Aranya & Living Ecology Permaculture Internship 2015 by Francesco Petretto

From 15th of January 2015 to 15th of July 2015, six people all from different countries around the world gathered in India to participate at a permaculture internship held by Aranya Agriculture Alternatives organized by Raya Cole of Living Ecology. The organization extends their permaculture knowledge by implementing a real project in one of the many locations involved with Aranya and the watershed management project. At the same time they will help some individuals by financing such projects and will create some kind of impact on the conventional way of farming based on mono-cropping and chemicals fertilizers. Their projects will become hopefully model farms. A model for those who are looking for an alternative and for whoever interested in such practices. It will also be something different from which any farmer in the proximity could take inspiration from.

Program Application Process

I was seeking permaculture opportunities around the world and came across a headline: “Permaculture in India.” After reading the words, “Make a village self sufficient by using permaculture techniques,” I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for me. Although it ended up being somehow different from that statement, it was much more complex then that. There were many different options for us to chose from – endless possibilities.

Arrival in India

Our starting point was in Hyderabad at Aranyas main office, which is right beside Narsana’s and Padma’s home. We had there all our meals, which were always tasteful and plenty!! We stayed for a while in a room at the Aranya office and then moved to an apartment nearby. Narsana and Padma were always open and ready to make us happy with everything we needed.

Discussing Permaculture Techniques in India via @livingecology

(From left: Shams, Raya, Jacob, Francesco, Anna, Sacha, and Narsana)

Introductory Permaculture Training Received

We spent the first month visiting different places around Hyderabad. This allowed us to get to know the culture and what Indian farmers do in their lands. Being my first time in India, it was an important step before jumping into any project of my own. I came here, first of all, to be closer to nature and, second, to experience how people involved with permaculture for so many years live their life.

Together, we received training from Narsana, in both his office and home. In the land, we learned about local plants and their uses, various permaculture techniques, rain water harvesting with contour trenches, and lessons about local Indian culture.

Permaculture Training in India via @livingecology

Demonstrations and Trainings at the Aranya Farm

Sites Visited

  • Aranya farm – the best example of Narsanaʼs permaculture syle,.
  • Shander Shaker’s farm – a large organic farm, income based, just at its starting point.
  • Madu’s farm – an organic farm with a large mango plantation pass on from 2 generations.
  • A farmer couple’s orchard – where Narsanas work was being implemented.
  • A turmeric field with processing machine.
  • A mono-cropping papaya plantation that were affected by a decease.
  • Rice fields.
  • Tribal villages

We could potentially have gotten involved with any of these projects if we wanted to, and we still can!!

  • We also participated in an Hindu wedding.

I learned much during this process and met many people who were kind and welcoming.

Permaculture Program Participants in India via @livingecology

Hands-on training at a local farm

Moving to Tribal Area

After visiting the above sites, we agreed to move to the tribal area and make our projects there, working with the tribal people. An apartment in Utnoor, a small town 7km from Tatiguda (our project area), is rented for Living Ecology’s program participants. This is a great experience for everyone to delve even deeper into Indian culture, being surrounded by neighbors (both Muslim and Hindu), we were experiencing the real India.

Exploring India via @livingecology

We also had access to the local Aranya office, were we could use the internet and a space for working on our designs. It was tough though, on the other hand, being where you are the first foreigner the locals ever met, being at the center of the attention is fun for a few days, but becomes stressful. Being stared at all the time and not being able to take a walk without everyone on the street asking you where you are from, where you are going, your name, your purposes, ect. is taxing.

Integration with Tatiguda Community

Our first day in Tatiguda we were received in an amazing way; it was moving. The locals danced, played drums, and dressed up just for us. We then held a meeting wherein where we introduced to the entire village.

A Welcome Ceremony in India via @livingecology

Welcome Ceremony in Tatiguda, India

Later, we returned for a meeting to find out who we should work with. Narsana recommended we choose from a group of widows. He explained that he likes to work with women. He believes they are more reliable, responsible, and heart oriented then the men – almost opposite and driven primarily by the money.On my opinion we rushed the process of choosing who to work with. Within a few minutes we already had a list of 12 women to choose from.

Local Villagers in India via @livingecology

After a meeting back at our apartment, we narrowed this list down. Since we were only 5 program participants, we could only complete 5 projects. Eventually, we ended up with 5 landowners – 4 of them widows and one chosen because of continuos participation and involvement of our visits in Tatiguda. This was also one of the few families using their cow manure as a compost for their own land.

After that, we continued visits to Tatiguda village each day, to get to know the place and the villagers we would be working with. It took some time to find the right translator. Thankfully we managed to hire somebody who was already working with Aranya, available to us at all times and had more or less the knowledge of organic farming and permaculture needed for the job.

Getting Started: Client Interview, Site Survey, Drawing Maps, Marking Contours

It took time to begin the design process. We spent time at our meetings in Utnoor, discussing details of the landowners, landscape, resources, etc. and discussed “client interviews” and site surveys. Then we chose one client for each participant and we prepared for designing and implementing. We organized a client interview sheet and for a week we interviewed each land owner. After that we spent another week doing the site surveys, then we drew the base maps based on the info we gathered.

Most of the land was prone to erosion by having bare soil and no life in it – typical of the drylands. The rain would come and wash away all the top soil. So, our first implementation step was to draw contour trenches (long trenches for irrigation). We planned each trench at the same level, sided with a bund on which we would plant as much as possible so that it could hold together. Such trenches would, among other functions, retain some of the rain water and let it slowly percolate into the soil, which acts as a sponge.

A forest visit in India via @livingecology

A forest visit with our four widowed landowners and translator, Ravi Prakesh

Each one of the interns cared for hiring the people necessary to dig out our contour trenches in each of his own projects. For some of us, it was a learning experience to actually find laborers who would help.

digging contour trenches via @livingecology

Planting plan

With the help of our notes, little experience, creativity and Narsana’s guidance we started making our designs. We had a list of plants which would be planted only after the internship break with the start of the rainy season. We set up 2 nurseries in 2 of the land’s project area so that we could raise whichever plants were possible to be raised at the moment. We would then tap into Narsanas’ nurseries, government nurseries and as last resource purchase the rest.

Break

On April 15th everyone walked off their projects and went for a 2-month break, awaiting the rainy season.

Planting phase

On the 20th of June we were back in Utnoor and began visiting Tatiguda every day. The mission was to implement our planting plans. Some of the interns could not make it back to India after the 2 months break; their projects were carried on by some of the Aranya employees with the guidance of other project participants, notes, and maps.

One of the lessons I found during this phase was the difficulty getting the land owners inspired to participate, after all, if they don’t get involved while we are here, it’s hard to believe they will after we’re gone. They tend to give their priority to whatever practices involve the most income and short-term results because of their financial situation and mindset. The actual planting process could take as less as a week for a 1-2 acre land, with only a couple of committed people and little tools.

Permaculture in Action via @livingecology

In my case, the implementation took a month and was not entirely completed, I took the decision to not hire any external people for planting but work with the land owner family only. For me this will take the process to a more thoughtful direction, if they are planting all their own trees, water them etc. they would definitely care more for their survival.

This article written by Francesco Petretto from Italy. Francesco participated in the Internship held by Aranya Agricultural Alternatives and Living Ecology in its first year, 2015.