Aranya Agricultural Alternatives
Permaculture INDIA – Forest farming
Parvatibai’s farm is in an excellent location along a busy village road to be a functional demonstration model to the surrounding area. The land had once been teak forest. Stripped of all the trees and planted with a monoculture which is grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the topsoil of the land was eroded away, leaving rocky subsoil.
Parvatibai is a widow with 3 children under 17 years old. Her husband died 4 years ago due to chickenpox. Since then things have been a real struggle financially. She has been renting her 4 acres since her husband’s death to a richer upper caste man for $20 US/acre a year, a ridiculously low rate. When we asked her if she would like to be a part of transforming her land into a permaculture farm, she was excited about it and gave the largest piece of all the projects, 3 acres, to try out what permaculture could do for her family and land.
In the first phase of the implementation of permaculture design, we dug three contour trenches to harvest the rain water and sink it into the farm’s soil. These trenches also effectively catch any topsoil washing off the land. She has excellent catchment on her land so we also placed a farm pond. This farm pond is able to drain all the water out of the road which is creating a big problem for the villagers. The pond is now adding a great microclimate to the site. The rocks covering her land were used to prevent erosion in a few beginning gullies, as well as at the inlet to the pond. We filled one contour trench with dry brown leaves and green pongomia leaves and a small amount of cow dung to compost for a couple of months. We built a fence to protect the future fruit trees until the live fence we would plant during the rainy season has grown to a functional height and width.
During the monsoon season 700 trees and bushes were planted as a live fence around Parvatibai’s farm to protect the new plantings from the village livestock which graze freely across the lands. The live fence was mostly planted with pongomia, glyriccidia and chicakiya but also has a rich diversity of interplanting of trees and bushes such as jetropha, athatodavasica, henna, acacia nelotica, silver oak, albizzia lebec, ashoka and soapnut. The bunds were planted with guava, chicot, mango, jack fruit, cashew, carunda, pomegranate, amla, custard apple and moringa. These fruit trees were interplanted with nitrogen fixing trees, glyriccidia and sesbania. In some of the wetter microclimates we placed papayas, dry citrus and even tried one coconut around the pond. All the trees were mulched to hold the water with the composting leaves we had put in the trench 2 months earlier. In between the bunds, annual crops of sorghum and legumes, and millets and legumes were planted.
This monsoon season turned out to be very light and we ended up digging a well to insure the survival of the fruit trees. Her farm already showed a dramatic transformation by the end of the planting time. Many villagers stopped by to learn from what we were doing. Her farm is now a seed and genetic bank for others to be able to start their own permaculture farms.
By September, the crops and trees are growing well and the farm looks green and lush compared to its previous barren look. As the biomass and nitrogen fixing trees grow, and are chopped and mulched they will add much to the fertility of the land. Parvatibai is so grateful for the assistance in her farm’s transformation. She said, “Even my own parents have not supported me so much. Thank you so, so much.”
2 Parvatiby’s land before permaculture interventions
Aranya leads a four month Internship coupled with Living Ecology and the Permaculture Patashala. These are images from the internship projects.