DOWN TO EARTH

FOUNDED ON THE PIL­LARS OF DE­SIGN AND ETHICS OF SUS­TAIN­ABLE LIV­ING, PER­MA­CUL­TURE IS CHANG­ING THE WAY WE LIVE

Deccan Chronicle - - Sunday Chronicle - VANESSA VIEGAS

Aus­tralian-In­dian cou­ple Rosie Hard­ing and Peter Fer­nan­des, who run a ver­dant homestead in what is emerg­ing as Goa’s hippest vil­lage, As­sagao, as­pire to make ‘grow­ing your own food’ the norm in homes across the coun­try. The bu­colic charm of their hum­ble stead is sim­i­lar to the quo­tid­ian, self-re­liant goenkar home that tra­di­tion­ally grows its own food and poul­try. Rosie and Peter’s gar­den of abun­dance pro­duces a thicket of 250 dif­fer­ent species and va­ri­eties of fruits, veg­eta­bles, peren­nial crops, calo­rie crops and herbs un­der the im­par­tial Goan sun. This 700-square me­ter food for­est, once a bar­ren strip of land as­sessed un­fit for veg­e­ta­tion, was trans­formed into a buoy­ant won­der­land of lush greens by draw­ing pri­mar­ily on the de­sign prin­ci­ples and ethics of Per­ma­cul­ture.

Rosie plainly de­scribes the ethos of per­ma­cul­ture as “the de­sign and im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­gen­er­a­tive, self-sus­tain­ing and re­silient nat­u­ral sys­tems that ful­fill all of our hu­man needs (food, shel­ter, health, so­cial and cul­tural), whilst car­ing for the earth and all things that re­side on it.” The term Per­ma­cul­ture is a con­trac­tion of two words — Per­ma­nent and Agri­cul­ture or Per­ma­nent and Cul­ture, which is sim­ply an al­ter­na­tive way of liv­ing or a life­style that is per­ma­nently mind­ful of its sur­round­ings. Per­ma­cul­ture is also a way of cre­at­ing sys­tems and de­signs that em­u­late na­ture and is tightly spun around its 12 de­sign prin­ci­ples, which can be ap­plied to ev­ery­day liv­ing. The un­der­pin­nings of this de­sign are firmly hinged on the non-ne­go­tiable rules: Earth Care, Peo­ple Care and Fair Share.

Rosie and Peter got started a lit­tle over five years ago, when their search for lo­cally grown or­ganic pro­duce, left them hard­pressed to find any­thing that would fit their needs. “We fig­ured we might as well just get started and de­cided to grow our own food,” shares Rosie. These pur­suits lead them to learn about per­ma­cul­ture, which was a much larger do­main, cov­er­ing many as­pects of liv­ing apart from just food. Their learn­ing had a great im­pact on the duo, grad­u­ally shift­ing their per­spec­tive from ‘how do we get good qual­ity food’ to ‘how do we get qual­ity food that is also good for our en­vi­ron­ment.’

Per­ma­cul­ture is the de­sign and im­ple­men­ta­tion of re­gen­er­a­tive, self­sus­tain­ing and re­silient nat­u­ral sys­tems that ful­fill all of our hu­man needs, whilst car­ing for the earth

— ROSIE HARD­ING

Per­ma­cul­ture was first in­tro­duced to the world by an Aus­tralian bi­ol­o­gist Bill Mol­li­son and his co-de­vel­oper David Holm­gren in the 1970s. Its prin­ci­ples were pri­mar­ily de­signed to mit­i­gate the dam­age caused by mod­ern agri­cul­tural meth­ods that were drain­ing both the land and its re­sources. As Bill tersely writes in one of his books, “Though the prob­lems of the world are in­creas­ingly com­plex, the so­lu­tions re­main em­bar­rass­ingly sim­ple.” Per­ma­cul­ture truly pro­poses em­bar­rass­ingly in­tu­itive so­lu­tions, in ar­eas where man con­tin­ues to be per­versely coun­ter­in­tu­itive. Mol­li­son died in 2016, but the roots of his move­ment have spread across 140 coun­tries world over, and is on the up­swing in In­dia.

Among the first few per­ma­cul­ture pi­o­neers in the coun­try, Andhra Pradesh-based Narsanna Kop­pula took his first ever Per­ma­cul­ture De­sign Course un­der the tute­lage of Bill Mol­li­son and Robyn

Fran­cis in the 1980s, with­out ever re­al­is­ing it would be his life’s great­est les­son. At the time, Narsanna was men­tored by Dr. Venkat, who in­vited Bill and Robyn to In­dia to work with the farm­ers and fur­ther per­ma­cul­ture in the coun­try. Narsanna be­lieves the for­est is the fu­ture and he spread his mes­sage through his non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion “Aranya Agri­cul­tural Al­ter­na­tives” presently op­er­at­ing in the ru­ral and tribal ar­eas of Te­lan­gana and Andhra Pradesh. He ini­tially started work­ing with small and mar­ginal farm­ers in the 1980s, es­pe­cially with women farm­ers from Andhra Pradesh with the sole aim to re­place chem­i­cal-in­ten­sive farming with a more sus­tain­able and nat­u­ral ap­proach. Above all, he wanted to break free from the ex­ploita­tive re­la­tion­ship with na­ture that man has con­ve­niently re­mained obliv­i­ous to, He says, “na­ture is not ex­ploita­tive, it’s co­op­er­a­tive. I think that kind of eth­i­cal in­vest­ment, eth­i­cal think­ing is what we need to over­come the chal­lenges of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion that plagues us to­day.”

His wife Padmavathi Kop­pula has been in­stru­men­tal in trans­lat­ing his Utopian vi­sion of achiev­ing eco­log­i­cal, eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able farming meth­ods in In­dia through the path­ways of per­ma­cul­ture. The cou­ple’s body of work and achieve­ments are as vast as the farm­lands they work on. For the past 30 years, they have been ac­tively work­ing with the prin­ci­ples of per ma­cul­ture, but it has taken its own time to come into the main­stream. Says Padmavathi, “Per­ma­cul­ture, what I believe, is to work with na­ture and not against it. On Planet Earth, ev­ery liv­ing be­ing has the right to live. It has to be a win­win sit­u­a­tion for all.” While per­ma­cul­ture does not ro­man­ti­cise liv­ing at the roots, Narsanna Kop­pula dur­ing a win­ter Per­ma­cul­ture De­sign Course (PDC) held last year at the Aranya Agri­cul­ture Al­ter­na­tives Academy Padma be­lieves, there is one-gen­er­a­tion of knowl­edge gap and prac­tice gap. “What we sug­gest is the younger gen­er­a­tion con­nect with the older gen­er­a­tion and prac­tice tra­di­tional farming meth­ods and you don’t have to throw away tech­nol­ogy,” she quips.

A WAY OF LIFE

A lot of peo­ple might dis­count Per­ma­cul­ture as just gar­den­ing or farming or term it a neo-hip­pie trend with a cult fol­low­ing. But that is far from true. Per­ma­cul­ture is an ap­plied sci­ence and it’s abil­ity to de­scribe the prac­ti­cal prob­lems it seeks to solve has time and again dis­missed these mis­giv­ings. The rea­son for this cites Rosie, “is be­cause ev­ery per­ma­cul­tural sys­tem is an­chored in the nat­u­ral world and you can’t dis­so­ci­ate it from it.” While or­ganic farming is one part of a whole, per­ma­cul­ture also en­tails so­cial, eco­nomic and cul­tural as­pects of liv­ing. “Out­side of the farm, the fu­ture of per­ma­cul­ture is def­i­nitely in the so­cio-eco­nomic space,” ex­plains Sim­rit, who runs the Round­stone Farms in Ko­daikanal which is built around the prin­ci­ples of per­ma­cul­ture.

An ex­am­ple of ap­ply­ing per­ma­cul­ture in the so­cio-eco­nomic space would be to ac­tively em­brace di­ver­sity. As Sim­rit de­scribes, “A healthy com­mu­nity would be one with a di­ver­sity of gen­ders, races and be­liefs that would al­most def­i­nitely re­sult in a more cre­ative com­mu­nity. To ‘cre­atively use and re­spond to change’ – per­tain­ing to per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ple No 12 — all com­mu­ni­ties should have the flex­i­bil­ity to re­spond ef­fec­tively to change be­cause change reaches us all,” she shares.

Per­ma­cul­ture, means to work with na­ture and not against it. Ev­ery liv­ing be­ing has the right to live. It has to be a win-win sit­u­a­tion for all — PADMAVATHI KOP­PULA

Na­ture is not ex­ploita­tive, it’s co­op­er­a­tive. I think that kind of eth­i­cal think­ing is what we need to over­come the chal­lenges of so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion that plagues us to­day — NARSANNA KOP­PULA

Sim­rit also ac­tively con­ducts Per­ma­cul­ture De­sign Cour­ses (PDCs) on her farm, which has be­come an ex­em­plary model for oth­ers to wit­ness the ben­e­fits of per­ma­cul­ture. She has been lucky to get lo­cal farm­ers to come and take part in her cour­ses and as­sertively says, “The per­ma­cul­ture com­mu­nity in Ko­daikanal has been grow­ing.” Her next PDC will be con­ducted at her sprawl­ing, pris­tine Round­stone farm in Au­gust this year. CON­NECT­ING THE DOTS Be­sides the tri­fecta — Earth Care, Peo­ple Care and Fair Share, the sin non-qua of fun­da­men­tals in­clude an­other im­por­tant prin­ci­ple that most per­ma­cul­tur­ists en­dorse — to ob­serve and in­ter­act with other be­ings, “Peo­ple must un­der­stand that ev­ery­thing they do is con­nected to ev­ery­thing else,” says Narsanna lead­ing us to an­other im­por­tant tenet in Per­ma­cul­ture: One el­e­ment must be able to per­form many func­tions, “One prob­lem-one so­lu­tion is wrong in per­ma­cul­ture,” he stresses. The ba­sis of this prin­ci­ple is quite sim­ple. It means if there’s a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ship be­tween two el­e­ments, it will au­to­mat­i­cally func­tion very well. “I think the best tes­ti­mony for in­ter­de­pen­dency is the ab­sence of any ‘nat­u­ral pes­ti­cide’ on a per­ma­cul­ture farm. We try to grow com­pan­ion plants that con­fuse pests with their com­bined aroma and tex­ture. Also, many per­ma­cul­ture farms have ponds and open wa­ter bod­ies, even though they don’t need the wa­ter. It’s to in­vite the drag­on­flies, frogs and snakes in to eat your pests. Chick­ens, ducks and geese are also of­ten used to pick out slugs and other pests (a ‘win­win’ for all),” Sim­rit elu­ci­dates, adding, “We al­ways grow mul­ti­ple crops, just like you would see in na­ture. The bio­di­ver­sity is great for the plants, and poly­cul­ture makes sure you al­ways have mul­ti­ple crops com­ing into har­vest, so if one fails, you al­ways have a backup.”

Narsanna cor­rob­o­rates, “The de­sign should work by it­self and it should demon­strate its own func­tions. Hu­man in­ter­ven­tion should be very limited; if you have to in­ter­vene ev­ery time, it means your de­sign is wrong.” WHEN LESS IS MORE

Meghna Kapoor, who runs the co-liv­ing and co-work­ing space, Blue Lo­tus by Kyo Spa­ces in Goa is a per­ma­cul­ture prac­ti­tioner who be­lieves that one doesn’t need to live off the grid or own a farm to prac­tice the virtues of per­ma­cul­ture. All one needs to do is make more eco-con­scious choices. “Per­ma­cul­ture can be eas­ily adopted in any life­style. We can bring around a sea change by sim­ply cut­ting our con­sump­tion pat­tern,” she says. “I started mak­ing small changes by car­ry­ing my own bag and ditch­ing plas­tic, buy­ing prod­ucts that are sourced lo­cally or even sec­ond-hand clothes. At Blue Lo­tus, we also grow some food be­cause there’s a place in our gar­den,” she shares. Meghna also seg­re­gates and com­posts her waste reg­u­larly. “We’ve got two com­post pits in the gar­den, so in­stead of just burn­ing old leaves we com­post them,” she adds.

An ex­am­ple of ap­ply­ing per­ma­cul­ture in the so­cio-eco­nomic space would be to ac­tively em­brace di­ver­sity. — SIM­RIT MALHI

The ba­nana cir­cle in per­ma­cul­ture is a great way to put or­ganic waste and ex­cess wa­ter to good use. All you need to do is dig up a ditch, take the soil you’ve scooped out and mound it around the pit. This is where you will plant your ba­nanas and other sym­bi­otic fruits that will mu­tu­ally ben­e­fit both the plants. The pit serves as a com­post pile and voila! You are au­to­mat­i­cally gen­er­at­ing less waste, grow­ing your food and serv­ing the en­vi­ron­ment. (One el­e­ment­many func­tions)

One ma­jor hitch for ur­ban­ites as­pir­ing to grow their own food is the space crunch. “Ir­re­spec­tive of the space or land type, at the end of the day, you must work with what you have ac­cess to,” says Rosie re­mem­ber­ing her first ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing on a rooftop ter­race in an apart­ment build­ing in a more ur­ban area. “Now that’s what we had so that’s what we started with,” she says.

Per­ma­cul­ture is a tree-based sys­tem and in ur­ban ar­eas, one might not be able to do much on com­mu­nity rooftops or rental homes. But Edi­ble Routes, an or­gan­i­sa­tion in Delhi helps peo­ple walk the talk by build­ing kitchen gar­dens in ur­ban homes, no mat­ter how small a space. “Like a very sim­ple ex­am­ple would be mulching. It is ba­si­cally leav­ing leaf lit­ter and cov­er­ing the soil as much as pos­si­ble to make more favourable con­di­tions for plant growth. This is some­thing that’s part of per­ma­cul­ture that we’re able to ap­ply in what we do in ur­ban ar­eas,” says Fazal Rashid, who han­dles farms and ur­ban gar­den op­er­a­tions at Edi­ble Routes. Last mon­soon, Edi­ble Routes planted around 1,000 trees at var­i­ous clients’ places. These plan­ta­tions were de­signed in a way that they don’t ob­struct the agri­cul­ture, the kitchen gar­den or the crops si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­ing grown on the land. The trees were also cho­sen in a way where they are very en­ergy ef­fi­cient, lo­cal and na­tive va­ri­eties that don’t re­quire too much hu­man in­ter­ven­tion or main­te­nance. “As ur­ban­ites liv­ing in Delhi, the real work we’ve done in per­ma­cul­ture in the past three to four years is the com­mu­nity we’ve built of ur­ban peo­ple whom we’re putting on a path that fol­lows per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ples — es­pe­cially Fair Share, be­cause we don’t have land in Delhi and don’t have the pos­si­bil­ity of grow­ing trees or crops any­where,” avers Fazal.

This four-year-old team of 22 mem­bers shares the same

The real work we’ve done in the per­ma­cul­ture in the last three to four years is the com­mu­nity we’ve built of ur­ban peo­ple whom we’re putting on a path that fol­lows per­ma­cul­ture

— FAZAL RASHID

vi­sion of sus­tain­abil­ity. They have been train­ing peo­ple in kitchen gar­den­ing, con­nect­ing peo­ple to a com­mu­nity of gar­den­ers and are build­ing a com­mu­nity that un­der­stands more the func­tions of na­ture and how fair share, peo­ple care and gen­eros­ity are a part of the ethics of per­ma­cul­ture work. Says Fazal, “I think those are the real seeds of per­ma­cul­ture that we’ve sown, what we are reap­ing, in turn, is the kind of hu­man crop (com­mu­nity) we’ve grown.

Rosie Hard­ing and Peter Fer­nan­des

IM­AGE CREDIT: ROSIE HARD­ING

Women har­vest­ing Ja­maican rosella at the Aranya per­ma­cul­ture farm in Bi­dakkane, Te­lan­gana

11. Sim­rit Malhi2. Narsanna and Padmavathi3. Padmavathi with the women farm­ers (sec­ond from left)

—IM­AGE CREDIT: PADMAVATHI KOP­PULA

2

The edi­ble abun­dance at Rosie and Peter’s farm

3

— IM­AGE CRED­ITS: EDI­BLE ROUTES

A ter­race gar­den by Edi­ble Routes

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