HYDERABAD: As traditional farming methods have given way to mechanised ones, many best practices which were followed by farmers earlier are getting lost. Usage of chemical fertilizers have not only deteriorated the soil quality but disturbed the local ecosystem of which natural pests form a part. There is an urgent need for sustainable farming methods that not only produce food, but take into account the natural flora and fauna particular to that site. Permaculture is a set of design principles that aims to nurture various elements of an ecosystem in addition to producing crops. Ahead of World Environment Day on June 5, we talk to two green warriors who gave up their conventional jobs to educate people about permaculture and its necessity.
A family thing
From 2007, Anil Reddy, a contractor, was collecting pieces of land to fulfill his childhood dream of growing his own food one day. It was a push from his wife, Supriya Gaddam, that made them start growing food at least for themselves at their farm (named Polam) in Sangareddy district. Then an event on permaculture changed their lives for the better.
Says Anil’s daughter, Tripthi Gaddam: “We are not from an agricultural background. We were looking for courses which would help us start farming on our land, and we came across Narsanna Koppula of Aranya Agricultural Alternatives. He is a pioneer of permaculture in India. When we went to visit their farm, my parents fell in love with it. In 2014, my mom completed a permaculture course there. In 2017, Narsanna decided to host the International Permaculture Convergence at our farm. We had nearly 100 volunteers living at our farm for some nine months, during which they developed demo gardens to show to participants who came from around 60 countries. That was a turning point for us as we realised that the whole thing was much bigger than a retirement plan. My mom wanted people to learn about permaculture, and now our farm is a learning centre.”
Talking about the activities being taken up at Polam, she adds: “We are working towards creating an eco-village. We produce negligible waste, grow a wide range of fruits and vegetable, and we host learning and art events. We also work with local farmers and educate them about how they can get good yields without using chemical fertilizers. There are thousands of farmers around Polam who grow BT cotton for which they use tons of chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers spoil the soil quality and also leave the farmers in debt. Their health is also at stake. The same farmers were growing millets some 10 years ago. We are trying to bring back that practice. We believe that if the farmers see us growing food perfectly in harmony with nature, they too will eventually start doing it.”
From AC office to green fields
Dharmendra Vepari was a regular IT employee in the city, but his heart lay somewhere else. It took him eight years to respond to his calling, and there was no looking back. “I was in the IT field for eight years, and I resigned from my job two years back. While I was working in IT field, I was also volunteering for different environmental NGOs like Vata Foundation. After I volunteered for an event, I came to know about permaculture, a sustainable form of farming. I also completed a 13-day permaculture design course from Aranya Agricultural Alternatives in Zaheerabad.”
After gaining more knowledge about the practice, Dharmendra has been touring the country for the past four months now to raise awareness about permaculture. “I am travelling through the country to conduct permaculture classes. I have been to the north-east, Himachal Pradesh, and recently, I held a session in Udaipur Central Jail. It was a different experience for me. At places where I cannot speak the local language, I take the help of a translator. I facilitate sessions as per the target audience. Initially, I spent some time with the jail inmates to cut the ice. I also included a lot of activities. I gave them cards which had ‘nursery’, ‘animal shed’, ‘chicken coop’ etc. written on them, and then I asked them where they would place them in their house. Then accordingly, I taught them relative placement, which is part of permaculture. I have also conducted sessions for farmers also. The focus there is on good seeds, pests and soil. I talk to them about natural pests and maintaining the natural ecosystem. These sessions are generally held in the fields under the shade of a tree,” he says.
Elaborating on permaculture, he adds: “Permaculture, which started in Australia, is a holistic way of farming in which the focus is not only on growing crops, but also other aspects like soil rejuvenation, taking care of the birds and animals on the farm, working with communities, knowledge sharing etc. Permaculture believes that all resources should be sourced locally, and not from outside. It can be implemented anywhere – even in your balcony or terrace garden.”
— Kakoli Mukherjee