Permaculture Design Course (PDC), Aranya Farm, Hyderabad, Telangana, India
This PDC was organized by Aranya Agricultural Alternatives at Aranya farm, Bidakanne, Zaheerabad and Polam farm. Both farms are in the state of Telangana in India. Aranya is an already well-established permaculture farm whereas Polam is a young project with great ambition.
Let’s first talk about the instructors. Our main instructor was Narsanna Koppula. Narsanna Ji is one of Bill Mollison’s disciples and has been practicing permaculture for decades. We will not list all the reasons why Narsanna Ji is a remarkable person; meeting him and learning from him was very humbling and inspiring experience for me. I am very grateful. During this PDC, other instructors were also involved to give lectures, conduct demonstrations and practical exercises, animate debates… The variety of instructors added a lot to this PDC’s learning experience (Pushpalatha, Sammamma, Tulamma, Jim Bob, Seb, Kaavya, Praveen, Abhiram, Akila, Padma, Madhu, Supriya, Tripthi, …).
This PDC also allowed some of my comrades to organize “power talks”: Matt introduced us to biodynamics, Kunal to “Non-Violent Communication (NVC)”, Vipen to Himalayan rocket stoves.
We were a total of 32 students for this session. A beautiful group from different continents and backgrounds, united in our desire to learn and to lead more meaningful lives.
Finally, we cannot write about this PDC without thanking the amazing Arnaya and Polam behind-the-curtain teams. Organization was irreproachable! Special one for the cooks… the food was amazing: health, sharing, happiness and abundance are no jokes within the world of permies; QED.
I guess PDCs are meant to spread the word, seed the knowledge and push permaculture forward towards healthy societies. More importantly, I acknowledge that this learning experience makes us reflect about our choices and what we want to accomplish with the received knowledge… for what? For whom?
We started the course with a strong symbol: plant a seed. A seed we needed to take care of to make sure -even though “all seeds will germinate”– that it will grow well. A seed that we will observe. A seed that already tells us a lot about the complexity of nature and all the influencing factors involved in a successful growth (heat, moisture, light, soil, animals, care…). A seed that shows us the wisdom of Nature and -sometimes- the pretention of people: “one does not teach a seed how to grow”. This first step allowed us to better appreciate the ethics and principles of permaculture. I invite you to read more about it if you are interested.
We will not go through the learnings of each module of this 72-hour (+ extras) course. We will merely highlight some special moments and key concepts.
Follows the initial program of our session (some minor modifications were introduced during the course):
See end of the article for detailed scope.
- Use ash and “luffa” (natural sponges grown on the farm) to wash dishes,
- Use soap nut (grown on the farm) to wash hands,
- Use clay pots for young tree irrigation,
- Install multi-functional live fences (windbreak, green manure, attract birds, insects, fire break…)
- Use guilds to develop food forests,
- Associate companions of perennials and annuals to develop the vegetable garden,
- Create and benefit from microclimates,
- Harvest rainwater (roof collection, tanks, swales, mulch, gully plugs, percolation tanks, crop fields in natural landscape depression…),
- Proceed with intercropping to benefit from harvest succession, host plants, pollinators, pest impacts mitigation…
- Treat grey water with plants and feed banana circles,
- Build mandala and keyhole gardens to facilitate work, add aesthetics and develop edges,
- Harvest, preserve and share seeds,
- Grow tubers to store food in the ground,
- Use fire to build fire breaks and protect the farm,
- Reuse seedling pockets and/or use coconuts for seedlings,
- Use jars to test soils,
- Use native forest soil to collect Indigenous Microbial Organisms (IMO),
- Rely on traditional and local wisdom and knowledge,
- Use local resources and techniques for building construction,
- And so much more…
What did this PDC teach me?
Everything is connected
Value diversity, integrate rather than segregate
For what? For whom?
For what? For whom? Padma and Narsanna fight for the communities, against the global trends to capitalize natural resources and to standardize practices of the many for the money and power of a few. Their work is necessary and inspiring. Please check their website.
For me, this is a call for humbleness. One can only act on her/his limited sphere of influence. Start with yourself, extend to “zone 0”, start small and prefer slow solutions, prototype to identify what works, improve, upscale and repeat. Quite interestingly it is also a call for ambition where those slow and small steps bring you towards a greater vision.
Trees! Trees! Trees!
Obtain a yield
Madhu summed it up nicely: “Do not quit your day job!”; obtain a (sustainable) yield first.
Observe and interact & work with Nature rather than against Nature
If you still do not like termites and fear the peeling effect on your furniture, know that termites do not like water. I saw some places were the ground surfaces of furniture are permeabilized and installed in bowls full of water; voilà!
Seeds are nature’s top solution to store vital energy; think about it. When seeds are patented and engineered for some specific standardized environment and weaker genetics after each generation, how can a farm be resilient? There is so much to say about seeds… This article is not about seeds. Nevertheless, the “specific environment” mentioned above is such that the plants from those seeds often require more fertilizers and more pesticides. For instance, in Africa we saw tomato seeds sold with their chemical user guide: when to use which chemical fertilizer, when to use what pesticides, thank you Bayer… The chemical fertilizer feeds the plant, the pesticide -as all biocides- kills Life; not only the “pests” (strange concept anyhow) but also the “useful” microbes and organisms that live in the soil. Thus, the user feeds the plant but kills the soil (analogy: feed the baby, kill the mother). It is a vicious circle: as the soil cannot properly support life, one needs to apply more (chemical) fertilizers and to plant those said-to-be more resistant species that will most probably be mono-cultivated and thus, require more pesticides. And since those seeds are engineered in a way that the genetics are weaker for the next generations, the user must buy new seeds each season. Repeat…
Chemical runoffs are another issue... We can also talk about the great hazards upon water! Drinkable water is rare and is probably the most valuable resource we have. Underground waters are the cradle of life. We should fear the potential dramatic impacts on aquifers. We know very little about underground water mechanisms… As a personal example, I was told that the thermal waters that spring out in Aachen need 2000 years to reach the surface (rain > infiltration > nice journey within the earth crust > spring). This allows me to joyfully say that the water we have in Aachen was rain falling back in Jesus’s time. Well, if we pollute aquifers now, what will people in Aachen say about their thermal water for the next 2000+ years?
“Apply self-regulation & accept feedback” bears the “Native Americans” saying that follows: “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children unto the seventh generation”. This tells us a lot about the wise culture of responsibility for action. We are in India now, I feel like the karma is also a lot about that: what we do with our life resonates on the lives to come.
Ask the locals
The answers are available; we should ask to the locals, the elder, the tribal people. Sadly, it reminds me another permaculture principle: “Use edges & value the marginal”.
Complementary and subjective remarks
Moreover, when it comes to communities and we talk about alternative lifestyle where a strong sense of belonging can develop, I am usually concerned about the sect effect and/or pretention that might relate to it. Permies are no super heroes or almighty gurus; they are people. Narsanna Ji was very good at keeping our feet on the ground. It is through humble observation, intense interaction, hard work and strong commitment to ethics that one achieves great results and can realize her/himself. Narsanna Ji does not care about the names, the titles, the labels; he focuses on those two questions “for what? For whom?”. Even though his projects are beautiful and the results remarkable, never did he boast off about it; he considers he learns more from the people he supports than they do. Moreover, he does not go against people to tell me what they do wrong and what they should do good; positive influence comes through small steps and powerful tangible demonstration that respect the natural and human / cultural environment. Finally, I was impressed by his ability to listen, embrace feedback, question his practices and react positively to change…
Animal integration & veganism
We talked about the importance of animal integration. Animals bring a lot to a farm in terms of environmental services. Animals are also an important aspect of traditional Indian farming culture and are an important resource for food and financial security of households.
I am still precautious, especially when we think “animal care”. Kaavya told us about her designs and how she aims for a “human and animal utopia”. I agree with her. You might have seen some of our messages pro-vegan, what is your opinion about that? You might ask “Vegetarianism for what? Vegan for what?” I will not dive deeply into this debate here, I just share my opinion. I believe it all comes down to what you believe is right and taking responsibility for your actions. I personally started questioning my daily habits when I was in Brasil. There, I learnt about the impact of animal production industry on water resources. I also learnt about the impact of meat industry and bioethanol industry on the forest; it is not ok for me to cut down forest to feed cattle and then plant soja to feed more cattle or sugar cane to feed cars rather than feeding people and preserving our planet’s lungs. It is not ok to use incredible amounts of water and pollute it. I did not want to participate to an industrialized system that I disapprove. It takes little research and observation to understand that those mechanisms I disapprove “can be traced to collective and individual patterns of behaviour, which if not changed will continue to wreak havoc with our precious planet, our societies and our individual wellbeing” (D. Holmgren). I did not want to be a hypocrite anymore, or at least less hypocrite. Finally, if I care for the earth and know that animals are sensitive beings, I agree with Gandhi when he says “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”. Do we really need to sustain human life through violence and slaughter? What kind of influence can that have on our minds? I disapprove our culture of violence. I refuse animal products from the industry. What about local farms? Well, do I accept that the buffalo calf cannot drink from her mother whenever she feels like because we want her milk? Do I accept that if she could drink as much as she wanted she might drink too much and die because of diarrhea? Do I accept that in fact she could die because she and her mother are not allowed to move freely and thus digest properly? More generally, do I accept that we went so far in the animal breeding and selection for our own purpose that most of our “food animals” are “unnatural”? My personal conclusion is that if I do not master the process, I cannot be sure that my choice is in line with what I believe is right. This might mean I must take care of that animal myself. I do not care about vegetarian and vegan dogma. Let’s call my diet “autonomist”.
Aranya farm: http://permacultureindia.org
Article about Arnaya Agricultural Alternatives: www.changemag-diinsider.com/blog/aranya-agricultural-alternatives-championing-ecological-farming-through
Article about 17 Organizations Promoting Regenerative Agriculture Around the Globe (Aranya #1): https://foodtank.com/news/2018/05/organizations-feeding-healing-world-regenerative-agriculture-2/
- Orientation of the site
- Introduction of partcipants
- Permaculture Ethics and Principles
- Setting up of tents and organizing the places to sleep
- Site Survey & Identification of resources (Aranya Farm)
- Sector/ Zone planning
- Sector/ Zone planning - Farm visit - Important infrastructure (fence, zone planning, design elements, functions, wild animals, diversity etc)
- Different elements of the farm
- Aranya and farm introduction
- Fire breaks
- Perennial crops
- Cropping patterns
- Pitcher irrigation and tree planting techniques
- Forest gardening - Guilds, living fences and wind breaks
- Site Walk with Narsanna (Soil)
- Land forms and soils
- Discussion and interaction on different soil types identification
- Soil types, soil reconditioning, management of plants and building soils
- Composting, making of compost pile
- Site Walk
- Over view of pest management
- Pest Management - Beneficial insects and pollinators
- Trees and Agroforestry
- Animal systems
- Community interaction
- Site Walk (Overview of water-based features)
- Introduction to water and water cycles
- Climate and micro climate
- Seed preservation & post-harvesting
- Soil preparation, Nursery raising
- Watershed concept
- Water harvesting practicals- Making and use of A-frame and U-tube for contours
- Practicals on land
- Forest Walk
- Mapping to Scale
- Base Map Drawing
- Farm design Planning & Mapping (Exercise)
- Permaculture in wet lands and vegetable growing
- Structures (House, cattle shed, chicken house, bore well, solar, compost toilet, rocket stove, Pot fridge
- Shift to polam farm
- Walk with Narsanna at polam
- Garden designing- Circles, key-hole, animal systems, rotational grazing
- Permaculture in wet lands, veg growing
- Client interview
- Design Exercise in groups
- Discussion and Presentations
- Waste management: Segregation, Grey water systems
- Urban gardening
- Clarification for topics of interest
- Recapturing of all session and Feedback
Laura & Mathieu