Can a barren land be turned into a food forest?
A green oasis emerges as one passes Andole village by the Singur reservoir in Sangareddy district, Telangana. As you keep going via the entrance road of Polam farm, you will see flowers, vegetables and legumes share a common space in a mandala garden. You feel like an explorer when you discover next a nursery and a fruit forest with mangoes, sapodillas and papayas.
Two years ago, this was a barren land, but today the 38 hectares of land is a flourishing farm and also a venue for the 13th International Permaculture Convergence. IPC aims to not only bring Indian alternative agriculture to global limelight, but also provide an impetus to permaculture in India.
What transformed Polam? Supriya and Anil Gaddam wanted to turn their land into a forest and a model permaculture farm. In 2015, when they started, inspiration was not too far way. An hour away from their farm was a twenty-year old forest farm, developed by Narsanna Koppula, a pioneer in permaculture and the co-founder of Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, a non-profit which is hosting the first IPC to be held in India. Narsanna was looking for a site to host the upcoming IPC. Supriya and Anil shared the idea of Polam as the venue and started working towards creating a farm which mimicks ecological patterns and enables humans, plants and animals to interact harmoniously.
The couple followed these methods to transform the barren land.
- Water harvesting: Since the soil was eroded, they first set up water harvesting structures, such as swales, trenches, percolation tanks. These systems increased the efficiency of water use, recharged four existing borewells (which were not effective) and ensured a regular supply without taking from the reservoir.
- Sapling plantation: Water harvesting is incomplete without planting. Saplings from government and private nurseries were used in the first plantation cycles. A nursery was set up to host young trees and plants which were later planted at Polam. The goal was to revive soils and life by planting diverse species.
- Fencing: In an arid region, fires are common. To avoid damage, live fences were raised around the boundaries, and windbreaks such as huge teak trees were planted to brave the South wind blowing from the reservoir. Fruit trees have now fully reforested another 2 hectares acre of the farm. The fruit forest has become a new habitat for insects, animals and birds.
- Regenerate through biodiversity: In the rest of the land, trees and plants have been scattered between local species, which adapt to the dry land climate, and tropical species. Although some died, diversification ensures that there is regeneration of life.
- Animals: Animals playing a key role in regeneration. Chickens, bullocks and cows were integrated in the everyday activities. The chickens provide eggs and their excreta enriched compost. Bullocks are used for ploughing and sowing.
- Local crops: Local crops such as millets, pigeon peas, green grams are also grown. Seasonal vegetables from the garden such as brinjals, curry leaves, cluster beans, rosella plants are used for daily consumption and will also be served to the 600 participants at the IPC.
The venue is being set up to host the demonstration and workshops. Natural building structures and sustainable sanitary systems are being set up at the venue. After the convergence, permaculture practices will be taught and promoted at a training centre at Polam.
As a lead up to the 13th International Permaculture Convergence, Down To Earth presents a series of blogs on permaculture in India. Organised by Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, IPC will be held in November 2017.