March 1, 2010｜China
Senior Economist, Norinchukin Research Institute, Co., Ltd.
In winter 2009 I travelled around India’s breadbasket: the state of Punjab, India’s largest grain-supplying region the state of Uttar Pradesh, which for India has the largest population of 170 million, and the state of West Bengal, which adjoins Bangladesh. These three states are almost wholly inside the Indo-Gangetic Plain, they contain the capital of Delhi, the political center, Varanasi, the sacred place of Hinduism, and Bodh Gaya, the sacred place of Buddhism, and they are also the cradle of India’s ancient civilization. While travelling around, I was able to feel in my bones the perpetual history of tolerance, the profundity, and the vibrancy and confusion of the present day. Above all, one of the things that left a strong impression, however, was the feeling of oneness, which could even be called mystical, interweaving people, agriculture and religion.
Firstly, I was amazed by the denseness of population. Up until then I had thought that it was the coastal region of China which has the world’s largest population and has the highest population density in the world, but I experienced for myself that it was no match for the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Wherever I went, whether city or village, was overflowing with people, and particularly in the villages there were so many children they seemed to gush forth, and one and all gave beaming smiles. Although a population giant too, India is different to China with its advancing decline in births with the “one-child” policy.
Looking at the agricultural land, what I felt first was that the land was cultivated to the utmost. I flew over the Indo-Gangetic Plain in a plane, and there were hardly any forested areas below; all the land appeared to be being used for agricultural land. On this score it is the same as China’s North China Plain, Yangtze Delta and Pearl River Delta. For all of these great plains of China and India, not only is the soil fertility enriched by alluvium from rivers, but because the networks of irrigation channels are also extensive there are two or more harvests a year, they nourish the huge populations of the two countries, and they boast high rates of self sufficiency. In both China and India, however, differing from other major agricultural countries, land is not allowed to lie fallow. Unfortunately this is because there is no leeway to allow the land a break and return it to a fertile state.
What attracted my interest further was that the semblance of agriculture and religion working together with the goal of preservation of the environment still remains strong today. If you have been to India you will probably have seen cows walking calmly in the middle of roads crowded with cars, and lying down at the side of the road. As Hinduism, India’s biggest religion, holds cows to be sacred, even on roads people and cars give way to them. As they are sacred it is naturally forbidden to eat them. Yet why are cows sacred in Hinduism? It is because cows plough farmland and provide milk, a valuable source of protein, while eating naturally-growing grasses without eating the grains which are for human consumption. Their efficiency in converting grass into energy, however, is superior to that of other animals. There is no other animal which helps humans to survive more than cattle. In a village I visited, most farmers kept cows, and cherished them.
In fact, it is said that long ago Hindus also ate cows. The population increased, however, disparities widened, and the low-income bracket greatly increased. As the dissatisfaction of those on low incomes who could not eat meat intensified, the price of cattle surged with the increase in demand for beef, farming households which did not possess cattle increased, and it became an obstacle to the tillage of the soil as well. It is said that what arose in tackling such social contradictions was Buddhism, which preaches the non-taking of life. Seeing Buddhism’s capturing of people’s hearts, the sense of crisis in Hinduism heightened, and it adopted the Buddhist idea of the non-taking of life. What Hinduism chose as the symbol of the non-taking of life was the cow, which brings the most benefit to humankind. Thereby, Hinduism become once again favorably disposed to by the great majority of the common people, the number of adherents greatly increased, and it became India’s largest religion, continuing down to the present day.
In the case of India and China, the land which can be used in both as agricultural land is nearly all cultivated, and moreover as the agricultural population is as large as ever, the size of farms is tiny compared even with Japan. For all that, against a background of somehow maintaining self-sufficiency in terms of basic grains, there is also the lore of religion. The increase in the population of India will continue in the future also, and by employing all manner of knowledge, it seems it will continue to permit its people to eat.
[Translated by ERINA]