Albert Howard

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Albert Howard
Born(1873-12-08)8 December 1873
Died20 October 1947(1947-10-20) (aged 73)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Spouse(s)Gabrielle Matthaei
Louise Matthaei
Scientific career

Sir Albert Howard CIE (8 December 1873 – 20 October 1947) was an English botanist. His academic background might have been botany. While working in India he was generally considered a pathologist; this more than likely being the reason for his consistent observations of the value of compost applications being an increase in health (of the whole system). Howard was the first Westerner to document and publish the Indian techniques of sustainable agriculture. After spending considerable time learning from Indian peasants and the pests present in their soil, he called these two his professors. He was a principal figure in the early organic movement. He is considered by many in the English-speaking world to have been, along Eve Balfour, one of the key advocates of ancient Indian techniques of organic agriculture.[1]


Albert Howard was born at Bishop's Castle, Shropshire. He was the son of Richard Howard, a farmer, and Ann Howard, née Kilvert. He was educated at Wrekin College, Royal College of Science, South Kensington, and as Foundation Scholar, at St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1896, he graduated in Biological Sciences at Cambridge, where he also obtained a Diploma of Phytopathology in 1897.

In 1899, he lectured in Agricultural Science at Harrison College, Barbados, and in 1899 and 1902, was a Mycologist and Agricultural Lecturer at the Imperial Department of Agriculture for the West Indies.

From 1903 to 1905, he was Botanist at the South Eastern Agricultural College and from 1905 to 1924, Imperial Economic Botanist to the Government of India.

In 1914, he was created a Companion of the Indian Empire (C.I.E.), and received a Silver Medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1920. From 1924 to 1931, Howard was Director of the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, and Agricultural Adviser to States in Central India and Rajputana. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1928, and in 1930 received the Barclay Memorial Medal of that society.

He was knighted in 1934, and made an Honourable Fellow of the Imperial College of Science in 1935.[2][3]

Howard worked in India as agricultural adviser[4] and was in charge of a government research farm at Indore.[5] He worked together with Gabrielle Matthaei (1876–1930), and her sister Louise (1880–1969). He married Gabrielle in 1905. After her death, he married Louise in 1931.[2][6] Gabrielle was herself a professionally trained and competent botanist,[2] and indeed the contribution of both women to organic farming is said to be underestimated.[6]

Howard observed and came to support traditional Indian farming practices over conventional agricultural science. Though he journeyed to India to teach Western agricultural techniques he found that the Indians could in fact teach him more. One important aspect he took notice of was the connection between healthy soil and the villages' healthy populations, livestock and crop. Patrick Holden, Director of the UK Soil Association quoted Howard as saying "the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible." He was president of the 13th session of the Indian Science Congress in 1926.

Organic farming[edit]

Howard built on the traditional Indian composting system into what is now known as the Indore method. He went on to further document Indian organic farming techniques, and spread its knowledge through the UK-based Soil Association, and the Rodale Institute in the US. His 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, is a classic organic farming text. He emphasizes the importance of maintaining humus, keeping water in the soil, and the role of mycorrhiza. It was his first book aimed at the general public, and is his best popularly known work. However his 1931 book The Waste Products of Agriculture, based on 26 years of studying improved crop production in Indian smallholdings, is considered by some as his most important scientific publication.[1] His 1945 book Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease was also intended for a general audience, and was republished in 1947 as The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture.[1] Howard's documentation of Indian farming practices influenced and inspired many farmers and agricultural scientists who furthered the organic movement, including Lady Eve Balfour (the Haughley Experiment, The Living Soil) and J. I. Rodale (Rodale Institute).

Howard advocated studying the forest in order to farm like the forest. He devoted the last half of his career to understanding that end, presaging those contemporary ecologists who advocate the understanding of the interface between ecology and agriculture.[7][8] Indeed, Howard is grouped, along with Rudolf Steiner,[9] Sir Robert McCarrison and Richard St. Barbe Baker, as one of the key progenitors of the Western organic agriculture movement.[9][10][11] (However he says, in the Preface to An Agricultural Testament, "Some attention has also been paid to the Bio-Dynamic methods of agriculture in Holland and in Great Britain, but I remain unconvinced that the disciples of Rudolf Steiner can offer any real explanation of natural laws or have yet provided any practical examples which demonstrate the value of their theories."[12])

A tribute website from his home town of Bishops Castle is to be found here.[13]


The following is a selection of publications by Albert Howard, including his better known works, and some lesser known publications. His knighthood was conferred in 1934, so in publications prior to that, he is not referred to as "Sir". Even subsequent to that, he did not always refer to himself as "Sir", as per his contribution to Nature in 1936, and his correspondence to the British Medical Journal in 1939. In the listings below, as far as known, in those from 1945 onwards, he is cited as "Sir Albert Howard", hence his authorship is not duplicated thereafter. See also External links section, where further publications by him may be read online.

  • Howard, Albert; Howard, Gabrielle L.C. (1907), "Note on Immune Wheats", The Journal of Agricultural Science, 2 (3): 278–280, doi:10.1017/S0021859600000575, S2CID 84326599
  • Howard, Albert; Howard, Gabrielle L.C.; Khan, Abdur Rahman (1910), The economic significance of natural cross-fertilization in India, India Dept. of Agriculture. Memoirs. Botanical series, vol. III, (No.6) Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co.; London: W. Thacker & Co. (Published for the Imperial Department of Agriculture in India; Calcutta). Listing at Open Library
  • Howard, Albert (February 1921), "The Influence of Soil Factors on Disease Resistance", Annals of Applied Biology, 7 (4): 373–389, doi:10.1111/j.1744-7348.1921.tb05525.x
  • Howard, Albert (1 January 1925), "The Effect of Grass on Trees", Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 97 (683): 284–321, Bibcode:1925RSPSB..97..284H, doi:10.1098/rspb.1925.0003, JSTOR 81054
  • Howard, Albert; Howard, Gabrielle L.C. (1929), "The Development of Indian Agriculture", Nature, India of Today, VIII (3053) (2nd ed.), London: Humphrey Milford and Oxford University Press: 698, Bibcode:1928Natur.121..698C, doi:10.1038/121698a0, S2CID 44552204, retrieved 9 August 2010
  • Howard, Albert; Wad, Yeshwant D (1931), The Waste Products of Agriculture: Their Utilization as Humus, Oxford: Humphrey Milford & Oxford University Press, retrieved 9 August 2010[a]
  • Howard, Albert (29 February 1936), "Manufacture of Humus by the Indore Process", Nature, 137 (3461): 363, Bibcode:1936Natur.137..363H, doi:10.1038/137363b0, S2CID 4097403
  • Greenwell, Bernard; Howard, Albert; Wrench, G.T. (February 1939), "Address to a Meeting of the Farmers' Club", Journal of the Farmers' Club, Discussion held at the Royal Empire Society, Craven Street, W.C.2, on Monday 30 January 1939 (Part 1)
  • Howard, Albert (27 May 1939), "Medical "Testament" on Nutrition (correspondence concerning the Cheshire Medical Testament on Nutrition)", British Medical Journal, 1 (4090): 1106, doi:10.1136/bmj.1.4090.1106, PMC 2209719 (Registration to view BMJ articles is free).
  • Howard, Albert (29 July 1939), ""Medical Testament" on Nutrition (correspondence)", British Medical Journal, 2 (4099): 251, doi:10.1136/bmj.2.4099.251, PMC 2209719
  • Howard, Albert (1943), "An Agricultural Testament" (PDF), Nature, 147 (3733), Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press: 590–591, Bibcode:1941Natur.147..590W, doi:10.1038/147590a0, S2CID 4100495, archived (PDF) from the original on 2 July 2010, retrieved 9 August 2010 pdf per Special Rodale Press Edition, 1976.
  • Howard, Albert; Howard, Louise E (1945), Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease, (Subsequently published as The Soil and Health), London: Faber and Faber Ltd, retrieved 10 August 2010
  • Howard, Albert (1945), "Introduction (Howard on earthworms)", The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observation on their Habits, London: Faber and Faber, retrieved 9 August 2010 (Howard's introduction to the 1945 publication of Charles Darwin's book, first published in 1881).
  • "Harnessing the Earthworm", Organic Gardening, 10 (4), March 1947
  • "Organic Campaign", Organic Gardening, 10 (5), April 1947
  • "The Animal As Our Farming Partner", Organic Gardening, 11 (3), September 1947, retrieved 9 August 2010
  • "How to Avoid a Famine of Quality", Organic Gardening, 11 (5), November 1947
  • The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture, University Press of Kentucky, 2006 [1947], ISBN 978-0-8131-9171-3, retrieved 9 August 2010 (Originally published by Faber & Faber in 1945 as Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease)

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

a. ^ The online reproduction of Howard's 1931 work refers to him as "Sir Albert Howard". However, this is an error. He was not knighted until 1934, and would not have been referred to as Sir. The error is an artifact of the manner in which Howard's name has passed into contemporary public knowledge, via his two most famous books An Agricultural Testament (first published 1940), and Soil and Health (first published 1945 under a different title, but known mostly by this 1947 title), by which time he was referred to as "Sir". Indeed, prior to the advent of the internet and the related information explosion, these were the only two works popularly known by all but the most dedicated researchers, with even less known about his life history, beyond brief synopses associated with the books, and replicated in various book descriptions.[14]


  1. ^ a b c Stinner, D.H. (2007), "The Science of Organic Farming", in William Lockeretz (ed.), Organic Farming: An International History, Oxfordshire, UK & Cambridge, Massachusetts: CAB International (CABI), pp. 40–72, ISBN 978-0-85199-833-6, retrieved 10 August 2010 ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3
  2. ^ a b c Howard, Louise E (1953), Sir Albert Howard in India, London: Faber & Faber, retrieved 10 August 2010 pdf version
  3. ^ "Notification of Knighthood conferred 30 June 1934", The London Gazette (34066): 4223, 3 July 1934, retrieved 10 August 2010
  4. ^ Rebecca Jones, Green Harvest: The History of Organic Farming and Gardening in Australia, Collingwood, Victoria: Csiro Publishing, 2010, p. 3
  5. ^ Solomon, Steve. "Sir Albert Howard's Indore Method". Organic Gardener's Composting. Soil And Health Library. Archived from the original on 24 May 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2008.
  6. ^ a b Vogt, G (2007), "The Origins of Organic Farming", in William Lockeretz (ed.), Organic Farming: An International History, Oxfordshire, UK & Cambridge, Massachusetts: CAB International (CABI), pp. 9–29, ISBN 978-0-85199-833-6, retrieved 10 August 2010 ebook ISBN 978-1-84593-289-3
  7. ^ Jackson, Wes; Piper, Jon (December 1989), "The Necessary Marriage Between Ecology and Agriculture" (PDF), Ecology, 70 (6): 1591–1593, doi:10.2307/1938090, JSTOR 1938090, retrieved 9 August 2010 JSTOR citation for page accuracy
  8. ^ Jackson, Wes (2002), "Natural systems agriculture: a truly radical alternative" (PDF), Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 88 (2): 111–117, CiteSeerX, doi:10.1016/S0167-8809(01)00247-X, retrieved 10 August 2010
  9. ^ a b Sayre, Laura (4 March 2004), Review: The Origins of the Organic Movement, Rodale Institute, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 14 August 2010
  10. ^ Mantle, Paul, "Two Reviews (see review of Origins of the Organic Movement)", Tributes, The Man of the Trees: Richard St. Barbe Baker, p. 7, archived from the original on 8 January 2010, retrieved 14 August 2010
  11. ^ Lotter, D.W. 2003."Organic agriculture" Archived 8 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine J. Sustainable Agriculture 21(4)
  12. ^ "An Agricultural Testament" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 July 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  13. ^ Albert Howard Organic Farming Pioneer
  14. ^ Out of print description of An Agricultural Testament, description is verbatim from rear of dust-cover, Cumberland Books website, archived from the original on 4 November 2010, retrieved 10 August 2010

General and cited references[edit]

External links[edit]