and supervising staff were given to understand that the six-hour day in the hot months could only be enjoyed if everybody worked continuously and conscientiously.
'The first result observed was a marked improvement in the health and well-being of the men and animals, probably due to the operation of two factors: the health-giving properties of the early morning air and avoidance of excessive sunlight. With the improvement in general health there was a corresponding reduction in cases requiring medical assistance. To everyone's surprise, it was found possible to speed up the work very considerably. The experiment of shortening the hours of labour was then extended to the rest of the year: working hours were reduced from ten to seven and a half.
'These working periods, six hours in the hot weather and seven and a half during the rest of the year, refer to the time actually at work; an extra half-hour daily is spent in travelling to and from the place of work. In no case does the working period exceed seven and a half hours, except for about a week at the sowing time of the monsoon crops. During this period, both man and beast do not obtain much more than two hours off duty for food during the hours of daylight. A full ten-hour day at high pressure is then the rule, as all realize that the sowing of cotton and other crops is a race against time. As soon, however, as sowing is over, the workers enjoy an extra day's rest on full pay. The sowing of the monsoon crops is the only agricultural operation in Central India for which anything more than a seven and a half hour day is necessary.
'For three years the agricultural operations of the Institute have been conducted on the short hours system. The result has been successful beyond all expectation. The miracle of speeding up Indian labour has been achieved and shorter working hours have led not only to contentment but also to an increased output of work.'
Further points attended to were good, if simple, housing; really practical arrangements for securing a clean water supply; and medical arrangements, which were given free; for the women a nurse was provided in cases of childbirth.
Finally, a most interesting system of training for efficiency and promotion carrying higher pay was instituted.
'An Experimental Station, like any employer of labour, needs some system by which the labour force can automatically renew its youth. The annual export of trained labour to centres at which improvements are being taken up is one of the important functions of the Institute. For these reasons therefore a supply of promising recruits must be arranged. To bring this about some system of promotion for proved efficiency had to be devised. At first this took the form of an annual promotion examination for the ploughmen. As they increased in efficiency and could manage and assemble their implements and also plough a straight furrow, their pay was increased by Rs. 1 per month. This system is now being superseded by the certificate plan. All the permanent workers in the Institute are eligible for special training so that they can earn efficiency certificates for such operations as (1) cultivation, sowing and the care of the work cattle, (2) compost making, (3) improved irrigation methods, including the cultivation of sugar-cane by the Java method, (4) the manufacture of sugar. A certificate of efficiency (with suitable illustrations) signed by the Director can be awarded for proficiency in any of these items. Each certificate which is awarded annually will carry with it an increase of Rs. 1 per month on the basic pay. When a member of the labour force has gained all four certificates, he will become eligible for transfer to other centres on higher pay. In this way the Institute holds out hope and places it within the power of any man to increase his starting pay in four years by about 30 per cent. It also enables an ambitious labourer to save enough money in a few years to purchase a holding and to become a cultivator. This is now taking place. Every year a few of the labourers return to their villages with their savings to take up a holding on their own account. Others are deputed for work in the contributing States on increased pay. The vacancies are automatically taken either by younger members of the same family or by volunteers on the waiting list of temporary workers.'
The idea of passing a body of workers recruited from the neighbouring populations through an Experiment Station as trainees, to become on leaving the most appropriate and natural leaders in their own villages and communities, goes a long way back, and was apparently derived from an early trial made of this method at the Raipur Experimental Farm in the Central Provinces under the inspiration of Mr. A. D. Clouston. This had come to Sir Albert's notice while he was at Pusa, and he had even at that time seen the possibilities and had prophesied that the Agricultural Department of India might come to be more efficiently manned by training boys of the cultivating classes rather than by recruiting students from the Agricultural Colleges; detailed proposals had actually been put before the Government of Bihar. (Report of the Imperial Economic Botanist for the Year 1912-13, p, 27.) The idea remained and now received its application at Indore.
In summing up this 'experiment' Sir Albert states briefly:
'It is possible that the system described... is only fully realizable on a farm working under model conditions. Nevertheless, there are a certain number of elements in this experiment which the writer feels are of universal validity in dealing with primitive labour. From the point of view of the worker it is perhaps most essential that he should feel that he is receiving a square deal. From the point of view of the management the best results are obtained by scrupulous attention to pay, short hours of intensive work, proper housing, and medical care, and by interesting the worker in the undertaking through giving his work an educational value.'
On this question of relations with those whom throughout his life Sir Albert was deputed to serve, his attitude may be called at once original and determined. Both he and his wife gave much thought to it and never assumed it to be a question which would solve itself: they deliberately considered ways and means and applied them. This was largely the secret of the success which attended their work almost from the first moment when they arrived in India. They were, in this field, pioneers.
Wheat in India, 1909, Section I, Ch. XI: 'The Trials of Implements and Machines'.
Indian Agriculture, 1927, Ch. V: 'The Human Factor'.
The Application of Science to Crop Production, 1929, pp. 49-50: 'The Sale of Implements and Machines.'
Notes on the First Cultivators' Meeting at Indore, 11th-13th Nov. , 1929 (unpublished document).
The International Labour Review, Geneva, Vol. XXIII, No. 5, May 1931: 'An Experiment in the Management of Indian Labour'.
Next: 8. The Position of the Scientist
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