Can farming be a permanent renewal of life?
For the past 30 years, the practice of permaculture has found acceptance in rural communities urban Indians alike, elaborates Smriti Agarwal.
The new draft Marine and Coastal Regulation Zone (MCRZ) notification stands to dilute rules, posing threat to various coastal and fishing communities spread across 3,200 villages on the Indian coastline.
The draft issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) allows tourism activities in ecologically sensitive areas and land reclamation for commercial purpose along the coast. States and Union Territory governments are to prepare tourism plans for these regions.
The regulation also reduces the limit for housing infrastructure along the coast. The CRZ notification of 2011 permitted houses for coastal communities after 100 metres, however, the draft notification reduces the limit to 50 metres.
The draft rules have also drastically reduced the regulation for offshore islands to 20 metres from the earlier 500 metres and permitted construction of the world's tallest statue on an artificial island near Mumbai.
The Koli fishing community in Mumbai stands to lose livelihood opportunities once the notification comes into force. Their land will be ceded and catch will be affected. A proposed sealink in the city will destroy mangroves and affect their catches, which is already dwindling due to industrial effluents and solid waste being dumped into the sea.
In Kerala, the National Fishworkers Forum submitted a memorandum to the Central government demanding withdrawal of the draft notification, terming the proposed changes as an infringement on the livelihood rights of coastal communities.
Think tank Centre for Policy Research has also says that the entire process of revising the CRZ Notification, 2011 has been a closed-door exercise. "Instead of the Ministry inviting suggestions and feedback from coastal communities, researchers, urban planners and legal experts on the implementation of the CRZ Notification and proposals for reform, there has been reluctance to share the details of this review," it says on its website.
Manisha Lath Gupta has been following the principles of permaculture at her farm in Morni Hills, Haryana for the past five years. What was a barren piece of 4.04 hectares (ha) is now a lush forest.
Like Gupta, many others across the country are gearing up to share their experiences about permaculture at the 13th International Permaculture Convergence in Telangana. For the uninitiated, permaculture is a combination of "permanent" and "agriculture" and can also refer to "permanent culture". It is about using resources in a sustainable manner.
What is permaculture?
It was started by ecologists and gradually found acceptance among rural communities and also city-dwellers.
The concept emerged in the 70s in Australia and revolves around three main principles: Earth care, people care and fair share.
Its roots lie in traditional farming practices which remained resilient through industrialisation, and urbanisation. These practices respected mother earth and worked with her, rather than against her.
Permaculture integrates land, resources, people and the environment through mutually beneficial synergies.
Permaculture in India
In the 80s, when India was witnessing the Green Revolution, the pioneers of permaculture, Bill Mollison and Robyn Francis, designers and educators from Australia visited India to conduct the first beginner's level course in permaculture. The Permaculture Design Course was attended by 30 organisations, farmers and non-farmers from India and Nepal at the Central University, Hyderabad in 1987.The course focused on the principles and practices used to grow food without using machines and chemicals.
Among the participants were Vithal Rajan, the founder of Deccan Development Society, a grassroots organisation in Telangana, Dr L Venkat, a retired doctor who became the father of permaculture in India, and Narsanna Koppula, co-founder of an environmental non-profit, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives (AAA), which has been practising permaculture for more than two decades on 4 ha of land in Telangana. The result is a one-family model farm, called Aranya farm, which favours diversity of indigenous produce.
During the course, the first permaculture demonstration farm was set up in India in Pastapur, Medak district, Telangana. Three years later, a National Conference on Permaculture was held, followed by the formation of the Permaculture Association of India (PAI) in 1998. The PAI provided training and support to spread the concept across India and neighbouring countries. In 2016, AAA organised a National Permaculture Convergence, which hosted 1,180 practitioners of permaculture.
Today there are many permaculturists across the country and there are even those who follow permaculture without being aware of the label. In the 90s, many Indians didn't want to be labelled as permaculture followers because for them the concept was Western.
Permaculture encourages people to make the concept their own, and adapt it to their local context. That is how diverse permaculture initiatives have multiplied across the continents, and the concept is now spreading in developed as well as developing countries. Even alternative education institutions such as Bhoomi College in Bangalore and Swaraj University in Rajasthan inform their students about permaculture and practise it themselves.
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. AAA promotes permaculture as a solution to the issues of rural India. The non-profit works with farmers and tribal communities in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on projects related to natural resource management, especially water, and permaculture farming methods.
(Views are strictly of Down To Earth.)