Published in Spectrum, Deccan Herald on August 11, 2015
On the outskirts of Auroville near Puducherry lies a beautiful oasis called Sadhana Forest. A brainchild of Yorit and Aviram Rozin, this forest was conceived in 2003 as an effort to regenerate 70 acres of barren land.
Originally a part of the forest trail that stretched from Northern Tamil Nadu to Kanyakumari, this piece of land had turned into a wasteland due to extreme deforestation.
Looking at the barren land, Yorit and Aviram found an opportunity to bring about ecological transformation by restoring the ecosystem back to its vibrant health. They also realised that by doing so, they could make the surrounding villages sustainable through eco-friendly farming practices and stopping migration to other cities in search of employment.
The ecosystem here is very diverse ‘ the forest is characterised by both dry and tropical climate. So, Sadhana Forest’s underlying philosophy aims to work towards protecting this Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF). In their words, the main aim of Sadhana Forest is ‘to introduce a growing number of people to sustainable living, food security through ecological transformation, wasteland reclamation and veganism’.
One of the major things Sadhana Forest focuses on is the conservation of water, the lifeline of vegetation. This has been put into action by restricting drainage of rainwater and allowing it to percolate into the ground on which it falls. Rainwater is also harvested through check dams, bunds, swales (low tracts of land) and aquifers, which replenishes the ground water, raising water table levels.
Conserving the precious Plants are nurtured using wick irrigation, wherein the saplings are irrigated through wicks dipped in water containers. Hand pumps are used as the sole means of obtaining water for daily usage, which curbs unnecessary wastage. The precious resource of water is also recycled for various operations. For instance, water used for washing vessels and clothes gets diverted to the garden. Chemical contamination of water is avoided by curtailing the use of soaps and detergents.
All the methods deployed are simple, natural and cost-effective. These conscious efforts have given the 70 acres of parched wasteland a new life. Indigenous forests have made a reappearance in a big way (there has been a spontaneous regeneration of greenery, say the volunteers). Due to the land becoming more fertile, the villagers feel motivated to return to their farms, to grow vegetables and fruits that are apt for their region, thus creating a sustainable living for themselves.
They have also been encouraged to employ eco-friendly farming techniques in their land and also resort to organic farming. All the waste generated in the region, both kitchen and human, is composted and used as manure for their plants. Solar panels installed in the campus takes care of their electricity needs. Since the community opposes acts of cruelty to animals, they follow vegetarianism and utilise the fresh veggies and fruits grown right in their backyard for their daily meals.
But the journey hasn’t been an easy one. Difficulties and disasters have been constant throughout their endeavour.
Aviram says, ‘There have been times when I was ready to give up and leave.’ One such instance was when the area was hit by a severe cyclonic storm, Thane, on December 30, 2012. Everything including their hutments were razed to the ground. ‘But the commitment and readiness of my team to put things back together reinstilled my faith in the project,’ avers Aviram.
When they first started out, their planted trees wouldn’t sustain for a long time. They would die almost too soon, mostly due to the inability of the land to retain water. The total absence of soil nutrients also added to their woes. This made them revisit their master plan, which they felt was very cosmetic and superficial. It didn’t trickle down to the problematic areas. The land had been left arid for far too long to be able to spring back to life at such a short time. That’s when they realised that they need to rejuvenate the land in all senses; only afforestation wouldn’t help. Consequently, every effort after the fiasco was to ensure the sustenance of groundwater levels. Within a few years, there was visible improvement. The land responded more readily, the survival rate of saplings increased by a great margin, and there was a lot of spontaneous and natural growth of greenery, albeit patchy. And gradually, birds and bees returned to this green land.
Sadhana Forest runs entirely on the efforts of volunteers who work both short term (a week, few weeks and a month) and long term (more than a month, half a year and longer). For its ingenious eco-friendly measures and methodologies, Sadhana Forest won the third place in the Humanitarian Water and Food Award (WAF) in 2010.
Giving something back to our Mother Nature doesn’t need great ideas and expensive mechanisms. Start simple. Start easy. As Aviram puts it, ‘If one has a roof over one’s head, the sky is the limit.’
You can contact Sadhana Forest at www.sadhanaforest.org.