Hindustan Times (Delhi) : 2019-02-10

NATION : 19 : 19


hindustantimes 17 S U N DAY H I N DU STA N TI M E S , N EW D E L H I F E B R U A RY 1 0 , 2 0 1 9 On a typical permaculture plot, tall, hardy trees form the outer perimeter. Trees with large canopies, like mango, are planted here and there to offer shade to the shrubs. The shrubs are typically perennials like lemongrass, tulsi, kadipatta and drumstick, which offer diversity and contribute to mulch. The inner zones are carefully designed to grow nutrient-intensive cash crops like maize along with legumes like beans, which provide nitrogen to enrich the soil. There are further zones for aquaculture, poultry and bee-keeping. PLANTER’S PUNCH There’s a type of farming where you don’t slash and burn, where plants support each other, and animal life. It’s called permaculture and it’s been catching on in India. Meet some of the people growing food forests in their backyards THE 12 PRINCIPLES OF PERMACULTURE n Observe and interact: Australian biologists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1974, when they were researching systems for sustainable perennial agriculture. In 1986, Mollison, along with educator Robyn Francis, conducted the first oneday permaculture workshop in India, in Hyderabad; the following year, they held a 12-day PDC. Thirty participants from India and Nepal attended. Koppula was among them. “What was interesting to me, as someone then working with an agricultural NGO, was to see if this model was possible in drought-prone areas in AP,” he says. “The more I was successful, the more interested I got in telling others about it.” His success included slowly switching his entire family plot to permaculture. He then began spreading the word among local farmers, starting with simple steps — rainwater harvesting, or aquaculture. “The interest in permaculture farming has grown dramatically in recent years,” he says. “Most takers for the PDCS used to be foreigner tourists looking to volunteer on an Indian farm. Then came a few urban farmers. Last year, we had 30 people sign up every month, for either the shorter 6-day PDC or the full 12-day one.” Devinder Sharma, an agricultural scientist and food policy analyst, believes it is time the government stepped in to promote permaculture among traditional farmers. “The concept has been picking up in India for a couple of years now, but remains popular mainly among the onceurban, organic type of farmer,” he says. “Given that agro-ecological farming is crucial to India, these principles can and should be adopted by traditional farmers, slowly and steadily.” Anesha George [email protected] Catch and store energy: n T › o the untrained eye, a permaculture farm may look like a patch of wilderness in a neglected backyard. When it looks like that, you know it’s working. The idea is to switch from the slash-and-burn model of agriculture to a gentler, more permanent formula where fruit trees shade vegetable patches, perennial plants grow, are picked and plucked from, perish, form mulch, feed other plants, and start over. Where birds can eventually make their homes — traditional agriculture is notorious for not supporting other life forms; where bees and insects thrive, and eventually small animals arrive to nibble or hunt. Where Man has only a passing influence. You can grow herbs, or raise chickens; put in a rainwater harvesting pond or create an artificial lake. Plant your vegetables in rows. But then you ideally just tend to the various elements as they interact and evolve into what looks, more or less, like that patch of wilderness. A permaculture plot can be as small as a single acre or as large as a forest. Peter Fernandes and Rosie Harding’s is a 600-sq-m kitchen garden in Goa, while Narsanna Koppula, a permaculture advocate in Telangana, has an 11.5-acre sprawl. On a typical plot, tall trees form an outer perimeter. Trees with large canopies are planted here and there, to offer shade to the shrubs. Perennials like lemongrass, tulsi, kadipatta and drumstick offer diversity and contribute to mulch. The inner zones are carefully designed to grow nutrient-intensive cash crops like maize along with legumes like beans, which provide nitrogen to enrich the soil. “It’s not just a set of farming techniques, but guidelines to designing a system where flora and fauna not only co-exist but benefit from each other,” says Koppula, 60. For 32 years, he’s been helping others learn how, in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh (AP), Odisha, Kerala and Maharashtra. He’s worked with NABARD and the AP government on sustainable agro projects. In 2013, he started teaching a 72-hour Permaculture Design Course (PDC), spread across 12 days, to enthusiasts. “I’ve had over 1,150 PDC graduates so far,” he says. These enthusiasts include former techies and executives looking for a fresh start, organic growers looking for an even more sustainable formula, and youngsters seeking a return to the simple life. Obtain a yield: Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: Replant unproductive areas, improve soil for future generations, plant perennials. Use and value renewable resources and services: Grow trees for shade, to build homes and as fuel. Produce no waste: Be frugal, reuse and use less. Design from patterns to details: Mimic patterns in nature for inspiration. Plants and animals must be integrated in the design system to mutually benefit. A NEW CODE TO LIVE BY Integrate rather than segregate: Place plants together in ways that help cooperate rather than compete. FROM ONE FARM TO 11 Connecting with locals and spreading the word is one of the 12 principles of permaculture. So, most permaculturists look beyond creating food forests. So when Shagun Singh started Geeli Mitti farms in Nainital in 2016, her goal was to help rural families in the vicinity redesign their farms too. The former marketing executive was introduced to the approach on a backpacking trip through Thailand. She then came across permafarms on similar trips through Cambodia, Turkey and the US. In 2015, she decided not to wait until retirement to start her own permaculture farm. She signed up for a 12-day PDC and bought a 1-acre plot. She has since been conducting her own PDCS. She’s also now working with a team of 30 students, volunteers and ‘interns’ to help redesign 11 local farms covering between three and five acres. A ROUGH START Small and slow solutions: Understand that are no quick fixes or immediate returns. Yields will be slow, but every step must be practical and energy sufficient. Use and value diversity: Feature new varieties along with old favourites to create balance. Use edges and value the marginal: Make the most of available space, through unusually shaped flower beds, vines as boundary walls etc. SLOW, STEADY Creatively respond to change: › Adapt to the shifting climate patterns, pest populations, and other external forces. All solutions must be sustainable. The term permaculture was coined by It’s time the government stepped in to promote permaculture among traditional farmers. The concept has been picking up in India in recent years, but mainly among the once-urban, organic type of farmer. (Source: The Permaculture Design Course Handbook by Robyn Francis) DEVINDER SHARMA, an agricultural scientist and food policy analyst PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED BY PRESSREADER Pressreader.com +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . 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