Proﬁle: Professor Sultan Ismail
Dr Sultan Ismail is a world-renowned figure in the areas of sustainability, eco-research and natural agriculture. He is perhaps best-known for the coining of the word and concept of ‘Vermitech’ - using earthworms for a variety of wonderfully interlinked organic purposes such as waste management, agro fertilising, soil enrichment and maintaining a natural ecological balance. Currently, Director of Ecoscience Research Foundation, his work in all fields sustainable is well documented and available on the ‘net at erfindia.org and on countless other sites; I’m sure you’ll want to look it up after reading these snippets from an exclusive interview:
On Sustainability and Education
Speaking about sustainability, Dr Sultan Ismail says, “Our greatest mistake is that we segregate and specialise. Somebody talks about air, somebody about water, and somebody else about soil. But unless we bring together all these ideas, there cannot be sustainability. The problem starts with school, where we start teaching children the difference between living and non-living. We always tell children that air is non-living, whereas we are living. But we forget to tell children that if we remove the non-living air from our body, we also become non-living….Water the teacher says is non-living, and they say that we are living. But they don’t say, if you remove water from our body, we become non-living.
Understanding that what they call ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ is actually integrated into a single entity is most important to understand the concept of sustainability. Soil is incomplete without soil-air and soil-moisture. They all exist together as a wonderful tripod of existence...”
On Soil as a Living Entity
Drawing parallels between the systems in a human body and soil systems, he says, “Soil itself is a living organism. Soil has a digestive system because you bury anything in it, it can decompose it, and it can absorb it. This is the same way in which our own digestive systems work. Soil also takes in oxygen, gives out carbon dioxide just like we do…
We don’t pull up plants every day to feed their roots. The way we take medicine through the mouth to reach different parts of the body, the same way we feed the soil and this percolates through channels and systems which are created by soil organisms, in the form of a circulatory system, and reaches the plants. So soil also logically has a circulatory
system. Just like we eliminate unwanted material from our body, saline soils bring out excess salts and throw it onto the surface. If you were to put anything in soil that is plant
matter, it decomposes this but then in the same soil you put in seed it helps it germinate…
The moment we think that soil is only mineral matter, and we just add minerals on it, we became crop-centric and not eco-centric. And unfortunately, sustainability takes a back seat…
Sustainability is not a process of agriculture, it is a way of life, a way of looking at life.”
Reminiscing about his childhood, Dr Ismail recalls how rough he used to be as a child. Once he was jumping up and down forcefully and kicking the ground when his grandfather scolded him saying, “Don’t hurt the Earth, don’t hurt the soil, it gives you everything!” “It was a small input,” he says, “and at that point I didn’t know how much it would contribute to who I am today…”
“Please bring up your children in such a way that the child interacts with Nature, is involved with Nature. Because once children start loving Nature - birds and butterflies - they will naturally be attracted towards their lives and habitats. If you want to have a plant or tree, you will need to have soil, and that bond with the soil will last a lifetime.”
In the current situation when we are all looking to engage our children, Dr Sultan Ismail’s website SimpleTasksGreatConcepts.WordPress.com is a treasure-trove of amazing experiments you can do at home, starting from making invisible ink to building a micrograph.
A world authority on vermitech, vermiwash and vermicomposting today, Professor Ismail believes that when life offers an opportunity, there is wisdom in accepting it. His formal education is in Fisheries. It was a matter of chance that he started working with earthworms - he was asked to suggest an area of work for a student, and on that day, in 1979, the lab only had earthworms as live specimens.
“On that day, if I had resisted, if I had said no, I will only work with fish, I would not be here today and you would not be speaking to me…”
On Human Activity
“The present crisis can be linked to natural ecosystems being disrupted. In the natural ecosystem, viruses exist everywhere, in every species. If you destroy the habitats of other species in the name of construction of various sorts, then these microorganisms face the loss of habitat, are devoid of their host, and they start looking for a host. And the easiest prey is human beings. This (Zoonosis) is a big threat for future generations… “
A fortnight after this interview, Dr. C. Johnson from the University of California’s School of Veterinary Medicine reported her findings, which were along these exact same lines, and said, “Our data highlights how exploitation of wildlife and the destruction of natural habitat in particular, underlie disease spillover events, putting us at risk for emerging infectious diseases”
Thank you so much for your time and your wonderful inputs Sir!